She went from shop to shop disbursing money, lifetime
like leaking faucet dripped before debt was paid:
she looked at clock every half minute, patient.
Two spans she counted placing the palm on the table: two
laps back and forth to cremate the dead across the river.
That was the third gone, her womb was shredded flesh.
Two months exact before the climb up the hill, fuzz of grey
in the middle of vision, a pillar of dusk covered the earth
and the egg like sundried fig curled on the heat of the stone.
She single handed reforested the hills, the trees first – always
begin from large to small. Who would put in the birds, insects,
the spiders, specially the pebbles entranced by the brook?
Your breath reaches as would a wave
to the beach of my dream.
I never knew light had a colour
till I stepped into your life.
This is the closest I come to building
a nest with imaginary twigs –
I clear papers, tear old bills and tickets.
Not everything can be put
away – not the approximation of love
left in the coins on your fridge,
or the strands of hair shed,
lazy as they cling to the pillow.
The point when smoke from woodstove
folded the mist of the day
was the time milkman tied the cow
to the lamp post.
Udder heavy with milk the mother lowed
to the calf stuffed with hay
and propped against the fence. The child tugged,
areola a dark smudge of sores.
I picked my clothes, laced the blouse
tenderly over my breast,
looked out to see the cow bite into the calf,
chew wisps of hay
and my child in bed asleep, mouth curdled with
threads of milk.
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.
Wearing my father’s old shirt he sat on the window ledge,
dark hollow of what was him bellowed with the night breeze.
He has come from the village banyan tree, mother said,
walking over towns, pole vaulting clouds, peering into road signs.
He found us in the crowded suburb without a tree to look out of the window,
we found him snarled on the clothesline, in the shirt mother dried out.
Mother said he was burning slowly, a toe at a time. That was different
from what we understood of afterlife, contradicted her story of ancestors
the raucous ones who visited as crows every morning to fight over a rice ball.
He became diminished from sun and wind, and not from burning.
Leaving a new shirt on clothesline mother urged him to grow limbs,
go home, then balled the old shirt into garbage bin for corporation van to clear.
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.