At the Corner Café

my god is afraid of lighting,
or so he says over irani chai and bun maska
at the corner café,
I fear the unknown, I tell him,
as I stare at peeling paint,
the dark that is to come,
the now that shows no symptom of the disease,
everything has an innate propensity for horror,
for gore, for ending;

he thinks I’ve lost my sense of adventure,
what happened to the seduction of a good mystery,
the promise of discovery,
but he doesn’t know about loss,
his math is built on averages and progression,
now the clock ticks louder and the unfinished,
the incomplete, looms large over an ever
approaching horizon;

and what on earth is fearful about lightning,
as if he is all alone in the open,
likely to be struck down by an infernal mess
of his own making,
he smiled then,
like the blue of the after-storm;

quickly turning over a newspaper
with the picture of a child
in front of a burning building,
his eyes shifting away from mine,
his hands shaking just a little as he
picked up the plastic menu,
maybe I imagined it, maybe I was afraid
of what I would never know;

will you try the kheema pav, he asked,
if I promise it will be good?

Fragments of Birds

but we are only paper gods
creating soulless fragments of birds
wings, colour, a sunlit song

from words and paint and pieces of bruised earth
never knowing everything
never allowed to touch the real thing

my poem flutters against the window pane
watching a hornbill swoop down from the sky
a sliver of moon trapped in its feathers

verses that wanted to rise
and fill their hollowness with stars
fall upside down empty into the night

never knowing everything
never allowed to touch the real thing
made by a paper god, too imperfect to fly

Mrs. G’s Jasmines

the night is lying by my side,
paws in the air, asking for a belly rub,
Mrs. G’s jasmines are poking their head
over the wall, again, to eavesdrop,
a troubled wind is climbing a tree
to confess to the sleeping birds
and some kind of a star
is glowing brighter than it should,
Venus, you say, and want to discuss
things I will not write about,
things I will not talk about,

but you don’t know about walking
in the harsh morning light,
when every angle of a side street,
when every curve of a street lamp,
when every pair of rushing shoes,
is telling me stories that I cannot own,
stories too sad, too happy, to terrible to know,
stories that stick like gum to my hair, my skin,
that will rip a part of me
if I try to pull them out,

so I write under cover of dark,
putting hoods on words,
changing their voice,
changing the colour of their eyes,
till no one knows them anymore,
till they become balm on my wounds,
till they unglue themselves from my fear,
till dawn,

but there is no night, you say,
the moon is a mask the sun wears
so he can sit on your shoulder
and read as you write,
words that are no longer his,
words that he tried to give to you,
see how he frowns
as he blows bubbles with the gum
he carefully plucks from your hair,

Mrs.G’s jasmines nod at the star,
at you, at the sun, at the painted words,
at the masquerade of night.

Light Enough To See

With grandma, there was always a god
who balanced karmic echoes with miracle and punishment,
and spoke to her with a familiarity that came
from decades of negotiation and compromise. After all, 
the day grandpa died, who made sure the rains stopped
so the buses could get to the village on time.
I had no time to cry, she used to say,
I was so busy praying.

I liked her god, but had never wanted him for myself,
until the phone rang years later,
in a place too far away for those buses to reach.
When I stopped crying I prayed that someone
had been there to hold her hand when she died,
that her god had stuck to whatever deal they had made
whatever she had offered him
to take away the pain.

On the flight home, I remembered a story she used to tell
in a torrent of missing teeth and loud cackles
about a foolish man who had dropped his ring in the dark
but was looking for it under a distant streetlamp
where there was light enough to see. Even god, she said,
shook his head in despair.

I could see her shaking her head up there, her god now
firmly by her side. Growing up, I had lost them all in the dark,
grandma, the man, his ring, even her god,
and now too late, too foolish, sitting in her chair, surrounded by
her absence, I searched for miracle and punishment
in a far away light.

Cascading Arches

i am a child of patterns
my song a litany of cascading arches
two hands joined together beseeching
again and again and again…


What Words Know

I wonder where the words come from,
full grown, all of life
reduced to a viscous ink
crawling slowly on bleak parchment
I draw lines from each verse and metaphor
to places, people, things packed tight in coffins of spent time,
and I hope the vectors will coalesce
into a dark tunnel leading back to a single source,
but I see them disperse weakly
seemingly lost, asking for directions, bending into flaccid arcs,
each a spider trapped in its homespun web,

and now I want to write about love
and the flashing spectrum of truth
as light weaves in and out of it
or maybe those are bodies moving in and out of clouds
leaving rainbow coloured embroidery on the sky
or are they ugly sutures on a purple wound
what do I know of lies and hue and healing
the lines bend and turn away from the past
whatever birthed those bastard words is gone
they seem not to know what happened
but where I will be going next
before I even concede
it is time to move on.