Poetry | Deepa Onkar

O Rose Thou Art Sick: by Geetanjali Joshi

Kondana caves

I didn’t touch the smooth
shining skin of the wall. It spreads
now, in memory – thick and grey
like an elephant’s. Dancing girls
and grills floated far above.
I lie on a mat, the floor flecked
with moonlight

I remember the mouth,
almost covered with branches, leaves.
The sunshine. In a photograph,
the brightness of paddy

The long climb, my reined-
in breath. You, bent on deciphering
the thorns, the airy curling scripts
of the wilderness – as if history
would vanish in a moment

A street lamp comes on –
the splayed shadows of palms
shake the dark. I toss –
in my body’s lexicon
it means I am missing something

Sleep closes in
trunk limbs ankles turn
heavy as stone.
There is the squelch
of flesh: clay, mingling with pulsing
vines. Feet sink

I excavate myself before
a dream can find me
exhale, with a vagrant’s quietude

The heart of the cave
soft folded tissue
of light, is close

Ritual at Sefton Park

You press the lighter
there is a whir –
and hold, a flickering,
heat snuffed out.
And again: sparks fly, gutter

Under this plane
tree, endless stretches
of grass and sky

The stick
– and I – wait
The quiet rhododendrons
have assembled,
petals like flickering lamps
by oaks. Such invitation
in the sparkle of things:
I want to take a chance,
make friends with the moss
the sculpted roots and stones

And now the body bucks
to the wind –
thoughts about home whirl
insistent, daisy petals around a sun

The pale nub at your thumb’s edge
catches. A fluttering
flame arrives as if on a whim,
on a scented wave redolent
of musk. The centuries curl:
perhaps there are buddhas
between those trunks.

In the distance, sounds:
the certain, useless shapes
of voices, and laughter.

You and I – we
steady the dimensions –
nameless trees thicken
and crowd in hushed spaces
to watch

Evening, Besant Nagar

What is it that nudges me along
the wet expanse of the shore?
Deliberately, across crabs’
claws, tiny gleam of shells. Thin
watery veils threaten to grab
at my toes. Girls in salwars run.

A whisper-wind tickling
a bend of skin now merges
with the roar of waves,
circles unruly sparks from
the corn vendor’s machine.
Clouds bordering on orange
hint at darkness. Let me be still:
this drowning is pleasant.

Rain song

Let me begin with a memory.
There was rain in Pathum Thani
thick and torrential, a measure
of regret – what a way I’d come –

But also of love: the signs everywhere
wet roads like braided hair
come open, pitted with jasmine,
the scent of wood-smoke mingling
with sweat. Those happy corollaries
of routine –  the hiss outside
the kitchen window
like fat on fire; the drum of slow
big drops to the kettle’s whine

How easy it was to slide
into mundaneness: coffee later
at Hom krun, shopping, run

Now, the curtains open, I listen
to the steely drone of this unseasonal
September Madras shower.
A Palmyra’s fingers curl back from
glass. I wonder what to make of
the image of your shoulder-blades
poised against the dim, filtered light

Perhaps you will walk over
to where I sit, as if you’ve read
the wisps of my whims. But
a roar is breaking in –
bedraggled crows sidle away
in surprise. The widening light
stills the body, holds breath back

We look, as grass and mud are sundered:
the gush, trickle, swallow
we look and look – find it in us
to ask what rain might be

Art of seeing

I want to say something
about the light Vermeer
painted over the kitchen maid’s
head: the tilt of it, the poured
milk. The lapis fingers
of the Picasso mother
lifted, held, for decades –

How the room itself
seems to lapse into
stillness. The furniture
congealed with sunlight

van Iykes, van Goghs,
Rouaults, collect dust:
disuse on the way to doubt

Tomorrow we move.
I brush past
these far-flung lives –
belief in them thins like slices
of late afternoon light
on the walls, the floor.

That chair in the sun
is unframed of chairness.
The house, in a limbo
of moving trucks and vans.

Out the window,
the speeding sky. Nude clouds
skim the skies
with hope, earth with rain

The mirror says I change
a little, each day. Perhaps
 the heart finds a home
in something other
than permanence.

Memories toss on the pillow
I cross over to the moment
drawn to newer sights:
the moon frees itself from
bare listless trees.

Love, of late

These shapes you don’t know
of, scatter a map of love
among the furniture – can openers,
beer bottles. A red sports shirt –

You think of telephone conversations
that caused the borders of continents
to slip. The things that just are:
the muliebrity of handspun
the remembered scent of jasmine
this early morning dew-light on the lawn

You survived
nights, strange cities
those breathless explorations
that turned into hesitation

Oddly, a song breaks through
your lips. Go, love
the brightening colours

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