The Pity

Pieta: a mother cradles a grown man.
A woman carries her father, scrawny limbs
drape her breasts. She hefted strained muscles,
coiled in the heart nerves frayed with grief

for a journey bypassing the town marked
by death – the end comes at a different time
to each person unlike the year when the plague struck,
took away the brother and sister the same day.

Why is a graveyard called a burning forest?
When I married into the family I learned
to discern the depth of sorrow in the way
dust swirled into a hurricane under chairs.

The slats crusted with mercurial light,
a string of shorter questions flapped in a line
of thought dried out in the yard: weighty
wetness upended between poles of pain.

Bleached in the beachless town

She tosses fistful of bleach into the vegetables simmering in the pan     the foam
shores up

like the salt at the estuary in Marakannam          In the town without a beach

where the land
lazily         copulates with the sea        the breeze
at the gopura vassal  breathes into the womb  of her memory

It is then she hears the machine                    in the depth of the lungs

 like a hawk rasping    not kissing didn’t protect her from the bursting heart   

She lugs a bucket       topples the water on the cracked red earth         chafes
with harsh bristles till scraggy dreams

          explode

the colors of sunset            Does it feel lonely

when stars are harpooned one after another       keel to reveal
squishy undersides

as the waves pale in a moonless night          When the heat clams down
everything longs to escape –

the wheezing pig in the yard           the wail of loss scratching the sky

Pandemic/Pralaya

She sat on the thinnai
her head fixed in the direction of the sea,

heat wrapped around her feet
as she narrated the pilgrimage to Kasi.


Widowed young she had to wait as the women
in her family counted the moons she mensurated. 

When she left on padayatra she announced
it was her last journey,

watching her back diminish from sight
the family believed so too.


Those were times when roads were built for walkers
avenued with vembu, allai, puliya maram

their saps flowed through deep entrails of hard earth
into ponds and deep wells to quench thirst.

Nights were thick, air breathed with pollen dust,
mating animals moved deep into dense forests.


She came back eight months later
darker and thinner, with a distant look,

began talking of her body as a tenement
she would soon vacate.

She referred to time as the end of a kalpa
when the waves lashed the walls of Tiruvelikeni kovil.

It was a part of the story she narrated –
the leaf on the water at the moment of dissolution

as the sea bed heaved. If alive today

she would have translated the pandemic as pralaya –

both three syllabled, hers ending with a vowel
the slow exhalation of air when light escapes the sky.

The Walk

In another version of his life
he has not traveled beyond a mile.
The river plies fresh loads of algae
empties the hill at his feet where the ferns
dry their hoary limbs.

He fits the odds of his life in a bag
walks along the spent river
that cradles the kingfisher in a shard of light.
The villagers troop along the cracked bund
see his back diminish to a pinpoint.

The fish floats belly up
the venom stains the reeds a shade of purple
flows down the throat of the crown flower
to the small of his back when he kneels
as if the body is built to fold up.

They bring him wrapped, calf muscles buckled
from what the human body is not meant to do –
walk three hundred miles, drop like a yellowed leaf
to be rested under the cassia tree in full bloom
just a mile from home
.

The context:
After the 21 day lockdown in India to contain the spread of Coronavirus, the states have closed their borders, bus and train services have been suspended. The lockdown has left tens of millions of migrant workers unemployed. They are from rural India, small towns and villages, but live most of the year in India’s megacities. Believed to number at least 120 million, possibly more, they are walking to their homes, hundreds or thousands of miles away from where they had migrated for work.

A 23 year old man walking from Nagpur in Maharashtra to Namakkal in Tamil Nadu, after completing 500 kilometers in the summer heat of the southern Indian plains, died of cardiac arrest in Secunderabad, many miles away from home.

Poem 2 of Lockdown

The Emissary

When the crow grew raucous as if rebuking me,
I knew who would turn up at the door
It happened every time without fail
.

I believed when my mother said that no one fell off
the earth. It was the night the moon’s face
reflected in her nose ring.


Bracing her shoulders she narrated
of the surge when creatures with hundred limbs
crawled between the fingers of moringa tree

and choked every passage to the lungs.
She daubed a cloth with kerosene, set them aflame
watched prayers harden like dung cake patted on the wall.

The visitor came as predicted. The fear
that swarmed the plank of my chest disappeared –
after all tales are meant to soften blows.


Poem 1 of Lockdown