What the Servant Saw
- The Southerly
- Muse India
- The Monthly
- The Australian
- Yoga Journal
- Yoga Journal
The Sahara waved her dunes around you like a skirt
and sucked you in
freed your mind from solid form
made you relinquish a world you could hardly recall
to put on her arid, barren renunciant's robes –
a twenty-year-old ascetic with sand in your locks
guided by a vision of a bearded, beaded man
from yet another continent that wasn't yours.
You hadn't yet seen my name written in the sand –
Instead you offered vows of celibacy to a mirage
that you'd never quite reach
created rules for yourself – decided to obey
what the Earth herself has no say in.
And in your vast desert bedroom your vows belied
those curving dunes of the loose ground below
that you pressed yourself into at night.
Much later you came to lay your head in my lap –
to tell me of those sterile vows that forbade my touch,
speaking with saintly longing of banished desire
(that snake left in the desert
pushing sensual loops in the sand
past the brave, occasional root penetrating down.)
And I, why I would have loved to be your Sahara
but I was far too moist,
with thoughts forever reaching down
to that waterline.
You must have known that –
you must have sensed that you'd come to the edge
of your Sahara when you asked if you could draw me
in the nude – your red chalk etching the dunes of my body
with a river running through it.
You must have known
when you handed me scissors
and I cut each lock of your hair – released the desert grain by grain,
through my fingertips.
You must have said farewell to your sacred Sahara
when I touched your athletic, aesthetic, oh so ascetic body
and licked the salt of that luscious cosmic ocean from your lips.
Dying in the digital age
Nobody switched off their phones for your funeral –
the mobile was new, like the century,
with none of that decrepit etiquette –
so the calls came in
from the office chaprassi, the son-in-law's masi –
around you – brave you,
last of your siblings to take your place
between blocks of ice and a thousand marigolds –
you who went to school on a bullock cart –
who taught your daughter to swear at any
English man or woman who dared to walk
across her path in your motherland –
stalwart of a century grown old,
with so much more to teach the world.
Did they even know this, those guests? That cousin-brother's
best friend's mother who came
to pay her respects – who glanced at the careering clock,
then blankly back at the starched white sari
that burned with you and your stories –
on that humid day in Delhi,
the air thick with incense –
with Vedic shlokas and Nokia ringtones,
and the sound of a passing rickshaw-wallah playing
Where's the Party Tonight?
The Kolkata Crow
The Kolkata crow, the pig of the skies,
squawks lazy abuse through the hazy afternoon
at a tarmac road too hot to hop on.
From his eyrie in a Peetle tree
that chokes a colonial chimney pot
he nibbles on the bleeding edge
of a finger that points
at the humans below who make patterns for gods
with an aerial view.
His nest is quilted with fake black hair
rolled into a bun
he found in the gutter
beside the coolie
who coils around his basket to sleep.
His feathers are lavishly oiled
without stealing at all
from the barber
shaving customers at the corner stall
tipping chins up to face the sky.
From up in his eyrie
his small, proprietorial eye
spies a pakora
dropped by a princess
pigtailed, puffed sleeved
who burns her mouth,
and screams at her ayah
who screams at the crow
who scared them both.
The Kolkata crow, the pig of the sky
puts down the finger,
pecks his pakora
ruffles black down
against chimney pot –
then oiled and bold
and pushes the bleeding finger
on the patterns of humans below.
NRI (Non-resident Indian)
I have a secret –
I stalk real Indians in Westfield Mall
to snatch at a lilt of Punjabi, Marathi, Gujarati –
whatever you choose
to send your missives to those jilted by you.
I have a weakness –
the masala vapours I inhale at your diner
take me back to the tiffins –
to my dead masi's table, aching with a hunger
I'll never fill.
I have a fear –
that the ragas I hear
will haunt me with
contagious regrets – regrets of a widow
cast out to lament beside rivers without religion
I have a passion –
for saris – when I'm far from your gaze
I expose my stretched navel
return to my birthright of six yards of silk
before stowing the cloth with mothballs to rot.
I have a habit –
I stain my hands with henna when I leave –
to force you to abide after that plane ride
home, captured, tattooed – but then you fade
to a pale orange stain, I must try to hide.
When you open your baby mouth there is no tongue
just universes clustering on and on –
a chasm of diamonds
to dive into.
When I rock your swing on the day of your birth,
anoint your forehead with vermillion smears
your face falls away
When I drop my flowers at your baby feet
there is no end to the petals that float
on a gasp as they fall
When I wave camphor flames around your face
your infinite, secretive smile
gives nothing away
about the place from which you came