The Tale From Mylai

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.

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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

no one can tell when the end comes

On quieter days
      the train can be heard from the terrace

the gong of the bell from the temple
travels to the after-life of the dead

when the machine is rested
certain gears function
                     for a while

no one can tell when the end comes

What is dear finds way to the brewing pot
odd leaves piled on the grass
the browned jasmines
rose petals still secreting the perfume

When you push open the door, angle the body
to the energy that inhabits a room

Do not coax the birds a minute longer
                                          to stay in the tree  
or a mollusk to lock the plasma in a shell

On an otherwise mundane afternoon, my son calls to say
his friend’s father died

Why, only yesterday he told me of the team lunch
the friend’s lactose intolerance
among other things

My mind makes the adjustment to accommodate
the new information of the young man I have not met
the father I will never meet

I touch the space of existence –
the space inside the shell where existence is a plasma of nothingness

no one can tell when the end comes

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.

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.



The Conservation Of Matter

To be a good person is to carry the luggage all time
watch the shoulder sag under the bags just when you have cleared
the window to see the dew fall off a leaf, the sun curl in the space
between toes.

Because you cannot crawl down the cave streaked with the feral matter
the tale of cosmology gathers in the line under the eyes,
cups the breeze stirred by the flight of bats. The traces that exist
are the arms of delusion.

A line of ants ambles over the rump of clay in a journey
where there is no place to arrive. You want to open
the door, slot the key into the hole of possession. How easy
to give that away by lying face down

feet waving in the air, grasping torques of amber light.
The soft pouches of tissues like bags of coins slump along the path
with missteps too late to correct, the metaphor in the throat
falls through with black ash.

Matter shifts in shape, moves along the thin line of time
in a hospital ward folded in the crispness of departure. The awning is drawn
taut to gather particles of sun from the face as the smell of paper
is wasted on the foliage of trees.