The Terrace Concert

When the breath drains between the two notes
of the song, his mind wanders to the terrace of the house.

The heap of rice glistened in the lazy slant of winter light,
her fingers flicked the stones, husked grains.

In the courtyard, the sparrows washed by the song
lapped against the wall marked with flecks of betel juice.

The house has long been gone, the map in his head
smudged as he looks at the disc of music – the rare one

from a terrace concert sung for the dancer. In the street
where Kaveri once danced along the backyard,

now sludge streaked with turmeric from the bath
of vidwan’s wife drains into the river.

He had longed to enter the threshold. His father had warned
only street dogs enter open doors.

______________
Vidwan – Carnatic musician, in the context of the poem

The movement

The clay in a pot
is the movement of desire through silence.
The winged seed travels
to the hand that kneads a fist of breath.

As the ground dips under moisture
at the limb of the river
the seed sprouts into a pale sapling.

The sharp October sun
pierces through the squint in the eye
to the undergrowth of memory.

The pearl diver dark and slick with oil 
      like the sinuous serpent of an eclipse
when it swallows the moon,
drops into the stillness of unbecoming.

The Tale From Mylai

She ran on the cobbled stones.
Her waist-length hair oiled and plaited  
that swung behind, she mistook for the dog
outside Velan paper mart.

At the temple tank, moss webbed jade in her feet
the turmeric from the Karpagambal shop
glistened on her neck as she went
seeking him in the bat-smelling belly of the shrine.

When the moon in the horoscope
moved to the eleventh house
he turned his gaze inward, sat at the temple prakaram
with the odhuvaar and trained his voice.

In the dark entrails of thrashing passion
words from the song housed in his sticky palate
she probed with her tongue into the cavity of his soul
smelling of areca nut and country hooch.

A story for the month: Panguni

When the gods dance
on the street the first day of Panguni

she rolls the mat
spreads her legs
 
nestles in the warmth between

a stone from Kollidam
serrated with age and kinship of earth.

She carves a pestle
the hollow indent of navel cradles the empty sack

where seeds rattle –
the pods hard and bristled  like her tonsured head.

They say she was barely nineteen
when she was widowed
soaked her body in kashayam made with liquorice root  
embalmed the face in neem paste.

There is a type of plant that serves as fences
even goats do not eat the leaves
breeze does not pass between the branches

whorls of leaves
masquerade as flowers.

______

Panguni is a Tamil month, from mid March to mid April
Kollidam is a river in southern India
Kashayam, a Tamil word for decoction

even explosion of colors hurt him

The stillness of the day moves in his limbs
he responds to my touch, tilts his head.

Eyes are closed –
the first place to lose light
and warmth: the dampness of the earth under the tree
wraps around the toes.

He breathes shallowly
like the caterpillar, every ounce of energy flows to the exploding wings
– the colors like that of the ribbons sold outside the temple.

The pinwheels whir in the breeze from the sea
hair tousled he looks at the pigeons that fly from the spire
at once the recess of his brain fills with bat excreta
the pungent want slops down the matted hair
he asks, is desire a muscle or a nerve?

In response, the little bodies of the bees hit the window pane
fall on the bed of asters, their wings a plank of light pointing to the sky
their bulbous saps drown in the dust of pollen.

He has given up carrying the heads of people he killed
the tree of breath sprawls on the water like the mangroves of Bengal
the slow-moving river guts the snake pits
gouges his face. Ghouls clamber out of swollen eyes
the lines on the chapped lips clamor in desperation:
craving is a long straw ingesting death in small sips.



The Feed

The word in her mouth is a cluster of sharp consonants
she whispers m k and t, compresses her heart in a.

Brown of her iris folds the prism of evening light that splinters
as the birds in her garden escape the slant of the song. She has learned

to pare down the heartbeat of the city to a monochrome of white light
where she sits turning the rosary bead. Her mouth moves in prayer,

her tongue runs along the soft palate, the molars extracted after years
of the root canal: it is a soft mound like the grave at the edge of the village

she saw him dig. Her breasts produced the extra ounce of milk
at every childbirth to be squeezed into the mouth filled with soil.



Abandon

What would mark the slowness of time
as the daylight spreads like the dust of chalk, moves with the bees
on the terrace?

I hear the sharp call of parakeets
from the branches of the mango tree that grows from the seed she spits
a summer afternoon holding the fruit like a bowl of sex.

She floats near the ceiling the days he keeps away
visiting the dancer who peregrinates the temple
like an exquisite sea animal.

Bluest light pools the craters gutted in the womb
ejecting the uterine wall. She quivers at the interface with earth –
hard mantle collapses and the softness of love leavens his departure.