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Of Mothers Among Other Things

I smell upon this twisted

blackbone tree the silk and white

petal of my mother's youth.

From her ear-rings three diamonds

splash a handful of needles,

and I see my mother run back

from rain to the crying cradles

The rains tack and sew

with broken thread the rags

of the tree-tasselled light.

But her hands are a wet eagle's

two black pink-crinkled feet,

one talon crippled in a garden-

trap set for a mouse. Her saris

do not cling: they hang, loose

feather of a onetime wing.

My cold parchment tongue licks bark

in the mouth when I see her four

still sensible fingers slowly flex

to pick a grain of rice from the kitchen floor.

A River

In Madurai,

city of temples and poets,

who sang of cities and temples,

every summer

a river dries to a trickle

in the sand,

baring the sand ribs,

straw and women's hair

clogging the watergates

at the rusty bars

under the bridges with patches

of repair all over them

the wet stones glistening like sleepy

crocodiles, the dry ones

shaven water-buffaloes lounging in the sun

The poets only sang of the floods.

He was there for a day

when they had the floods.

People everywhere talked

of the inches rising,

of the precise number of cobbled steps

run over by the water, rising

on the bathing places,

and the way it carried off three village houses,

one pregnant woman

and a couple of cows

named Gopi and Brinda as usual.

The new poets still quoted

the old poets, but no one spoke

in verse

of the pregnant woman

drowned, with perhaps twins in her,

kicking at blank walls

even before birth.

He said:

the river has water enough

to be poetic

about only once a year

and then

it carries away

in the first half-hour

three village houses,

a couple of cows

named Gopi and Brinda

and one pregnant woman

expecting identical twins

with no moles on their bodies,

with different coloured diapers

to tell them apart.


Father, when he passed on,

left dust

on a table of papers,

left debts and daughters,

a bedwetting grandson

named by the toss

of a coin after him,

a house that leaned

slowly through our growing

years on a bent coconut

tree in the yard.

Being the burning type,

he burned properly

at the cremation

as before,

easily and at both ends,

left his eye coins

in the ashes that didn't

look one bit different,

several spinal discs, rough,

some burned to coal, for sons

to pick gingerly

and throw as the priest

said, facing east

where three rivers met

near the railway station;

no longstanding headstone

with his full name and two dates

to hold in their parentheses

everything he didn’t quite

manage to do himself,

like his caesarian birth

in a brahmin ghetto

and his death by heart-

failure in the fruit market.

But someone told me

he got two lines

in an inside column

of a Madras newspaper

sold by the kilo

exactly four weeks later

to street hawkers

who sell it in turn

to the small groceries

where I buy salt,


and jaggery

in newspaper cones

that I usually read

for fun, and lately

in the hope of finding

these obituary lines.

And he left us

a changed mother

and more than

one annual ritual.