The chances are the dust from the hermitage
outside the city
be carried in the bowl of time. When close
to history the hair on the skin
moves to the light from the tunnel of past.
A monk goes to the forest
learns ways to live a hundred years. Covered
in meters of matted hair
he arrives at the large mansion, speaks of
the prince who renounced
kingdom, wife, child. Nails and bones
from his emaciated body
are stripped to cells of hunger and thirst.
Interned urns excavated
from burial site carry the scent of ripe pear
dimples of yellow-green
like sodden leaves during monsoon. I choose
a chamber to sit in silence
the open window and trunks of lined trees
the iridescent sky.
Is there a need to clean the floor, the sharp
whispers of the broom
in the quietness? The beaked Palash flowers
are ready to fall.
Birds with extended necks and throbbing throats
alert for flight.
When Time is young and a day spans six hours
I see the moon ever so often. Dizzy with the
spectacular sunrise I write a poem, six couplets
three written in daylight three in candlelight.
Volcano hisses islands away, waves fill craters
left by raining debris. When ash covers the sky
I dig scrawny seeds that refuse to sprout, feed on
sooty weeds, happy for these that nourish me.
Drops of water in the lake, spikes of gold on rocks
stretch marks on my thighs are from a star exploding
in emptiness. The dying fire impregnates me
air condenses in a cool embrace to quake my thirst.
The two rivers meet in the town
where the mountain spreads legs
for the valley that is prone on her back
like a slumberous woman.
Gomti flows into Sarayu
ceases to exist after the convergence.
In a statement of finality the river ends
as individual lives terminate.
The old temple priest would not let me step
into Gomti, pick a pebble from a tumble
of moss. My ashes will be strewn here,
he said pointing to the stony riverbed.
His eyes rested on Sarayu’s mercurial water
that flowed in silver twists between rocks.
He touched my head to bless and said:
Sarayu is for the living, for you.
All that he owned was a tamarind tree
even the land where the house stood was not his.
So, what is yours, the young wife asked coiling her finger
into his matted hair. His drunken eyes looked from her
to the pods on the tree, her skin the texture of seeds.
Eyes swimming like leaves in the breeze he recounted:
my mother made me a mirror of earth and river.
She laughed, but there is no river for miles around.
Here it is, he held her wrist. The nerve twisted in
sediments of the memory of her people. The river ran
below the skin of cantaloupe, in the musculature of soil
where the roots of the tamarind spread. She saw them
in the spine of her man and the fine branching of blue veins
in the neck as he arched towards her.
The house was built with timber and driftwood
every stone and rock from the ground was tossed out.
Wild rice boiled on the clay stove.
She searched for tomatoes in the bush in the backyard
scraped on a rope of wetness, the green vine snake
darted for her kohled eyes.
Her man fancied crab kozhambu for dinner, walked
through barley grass to the marsh, pincers forked
into the loam at his feet.
He stopped short on the walker’s path in the field.
A nightjar like a mustachioed guard stared through
the purple twilight.
She cupped her mouth and shouted into the darkness
waited and raced the echo of the voice that rattled
like the coins in a tin box.
An oblong stone turned into a bird
skittered over the pond to splinter the black sky
into ripples of moonlight.
Once the firstborn crowns
it is easier for the rest
but only if the others are coming
and if the firstborn is alive
survives dysentery or diphtheria.
When my only born came into the world
crawled and prattled
she said his broad forehead was like her son’s
the one who died of fever – poisonous fever
she added as if it was a variety of berry.
Her mother-in-law lost two of hers
a boy and a girl, to measles.
My world has eradicated cholera and plague
but I kept the windows closed
to protect my son from rats nesting in sewers.
Petals from the prints of red hibiscus crinkled
stamen fell over the padding of breastfeeding gown.
Buttons unhooked she squeezed nipples engorged breasts
caked with milk, decanted existence into a shell of grief.
Reflection in the mirror held the man diminutive in size
stare at the new life guzzle with insatiable hunger.
His skin parched, cells powdered the pith of being
became dust in the palm of the son she fed.