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 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.
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.
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
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 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.
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.