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“Soy quien soy.
Una coincidencia no menos impensable
que cualquier otra.”

Wislawa Symborska

"*PAGINA EN CONSTRUCCION*"

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India
6 Nov 2021

India

Post by Rowena Hill

Read the SPANISH version

INDIAN POEMS

During my first two years in India, 1981- 1983, I was riding a wave of euphoria that blinded me to the horrors of its poverty and social injustice. I lived it as a spectrum of light and dark with all the brightest and subtlest colors between the two, an infinite variety of shapes and sounds, a human spectacle spanning all destinies from the most abject misery and evil to the highest compassion and spiritual awareness. I saw it as a poem and, as poems condense and select to compose a cogent design, my India was a distillation of bright impressions that constellated a totality of earthly possibilities. Sometimes I called this ‘garden’, for the organic life in it.
On later visits, especially through my friendship with some untouchable writers, I saw more and more clearly the other, dirty side of India, which no one has a right to ignore. The poem is still there, a field too strong to dissolve, but my sympathy is involved in the suffering intrinsic to it and the shine of idealization has dissolved. The price the oppressed pay for ‘spiritual India’ is too high. Both these stages inspired poems.

The poems that follow include many from my published books and many unpublished, in order to keep a complete record. There are shorter Indian poems also in the Travel diaries.

I. EARLIER (1981-1987)

Gods and Absences

Goddess, mother, lady of births,
make my soul black
as your night, make it earth
for the oldest seeds to germinate.

RAGA

Thick branches stand stark
and a few drab leaves hang
against hot midday blue,
women walk by in red saris,
a fire burns down to ash,

rocks rise out of bare dust
beside a leaning, roofless temple
(gods may also forfeit grace)
and boys are flying a brown kite
over fresh bright paddy –

bittersweet scene,
mixed major-minor mood,
spring-autumn and autumn-spring,
precariousness and permanence
spelt as one word.

This is the threshold
between emptiness to be scoured
for the wind’s decrees
and the vegetable mesh
of love.

SIGNS

Row of suns
round and red on the skyline
in the morning

row of trees
round dark trees under
the scorched sky

row of prints
in the hot summer earth –
he’s hiding here

glow of eyes
among the shimmering leaves,
a flute drips

The sky’s too big,
the light refuses to show
its source.

SOMETIMES HE DOES COME

The curtain drops
(a tattered cloth or storm cloud)
and he is there

eyes piercing like a fish’s
scarlet depths of sea,
green lizard skin
or bark of desert trees,
long mineral nails
drawing arcs of exact feeling,
dancing feet that still
perplexities,
dress swaying like branches
of tamarind in flower.

He designed the seedpod
with veins like a bat’s ear
the snowflake and the starfish
the horse’s pride
and his own fine features.

He is the weapon at the heart
of the battle.
His compassion
shelters us when we risk ourselves
for love or for a moment’s vision.
He is vision.

BULL, MOON

Today in a kind sun
near the solstice I lay
in the warm grass watching the clouds
and the Mother stood beside me.
Earth of my earth, she said
and branch of my memory,
for wanting to share my pain
your pain will be lightened,
your eyes will be deeper…

The bull was her first son,
the one with dark limbs and the moon on his head,
beloved son and lover of her bed,
seed of flame in her mind
after the sacrifice,
forever she gives birth to him
and seeks him.

Now I know who you are,
young bull and why I’m bound to you.
For you I went searching
through streets flooded with moonlight
while dogs barked and the echo
swelled among the walls of a lost city.
It was you I found
in the chaos of fulfilment.

THE DARK ONE

There’s no more space for loneliness
under the sky,
I seek you and remake you
constantly.

Your arm falling covers
the evening with red feathers.

You’re wind skimming
the wings of doves
and palm fronds.

The striped trunks hold out
a ladder of shadows
toward you.

Your temples sail,
stone on stone,
warped by the waves
of time.

Even the skulls at your belt
are smiling.

NATARAJA

The dancer in the heart’s arena
moves his limbs like a spider
spinning out his thread of light.

RAVANA

Those people who see
my lord’s dance as stone
with an even colour
and a single hardness
can only loathe me.

I’m the snarling loser
under the temple walls,
I scare like the skeletal guardians
at the gates

but my blessing flows
for my enemies as clear
and candid as the spring
in the inner court.

GARUDA WITH ANGELS

What have we to do with wings?

Not the stiff wings
of planes that lift us up
and unfold earth like a mandala
below us – they belong
to a different order of memory,
to disembodied eyes –

but the hinged span of feathers
of sparrow, pheasant, eagle
and their rainbow colours.

We can’t earn or demand them,
they overtake us by surprise
with their strength and sweetness
or enfold us in sleep.

They are highest but will not rule us.
Garuda descends to serve
his earth-heavy Lord, and the Angel
kneels to the Virgin Mary,
unacknowledged father of her child
and of light in all our children.

THE ROUGH BEAST

After the dance of death,
is it the evil mannikin
under the trampling feet
that rises chastened by wonder
to be Son of Man?
Are there no new faces
behind the constellations?

I have looked for you, child,
at the limits of endurance,
stretching my womb to encompass
desert and ice,
and the figure I see
has no cutting profile,
dispenses no white light.

The one who will be born

– let him be born and amen –
drags earth on his paws
like roots, his hairy face
is steadfast in hunger,
behind his nerveless eyes
the fibres of the sky
are weaving harmonies.

SATI

Devi looks out one morning
and sees that God has gone.
She searches for him in places
that once shone with his brightness.

She says: Trees, where is your maker
who gave you tall, straight trunks
like his? And the trees answer:
We’re afraid now. Hear us moan.

She asks the birds and creatures
of earth. They say: Our lord
whose hand gave us shape
whose eyes gave us brilliance
has turned away from us.
We’re afraid now, like empty houses,
our life is thin like paper.

She looks into bedrooms
but the death-throes of love
are all she sees – passionless
heavings and spasms
and beauty without power
to transfigure.

She goes to the high table
where decisions are made
on the future of helpless millions
and finds there only masks
of manly principle
covering up a grimace
of eunuch avarice.

Devi says: I’ll live no longer
in a world without my mate.
My heat cannot sustain
its life without his strength.

She says: gather up the sparks
from colors on the sea bottom
and eyes of little children
and hearts that are still burning;
sack the furnaces of hatred.

These particles of his power
roll into a bomb and throw it
and in the pyre of earth
brighter than a thousand suns
I too will end my labour.

OM BHUR BHUVAH SVAH!

Earth made sense of a life,
the little arc of light
descended to familiar darkness
to rest in peace –

our earth of mist and mud,
polished fur and feathers,
bellies full of food
and couplings in beds and bushes.

Earth thrust up desire
along with creatures, to bridge their distances
and gave them voices to sing
their amazement, and memories.

Heaven is earth’s sweetness
always about to spill over
and the gods have the features
of earthly light and shadow.

And now it seems earth must perish
and the long view of the future,
purposeless or god-propelled, takes
its standpoint out in the ether.

Dying is harder so.
How could a soul be quiet
watching its old bones spinning
on a charred and silent planet?

ELLAMMA

Naked, before I could see,
clinging to Mother’s breast,
I breathed in her smell,
swam and flew in her arms,
and she and I were not separate;

and now while I run
my unclothed body returns to her,
insects traverse my nerves,
my nails are stone slivers,
my skin has turned green,
birds fly through my eyes,
and the fire where life was hatched
burns at my core.

Watch me, you sick deadhead,
and snigger to mask your fear.
I’m not yours.

HEAT DEATH

In her husband’s house heat became desert,
light had weight,
the seed growing in her body was stone
and fire was threat.

Did she burn in silence or did she scream?
the flames ate her clothes
ravaged her flesh and stopped her heart,
but the secret escaped.

Panic, police and a crowd,
the charred body lying at the morgue,
the still folded child, ripped out,
exposed on her belly.

Beyond the stains and smell,
beyond punishment or pity,
beyond fire, the child
is diamond.

The tender eye of the purest substance
picks up the mother’s pain
and the wasted lives,
suspends them in its brightness.

GRANNY IN HER PRIVATE TEMPLE

I can’t touch you, you won’t touch me,
my teacup must be kept apart
and taken out for washing.

Your shaven head, your clean white sari
tucked up between your bony legs
will never be my style

but I almost wish that at your age
I could copy your hold on the cosmos
living so matter-of-factly

in the corridors of the shrine of the gods.
You cook with their fire,
sleep at their feet,
buy biscuits from their money-box.

You bemoan your thirty years
of widowhood, but they
count on your company,
and you command, and smile.

WEDDING SONG

The cloth between them drops,
the groom sits stiff and white,
the bride stares at the ground,
her head heavy with flowers,
the priests are chanting prayers,
he fills her hands with rice –

the force laying out for them
the days and years to come
is not desire; a nice
boy and a good girl
are being bound into
the pattern of a tribe.

Yet their own lives are there,
their hopes for happiness
behind the formal masks;
their bodies, wooden now,
must undertake the rite
that this one sanctifies.

Was this what I refused,
this awful gathering
of oneself at the threshold,
offering all to win
at best the crown of love,
at worst a lonely gaol?

I made my own ordeal
beyond the risk of loss
by trampling on the prize;
I snatched at love in shapes
compounded half of pain
and snarled at honesty;

I found my festivals
with strangers in the dark.
And yet seeds were sown –
children were born and heart
flared out in strange places.
Love will not mind the law.
I wish the bride her share.

  1. Mistaken Identity

FRAGMENTS

The square field grows round
like a womb,
the ground where I walk
is sown with eyes.

At nightfall a fold
of earth rips away
and runs dragging clods
and dark unfinished wings.

The spinning earth
brings the pieces
and I shape you –

black bird wing
rock profile
tree elbows
breath as you pass
bed where you step

a thousand times.

Even the moon is fat
with memories and the trees
tremble in the mesh
of their disguises,

but your voice
comes from before and frees
the light and leaves.

I had to desert myself,
shrink into my shaken ring wall
to see standing in the arena
of my desolation
this marvelous son.

His image rises
in the graveyard of the senses
and articulates in movement
the imperative of joy.

I shout at you from my blackened wall
but you go on
dancing behind the smoke
as perfect as ever.

MONSOON

i

I was taut with exasperation,
my own fever burned me
in everything I touched.

It rained. The clouds spilt
in pink petals on the terrace,
red on the park mud.

Words came loose in me
quivering like the million
leaves of the peepul.

You walk like a reborn god
over my eyes, your angles strike
and I burst open.

ii

Come back up to my eyes,
lord of bright edges,
tender as new branches –

the old moon will drown you
in the mouths of my womb.

I don’t want to defeat you,
your blind weight would hold me
to the sea floor.

Go out through my eyes, run,
renew space for me
by the thrust of your limbs.

FLYING WITH YOU IN MIND

I yield to take-off
watching the earth spread
and the vast floor as it opens out
expands in me.

Burnt hillsides, ribbons of water,
steep cliffs and black gorges
are the matter
of sight;

you are light throbbing
over troughs of earth and shaking
with sudden rays
space itself.

The landscape seeks its limit
far over there at the approaching
horizon, at the white
line of salt where the sea
releases us separately
with eyes to see each other.

LETTING GO

All right, I’m alone,
and better so, flesh
quivering between us
veiled the sight of you.

Through the body you set me free
into this vast, shining space,
magic and bare
of your presence.

FRISBEE

The red disc is skimming
from hand to hand through the dusk
at the edge of the plantation.

The full moon is rising
out of the trees.

Hey you, with limbs as lucid
as the evening, throw me
the silver one!

BACK SEAT IN THE BUS

It satisfies my claim
to represent Earth Mother
to sit alert and steady
with you on one side dozing

(to this purpose you are consummate
male shape and sweet and lucid)
and on the other side calamity
in stark bones and smelly rags

– he’s about your age.
Of course at destination
I’ll go with you, dear, but now
two heads loll toward me,

I can dream myself impartial
and support, as the road swerves
and dips, the perfect son
and the live miscarriage.

INDIA AND YOU

You’re finest uncertain

– smiling, suspecting blame –
the prince of dancers poised
between making and unmaking.
You may not know what you are
but you don’t miss a step.

To see this country whole
I have to stretch till eyes
sprout in the floor of mind;
then India seethes inside,
pain and joy in all degrees
with no room for judging.

Likelihood has no bearing.
India could surface now
remade from the ingredients
of endurance; you may grow
suddenly fitting your pieces
to an artist’s purpose.

Below time the mind
is assured of events to come
but their entry to time
is life. I hope and ask
and love you so that it binds me
in the weft.

And among the images
rooted in the ancient bed
where India dreams, I choose
one for myself: the silver
girl with a parrot on her shoulder,
smiling at air.

  1. Places

SHORE TEMPLE

Lasting as rock
it is little more than rock
eroded by sea salt
and wind.

Here I too will be
eternal. I will lie
with the god in his cave.
Air and water have blurred
his phallus but I
am all permeable.

Sea foam
and this giant’s leavened stone
will shape in my hollows a brood
of dancers.


KONARAK

i

A new moon accompanies
the black pagoda,
darker shadow than night.

Voices of beggars threaten
at the gate.

There’s no memory; the yearning
of centuries is suspended
here.

ii

The sun dawning
(already high among clouds
over the stormy sea)
is the same sun as ever
who smiles at the morning
with a burning flower’s face,
who stands at noon
erect and austere
above the world and at evening
descends serene and knowing
on horseback to cross the night.

But I am changed.
I no longer expect to meet him
in the marriage chamber,
I know he’s my son and I’m older
than any feast.


CALCUTTA

Vermilion mother, I heard
your temple runs with blood
and your image appals –
I approached you afraid.

I see no blood but flowers.
You smiled at me on the hill
when you gave me my lover
and now you embrace me.

You’re kind because your horror
is already in me,
I know the sacrifice
to the hungry source.

Like you I give birth to man
and lie with my son,
my heartbeat measures
the spans of his dance.

Mother, I’ve looked so long
your face is changing –
it shines like pure silver
with golden petals,
your eyes that were dark.


BENARES

(in the mirror)

The swelling on the mouth
could have come from a slip of the stretcher
as well as the dishevelled hair
(are those brains and splinters of skull
in the puddle at the corner not mine?)
and the teeth are straining
to jump into the air.

There’s a stain or mist
darker and darker as I watch –
can it be the dust and dung
where they left me lying?
Am I already charred?

A dot of light
above the head is spreading,
soon it will become a conflagration
and my tired, disfigured flesh
will melt in the shining.


DAKSHINKALI

Dirty gorge
between forested thighs
of mountains;

blood of soft-eyed
animals on knives
and idols

– unspeakable
mothers; flowers
and bloodied rice;

and preying on
this precarious innocence
the cameras.

Ducks paddle
among the growing piles
of offal.


DARJEELING

A path in the Himalayas
with the same rough steps
as on another cordillera,
floating mist,

odd-leaved Miconia
with intersecting veins,
dye-bearing alders, tough grasses,
ferns in the rocks –

they all existed in germ
before the fission of continents,
they all go on unfolding
there and here.

Should I marvel more
at the unity of the ground plan
or the endless variations
of its sprouts?


LAKSHMANJULA

The river runs alive and powerful
out between the thighs of the mountains.

The files of people crossing the hanging bridge
in both directions without pause

– sadhus, donkeys, brightly dressed women –
look like souls avoiding contact with time,
passing above the world
on a rainbow.

But in the end all of them
will go down to the water.

RAJASTHAN

Here at last is the India
of the picture books of my childhood –
camels, peacocks, water-wheels,
men with turbans and hoes.

The sword of Mahmud Gazni
cut off the girls that danced
sensual as parrots
on temple pillars;

girls still wear saffron,
red, sea blue, old rose,
with suns and stars for ornament
as their right.

On valley floors
an aquatic element lingers;
the desert spaces
are dreaming of flowers.


DHARWAR: THE BARD

He sang of love and mystery
and pain oozed out of his lines
into a stream of terrible courage.

He was a rock, a tree,
a frail old wizard of numbers,
he was the word with feathers.

He reached the limit of humanhood.
What he saw in the silence
outside, we can’t know;
on this side is dispersion
of sign and sense made flesh
in an almost imbecile son
living off relics
in a house bursting with absence.

MYSORE AFTER THE RIOTS

The city was peaceful
like a beehive teeming
with differences.

Now it’s split open,
the substance of its pacts
running away;

a hateful grit
is playing in the streets
and the empty market;

a red arc stains the sky
of our sleep.


THE MAHARAJAH OF TRAVANCORE

Inside the temple and surrounding it,
both seed and envelope,
begetting and absorbing the holy din
of drum and cymbal and shout,
the swaying of elephant and flame,
the shine of silver, the white skin black skin,
saris’ rainbow and pale strewn sand:
is silence,
the silence of an older time.

The temple pillars
are of sculpted stone,
the frail pillar of silence
is a bent old man
with a child’s curious face
and a soft hat.


II LATER (1998 – 2002)

NAIPAUL IN INDIA

They’re feting you in New Delhi,
but you’re not giving satisfaction
and your wife is playing distraught;
the great film star is charming
the press in your place.
Why should you care? You never have,
or never showed it if you did.

You stand with your back to the wall
and remember other journeys:
the return of the exile,
abhorring irrationality,
finding an area of darkness
in every cowpat in the street;
then the maturer judge,
putting his finger in the wounds
of a civilization,
keeping the body at arm’s length.

The last time round you embraced it
in your own way, counting the million mutinies
like cogs in an enormous wheel
of reluctant change,
and weighing the beauties of inertia.

Compassion is not your aim,
it’s distilled from scrutiny
carried to its highest expression,
a hazard, almost, of the writer’s art.

How many of these babbling socialites
have read that long book?
Very few, and did they understand it?
Be grumpy, then, and let them carp.


MUSIC KNOWS EVERYTHING

For Madhavan and Girija

The music knows everything,
rhythms and adornments
burst each into the next
in perfect order

and yet are more than themselves
like a mask of live skin over a face
that reflects the fine tremors
of the body below.

Each phrase is a flowering
at the tips of embedded branches,
each beat a pulse
flowing from deep roots.

Mozart drew sound
from the lore that shaped cathedrals;
the Carnatic singer’s voice
arranges the limbs of the temple.


WHEN HE’S NOT LOOKING

The players show very white
against the green ground
like herons on a paddy field.
He leaps down the pitch,
his dark arm hurls the ball
at the place of decision.

Back straight as a colt’s shank,
bones alloyed with steel
and dark stone eye smouldering,
he’s the will of the horse parade.

How can his mettle be always so taut?
Couldn’t he bend a little and sit on the grass
like an old dancer, an old god
before he breaks?

The young priest is along for the ride.
He sits below the stiff
silver statue of the god,
surrounded by flowers,
swaying as the car rolls.

Glance back from the straining ropes.
In the shade of the drapes
a bare blue shoulder shines,
the hand performs an arabesque,
a fine eye gleams like a fish.

Mira’s words and the raw silk
yearning of the sarangi
delineate his absence.

Twelve years old,
his lovely face half hidden
under a big rainbow-striped turban,
his eyes alight,
he sits and sings to himself.


BODIES OF WATER

A drop a cup or an ocean
paddy-field pond or lake,
bodies of water,
eyes that see nothing,
self-reflecting gaze
of Earth’s surface

Hold carefully upright
this full vessel

– to spill it would be shame –
not offering it but because
an other is watching
seeing it condense to a rare liquor
that wells from inside
shaking at the brim

The water of grace
is wounded by neglect
or plundering

– time is never innocent –
It turns to salt and aches,
it turns to mist and fades,
it turns to fire and burns
the vessel itself,
it can become poison
and curse all it sticks to

Two shatter
colliding under the pressure
of mutual restraint
and finally run together,
double ecstasy spinning
into a turbulent gorge


CHAMUNDI

The scene is set for a dancer
Between towering cloud and the hillside
With eucalyptus and small palms
As fringes; the fiery light
Bleeds into the flowers at the shrine
Where the goddess’s feet are resting.

Dance, Devi, when night comes.
Your stone feet will be soft
When you print your blessings
On my friends’ houses.


BADAMI

In the beginning was stone
and tall stone conceived
thighs and forehead and earlobes
and the orbs of eyes swelling
under radiant sky.

The gods dropped to earth like fruit,
burst their larvae like winged insects.

Growing up in their likeness
humans measured stones
fashioned them beautifully and heaped them
to give the gods shelter.

DAZZLE

Sight peels skins
from the earth’s surface,
rolls, clots, fuses them
Into bodies.

Bare earth stands up
in lean brown limbs,
wind sets them dancing,
their eyes burst out of sunlight.


from DIARY

Rajarajeshwari

Someone dressed her in flowers
and smeared her face with sandal paste.
Her parted lips are a passage
to the sky,
she laughs amazed
at her own grace
and the enormous need for it.

Peepul

Big birds, little birds
trace the distances point to point
inside the branching canopy
and seething population of leaves.
Around the foot passers-by
have left flowers.

Ramesh Kalkur’s studio

Past the blackened lingas
at the street shrine,
past the cows and cowshit
and up the steep, narrow stairs

the big mottled canvases
are a shocking measure
of exploding vision.

Paintings of Satish Sholapur

Transmuting devastation
into beauty of soil and sheen,
for a moment they reconcile grief.

Then their questions rise again.

Mahashivaratri at Kanchuru

Flames leap in the pit,
the priests chant and sweat.

By a bridge adorned with oil-lamps
like incandescent birthday cakes
God leaves his shrine.

Live lights flicker on flowers,
bright cloth and skin,
idols and eyes.

Arunachala

The midday stillness of forests
is waiting for the great one to pass,
elephant or tiger
or god hung with pennants.

On this scorched mountain
even the stones know
he has already walked here,
and their plenitude hums.

Peacocks in Bandipur

They strut in easy circles,
skirting each other,
scarcely agitated,
then suddenly leap high,
their breasts clash,
they descend in a lovely slow S of
blue-flashing feathers.

Not spots

If I was to be born a cat
(please, no humans on the planet)
I’d find it hard to choose
between stripes and sunbursts.

Veerapan

All stories lead up
to Veerapan and this is his country,
rocks and expectant forest.
Is he here now, his doberman limbs
and black iron heart?

Mahakut

Conflagration of gods’ lust
melted their interfering flesh.

Naked bone carved on gateposts,
they have the authority now
of the last word.

Bhutanath Temple

In the black magicians’ temple
eddies of acute happiness
condense and drip.

Badami fort

The temple is the unrelieved colour
of the surrounding dust,
the diamonds that shed light
on the linga have been stolen
and the treasure pits in the fort
are full of thorns.
The passages smell of bats.

Kalawwa

The mystery of generation,
a tiny oblong bundle,
lies on her outstretched palm.
Her tragic heroine’s eyes
bombard it with their rays.

Bylakuppe

Prayers flags flap and fill
straining like sails
in the tropical wind;
scarves thrown in the air
soar and settle like birds;
sparrows perch in the crook
of golden limbs.
Jodhpur

The little blue box houses
levitate out of the dusty hills
pulling the white ones after them.


KRISHNARAJASAGARA TEMPLE

I’m looking for a perspective
on the pilgrimage or trek to the temple
in the reservoir.

A kite sees the mound of black stones
at the water’s edge
with creatures swarming round it.
It dives, women are wading
to the ruin, dark-faced children
with white teeth splash in the murky water.
The kite skims the shoreline,
foam left by washerwomen
shit smelling on the beach
mean nothing to it.
A small frog hides under a stone.

This is the city’s water,
the dam built by an early believer
in progress.

Our car approaches slowly
over the lake bed, small plots have been planted,
beans, road and temple will go under
once the monsoon starts in earnest.
Now men and women walk there
in staggered file like cattle,
sari colours drift and run
on the green-brown ground.

I wade through the filthy channels,
inspect the discs in columns

– Hoysala – and the fine proportions.
Most of it is a wreck.
Two girls laugh in a shaft of light
from a hole in a piece of roof.

I let the crowd carry me

– they know where they’re going –
to the inner cave; priests are selling
blessings from a tawdry picture,
the god being long since elsewhere.

I force my way out, branded red
between the brows by a religion
that has lately stood for hate.

We drive away.

From the distance, looking back, an enormous sky
burnt blue and fringed with dun clouds
is mirrored in immaculate water;
figures converge quickly
toward the resurrected core of a mystery.


PRAYING FOR RAIN

i

She strips naked,
stumbling behind the plough
she conjures rain for the parched earth.

(Once, the man
would have ploughed her in the field
and both would have sprouted.)

ii

A man dies and his wife
is fettered to the pyre,
a sacrifice to the unrelenting sky.

Woman is blessed
with the most calamitous fate;
her terror has rhythms,
pulses that the drums can’t play
on an ordinary day
unpunished.

Such grace is too dark.

The stink of burning flesh
has not moved the rain god.


THE INDIAN FAMILY

They never get completely born.
Ties to parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles,
brothers and sisters, cousins, in-laws
and all the clan elders
keep their blood running
in an umbilical circuit
and their hopes swimming
half drowned in blood.

They never have to be alone.
Freedom for them opens inwards –
no dancing on the edge of a real precipice
or exploring the mutations of earth’s surface.
Only specified gestures
may be performed.

There must be people who wake
every day recognising their prison
and every day choose it again.

What courage.


LAST RITES

for Rustom Bharucha

The Widow

Tonight’s dark mustn’t end.
At dawn words will fly
in all directions proclaiming
his death and my disgrace.
Until then time stands still,
the house walls and
the trees beyond the yard
surround a blankness.

The In-Laws

Bitter was his quarrelsomeness,
bitter is the expense.
Let no one despise the food.

The Dogs

The body comes feet first,
smelling of oil and corruption,
they stop to turn it
and that’s our signal.
The sweets they throw us
have a different taste.

The Son

I want to think of the solemnity
of dying and the rites that bind generations
on an unbroken thread,
but I know they’re all waiting for me
to make a mistake.
My hands tremble.
The fire catches and roars,
the body shudders as if
it was still alive,
but the fire is in my head now
and consumes fear.
The flowers of ash
bloom in my chastened heart.

The Dead Man

I saw them go to the railway station
and buy my ticket.
I thought I’d enjoy the journey
but all I feel, watching the countryside
flash by, is a terrible thirst.
They buy me a cup of tea
but my desiccated remains
can’t drink it.

PAVIA

Where is the stream
you cross between your two worlds,
astrologer priest
whose learned feet are blessed
in twice-born houses,
bone-collector
barefoot in charnel grounds
visitor of dung-heaps?



PRAYING TO SHIVA

Pull us into the turbulence,
smash our righteous, bored hearts
on the propeller blades
of your dancing thighs
and dreadlocks.

Plough down the boulevards,
scatter in the rubble tin shacks
lit by electric icons –
murderers, fat fallen stars,
your agents.

Bodies bayoneted and cancerous,
clenched in random couplings,
strapped to bombs offer you
their pain and hate, their gloss
of glamour.

I’ve been warned and wade after you
into churning darkness.
Don’t take all, leave me
the blue light of my eyes
to follow.

The darkness swarms with glimmers,
sweat dripping from the steep tower
of your face and shoulders
high above is luminescence, is seed.

Make it word and we must hear it.
Let chaos collect its debris
come to a head and sprout
new moist possibilities,
new tongues.



AFTERIMAGE

Dushasana is stretched out along the ridge
reddish in the light of a hag’s moon,
his stiff skirts frame the highest peak,
the hag’s nipple.

His cadaver crawled off the battle-field
into my garden, multiplying hideously
into an infestation of caterpillars,
enormous, fat, antennaed,
hell-black with yellow and red stripes
and spongy red arses and rollers
and unstoppable chomping red jaws.

I called the fumigators
and the creatures dropped snakelike from the bushes
and died, but they went on wriggling
inside my eyes and head
like a computer virus

and in my dreams they rose again
and bore down on me like mutant batmobiles
or furious dictators
or lovers that may be killers.

I thought Dushasana had raged himself out
but today a bull roared across the valley
and he came round the corner of the house,
red eyes, red hair, red dress,
black and red smeared on his face,
and stood there with his mouth open showing his broken fangs,
his drooping red entrails in his hands,
and mewed disconsolately.

Now he’s lying on the ridge
and his red rags are fading into quiet cloud.
Go, dead worm, with the night.

Read the SPANISH version

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