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(for A.S.)

There is nothing I can write about you
Without making you sound like a lost lover

But perhaps that is the truth,
We were lovers the way truth and art have lovers,

In the way you can hear nothing but traffic all day, and yet be a music lover,
See nothing but buildings all day and yet be a tree lover.

And if they should ban song
Or cut all the trees,
What would I be to you?
And what you be to me,
Without that walk in the shade of giant samanias,
Without its memory, set to the music of a lost friendship?

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the exhaustion crept
slowly up her fingers
resting in her knuckles,
turning them stubborn and brittle.
taking over her arms,
which stiffened when bidden.
quietly over weeks,
the tiredness climbed
down her legs, up her back,
and finally came to rest
in her eyes.

the fatigue of tears—
most evident
in their absence.

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the house is decorated
with small horrors.
a word by the sink,
a clenched fist on
the table, a barely
audible curse there
at the doorstep.

offset so perfectly
by small fears,
small whimpers, small tears,
small wounds.

only the silences
are large,
hanging stubbornly
on the quiet walls.

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a memory that will keep nothing
is an unexpected blessing.
filled to brim years ago
it is apt to reject the new—

faces and names are hopeless,
tastes and smells have to be
particularly foul or fine
to find a grudging slot.

tempers and passions aren’t
altogether missing, yet
my skin and tongue swear
they know more than my mind.

no old lies, truths or poetry
light recognition in my eyes;
but what a gift their vanishing,
permitting gasps and wonderment

anew and over, each time we meet.

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Does blood flow to the metronome of galaxies?
How stilling it would be if you answered yes
On an evening we’ve spent
Trying to slow not only time
But our very veins and their needless efficiency.

For how would we carry on
Bartering vulnerabilities
If not under that brief lamppost
Of a supernova.

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In the democracy of clumsiness
There are no elections.

We are all winners, everyone an MP
In that parliament of memorable embarrassments.

I don’t suppose you can recall either
A single suave first move,

Or that intensely desired gaze
You knew how to return.

(for S.)

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and what would you have done
different in the years
you wish we could have had,
had we met earlier?

what would we have said and seen
in that alternate universe,
what would we have made
of each other’s slow succumbing
to gravity and gravitas?

perhaps it is better we have met
after the wrinkles have found their
places, and we have made ornaments
of our oddnesses, lined the lonely
crevices of our younger selves
with vices and devices.

so we can now speak or say
nothing, and still be heard
uninterrupted
by air or anxiety,
distance or desire.

– – – – – – –

(for a.)

knowing

she insists
she didn’t do it
that she wasn’t there
that she never even saw it.

we who have played this game
longer, know better.

her small frame alight
with fear and defiance
her head shaking vigourously
light hair emphasising the ‘no’s.

how did she learn to say
what was not?
what was it like, the moment
of forbidden discovery
that the world, things, events,
could seem otherwise
simply by saying so?

the blacks so clear to us
against the white of what is right

and punishment
showing her large eyes
the greys.

———–

Never visiting the giant sequoias

At some point the feet stop itching
and the plans fade away
The daydreaming stops;
only the furniture is moved.

The occasional picture
is lingered over. But no
longing tugs the heart,
no sighs come forth.

It is enough now to imagine
the immensity, the immortality,
the towering stillness, made
fragile by birdsong.

A little later, emptiness.
Not hollow, but content.
The love-child of memory
and imagination, telling us

We have seen them after all.

my grandmother was born deaf

my grandmother was born deaf
in a village where there wasn’t very much said.
the women did not sing while working in the fields
in the way every film on rural life would have us believe.
they weren’t sad or anything. they knew all the songs too,
but it didn’t occur to them that they would look so very
romantic, humming while their feet slowly corroded
in the grey waters of the meiyyar diverted to their
wet paddies after it had served the battery acid factories
in chinthamani, half a day’s walk away
where my grandmother’s perfectly sound sister
had been given in marriage.

her parents didn’t think much of it,
“what use is hearing or speech to a girl?” they asked.
an excellent question in a village where girls
only nodded or giggled. or cried quietly into their davanis,
while counting the grains they could afford to steal
to make kanji for their mothers locked up in the room
at the back of the house each time they bled.

my grandmother was born deaf, and married a teacher
of languages in a school at the bottom of a parched hill
atop which the lord of circumnavigation had one of his many homes.
she fetched water from a well one furlong from the classroom,
and heard none of the cries when her husband caned little boys
who could not pronounce ozymandias.

my grandmother was born deaf but her seven children
were all “healthy” as the family told itself.
all of them could hear, see, speak and they exercised these
faculties well. two grew up to be teachers with the same
stentorian tone their father had used in vain on unwashed,
bewildered little boys thirty years earlier. three left the country
as soon as they could, and grandmother never heard their voices
over scratchy telephone lines, describing strange vegetables
they had tamed into milagootal and milagooshyam.

one of the other two went north and travelled with
the engineering corps, damming every river they could find.
the last, of course, gave birth to me and a sister who came out
wailing so loud that the superintendent developed a migraine
and forgot about the blood my mother needed. she bled nearly to death
in a green-walled room, and when they found her,
she had lost her voice. she regained it enough to instruct
and correct, but not enough to teach us the songs
they didn’t sing in the village paddies.

my grandmother was born deaf but had nineteen grandchildren
the last of whom, my sister, caused her to hear for the first time.
she came home one aipasi evening carrying a dull brown box.
she opened it, attached a small device to grandmother’s right ear
and turned it on. just then a truck screeched down the highway
that been built over vengaiyya’s land behind our house.

grandmother’s eyes opened wide in shock and she died a minute later,
having flung the hearing aid halfway across the room.

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unexpectedly one afternoon
your face tilts up the way
it hasn’t done all the years

since the light of unwrinkled skin
gently rolled off the sheen
of sweat on the nape of your

now tilted neck. the folds stretch
and belie the crisscrossed network
of collected moments,

almost as if it wasn’t an unexpected afternoon
so long later. as if we had been still
all the while. as if your throat still held

words for me.

 

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trying to read your words
on a moving train, going
in and out of signal,
losing a line here
and a word there
 
your prosaic prose
made poetry, simply
by letting me fill the gaps.
 
 

Kapila, by night

You lie there

Darkly welcoming
opaque, glistening

I enter you with caution
The piercing almost belies
Your come hither waves

And slowly, skin by skin
I am within
And realise how warm
Your icy embrace really is
And how private to me

Knowing true coldness waits
To greet me when I emerge.

 

River

As we pass the blue and ochre striped house
I remember the restaurant we ate in once
on the highway outside Guwahati on our way to Tezpur
on an afternoon when it should have been raining
but it was hot hot hot
and you got on edge when the sweat ran into your eyes
so we ordered only rotis and daal but they took a long time coming,
in that blue and ochre restaurant where the rotis were cut up
into quarters and the daal had too much chilly
and when you bit into a bright green piece, sudden tears
joined the sweat running down the side of your browned face,
you didn’t bother to dry them,
the dusty, speed-crazed wind would do that as we drove on
not speaking until we had reached the river,
the immense immense river
with its endless bridge and lights of boats
on water and the plain breeze tossing them about
finally unknitted your brow.

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when i’m brave i shall wear desire
on my sleeve. little notes all over
my clothes, or perhaps
instead of them

declaring whose arms i want
admittance into,
which knuckle would fit best
against the cave of my collarbone,
whose navel i wish to fill with secrets,
whose lashes, whose elbows,
what nape and what brows.

when we are all naked, we’ll flaunt
our garments of honest desire
and constitute our lovers
in so many parts of so many people

enmeshed and woven,
letting ourselves take, and be taken.