Every landmark held a story, for instance the blue house
of the Tamil teacher whose brother was a priest.
They had a small chapel on the terrace of the house
an enclosure built with bamboo poles and asbestos sheets.
Rain pelted on the sheets during monsoons,
lines of anxiety on their faces held the chapel through.
I prayed too in the shrine in my home
among the pantheon of my gods I placed a plastic Christ.
I put a vase of plastic flowers, fake carnations and peonies
whose names I did not know as a girl.
Out of deference to the teacher who sent home cake every Christmas
my grandmother did not dismantle my shrine in her shrine.
The year of First World War grandfather bought a house
draining his savings, with no inkling if the property was war worthy.
There were rehearsals of black outs – blankets draped on windows,
lights turned off, vegetable oil lamps flickered with frayed hopes.
The night Emden rained projectiles, for half hour Madras held its breath –
breeze carried smell of kerosene from Burma ships into my mother’s sleep.
Grandfather packed his family into a train bound to Mayavaram,
thence to his village. No he would not join them, who will guard the house?
In the village grandmother pulled out the aerial, tuned the radio everyday.
A month later the static crackled with noise, filled the room with glad tidings.
She rejoiced, snapping her knuckles in celebratory anger –
finally that son of a bitch ship has sunk in some distant shore.
There is a map in my head
lanes like dark threads
where dust settles, forms pigments
that I slough years later with pumice stone.
Fragments of cells clog the drain
run through the throat of gutter
into subterranean sewers
that crisscross my city
like the map in my head.
Everything falls off
grains of sand from my shoes
picked from the terrains I tread.
The fire you birthed in me
two fingers below my navel
a fist under the skin.
Warm glow like a thread
you pass from your mother
and I to my son.
I want to tell you
I have remained thirsty.
Hundred years of parched earth
furrows crumble into me
raked with darba grass
looped in his finger.
He consigns me to the fire
that I leave in him.
*Agni, in Indian languages, means fire.
Many summers ago my hair flared
brittle, ready to be afire.
Grass singed in the heat of the morning,
snail of sweat below the thigh.
Snipes of gold the eucalyptus leaves drifted
searing an amber hole in retina.
One never goes blind because of light,
I did when he pressed me to the glass.
I saw the sun burst into a howl of colours
on the trees stretching miles along the sea,
branchless hence empty without birds, no song
to offer the tide that strayed as far as my nest.
Light is not a pinpoint, it pours in a torrent,
the windswept valley becomes a funneled receptacle;
slices of sky thrown back like pebbles
drops down like a blue marble into the dark hollow.
The winter hangs its soul on the branches,
at the arm where the river dragged with silt
the noun moves, explodes into golden dust,
unspooling coil of memory in loops of letters.
Poem A Day
The word “cento” means “patchwork” in Latin, and refers to a poem pieced together from lines taken from other poems — in other words, a collage poem.
To write my cento I have used lines from the poems I wrote the whole of this month. The title of the poem is also from one of the poems I wrote this month. Many of the lines I have used are from sombre and dark poems. Here they bring happiness, let in sunshine. That is the magic of words, poetry!
I thought the earth remembered me,
she took me back so tenderly,
arranging her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds.
~ Mary Oliver
She rides on a cycle like the wind, legs astride, skirt ballooning like wings. Kitchen smoke folds into her skin, mixes with slivers of lemon she dips into the jar of water. The yard carries her smell in the braids of mint runners that spread around her feet.
She picks the guava, ripe and soft in her hands, richly fragrant on the sleeves of her blouse that she has fashioned with gathers of laces that flit like dream in my sleep after she disengages her fingers from mine and withdraws into the dark night.
Her face closes like a moonless sky, a veil of cloud graying her sad eyes as they rest on me, her thoughts like the currents of a river spiral in eddies of anxiety. Rubies on her ears pulsate like the throat of songster when she gathers me and breathes a deep sigh.
After all these years I can smell her out in the bazaar, jasmine coiled on her dark tresses, plaited into a band of memory that weighs and tugs my heart. She looks at me tenderly across the milling crowd; she is wearing silk, bolts of colors spread like arcs of happiness.