My father cups water from the river,
pods, leaves, algae lace his hands, residue
from the silver streams down his darkened skin.
Chandrama vaa apaam pushpam: Moon is the flower
of the waters. Who was this poet from a time
so long ago when red dust rose to the sky?
His calloused palm endures the fire
drawn from water. Mama patni – the mound
of experiences washes to the earth
as his trembling fingers point down. Her name
delivered to the river, a final
allusion before he breaches layers
of skin cold from a pallid moon
in the morning sky – echoes the moment
an ember is borne by light and energy,
the shells awash. It is significant,
root of the word flower in the ancient
language is push, to nourish – filling in.
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.
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
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
A butterfly dusted in sunset orange dips into a flower
like a diver who tears into the silky fabric of the sea.
The honeyed bees are encrusted and scaled with pollen
as the laced wings whir, toss the flowers.
I feel most elated on a day when sun licks the earth in thirst
the notes tumble from the dried twig, set fire a song.
I think the poem hid in a flower, in the wings of a butterfly
in the pollen on a drunken bee, in the song of a thirsty earth.
I raked the ground, sifted through the crumble of browned leaves
watched the earth yield a plant and offer a flower to find this.
I will blame the blueness in the sky
the berries fallen and crushed under feet, seeds carried away by wind
the plain breasted bird on a dying tree.
Sun soaks through everything, stitches specialness into the ordinary
Eyes cast down
I watch the pebble
honed to its simple tone
Watermarks of story blur
in waves of desires deferred
Thoughts never rise out of the lake
bees unwinged in the circle of a full life
Who can map the path of the breeze
fence the clouds shifting over the hill
Logos is a headless tree
waving into the starless night
Silence spelled like the absence
Magenta is the closest color to the blood
the veins of bougainvillea roots under the skin
to the flashes of light seen behind closed eyes
on a summer morning.
April is the month of grasping – bleeding colors
smear the mercurial sky, butterflies spin dreams
near the window, the koels in swoons of longing
knot the tall eucalyptus.
The fruits secret several ounces of sunlight, sway
through helicoptering bumblebees dazed by the smell
of leaves mulched by the moisture trapped
in breaths from the sea.
All lives are connected
trees and plants are one organism
that nurture each other
the weak soldiered by the strong.
There is a warrior in my garden
the Plumeria tree that grows in a large tub
she has not a single leaf and will never
waste energy on producing one all summer.
She breathes deep and holds life
for pink protuberances to burst into blossoms.
In the tub there is a hum of roots, a stray
tomato seed waves pale and spindly shoot
a robust butterfly pea creeper threads
a nosy tendril into the air for support from
the naked branches. Blanched
leaves of honeysuckle vine trail
over the tree as they gulp mouthfuls
of sunlight for chlorophyll.
Every cell of the body opens and closes
swells and shrinks to the cycle of the moon
while the muscles arch and sing to a different cycle
every fruit and morsel of rice fed by the sun.
And all the cycles in between- the river running dry
for fifteen years, the earth knotted in stubbornness
loops of suffering, the cycle of mourning, the womb
stretched and inelastic filled with the husk of grief.
Just before dark
the tree stood in clear light
I could almost see
what lay across the fence
when you left
could see a part of me go with you
a part of you stay with me.
He asks me to stay with him till the moon appears
I have sunsets to pursue, chase away the motes that work
constantly from the window to the damp floor in the kitchen.
Knotted in the sheets he refuses to open his eyes, the darkness
behind the lids prolongs the night, the shooting stars dribble
down his dream, pool into silvery tears at the edge of his lids.
He trails threads across the room. Loops of an intestine, he says.
The lesson in anatomy is valuable when I push food into PEG tube
for my husband’s mother, imagine its passage in the abdomen.
He moves beads in his head, fossilizes a dead lizard in layers
of sand, building rubble and leaves. When my shadow shifts
I am alone, he says enfolding into my abundant waist.