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

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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.

Tree Talk

It was luck
that took me to the first line

that creased the face
when worry constricted
the bones at the chest  

The threadbare day
spun yarns from empty tales
when I could not choose

between the sea and the mountain
Both were a gateway to another life

Most times space turned inward
to the remembrance of light on the skin
stretched to the radius

where the sun distilled colors
on the flowers

as the leaves
held the conversation with the tree.


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.