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 did’nt 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 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

Writing A Poem Through The Solar Eclipse

The solar eclipse observed in the sky over Chikmagalur, Karnataka
Photo courtesy: Rajesh Kosalram

When the slant of the sun is a lie of the lover
the copper tint on her skin is proportioned to his clouded gaze.

The scent in her hair is from the vettiver soaked in oil
like a mush of earth thick at the roots where the sun doesn’t reach.

When the moon mutes the sunlight, you are no different
from the oleander flowers and the gardenia paled dusty ivory.

The pallor on the banana leaf is the same shade as the darbah grass
in the copper dish where the ghee mutates into poison.

Who can summon the voice of the river weighed by slurry?
In my city even the crows have grown less clamorous.

It is left for someone to bring home what lies cold in unturned earth
that hasn’t known the warmth of a worm’s breath.

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.

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

where poems hide

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

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.



How a mother processes a terror attack

Across the street, the boys leave in twos and threes
the stones polish as their feet fall to the drip drop of rain
no story gets out of the land where the hills rumble
scar the songs of the birds that break the silence
of the stacked stones till the grey of the sky explodes.

They feel in their spines the lightning strike the chinar
sheep break the fence as they splash the stillness of the lake
limbs swim up, one still adorns a sock eaten at the toe.
The wool dyed in the vat boils with juices of berries
turns the eyes the color of the sap when a shrapnel tears through.

She wakes up, nervously grabs a knife. The fruit splays on the plate
the family eats it, the meat is let to marinate in the brine of loss.
How does one arrange what has splintered across the table?
Payback. She shakes her head, pushes the sleeve of her tunic

dismantles the stockpile that fences her house – the rubble
of bones, pellets of flesh,  the moon marks on nails, adamant warts.
The spray of dandruff like burning stars scatters
in the garden, the smoke palls his face as she throws
a handful of soil over the eyes, the mouth open in prayer.