Three Poems

    by Arundhati Subramaniam

    The Lover

    The woman doesn’t call herself
    a saint,

    just a lover
    of a saint

    who’s been dead four hundred years.

    She doesn’t see people
    on weekdays

    but her master tells her
    we’re safe,

    so she calls us in to where she sits
    her body blazing
    in its nakedness

    its tummyfold and breastsag
    and wild spiraling nipple
    reminding us that life
    is circles —
    crazy, looping, involuting, dazzling

    She tells us
    the world calls her a whore.

    She told her master about it too
    but he only said,

    ‘The rest of the world serves
    many masters —
    family, money, lovers, bosses,
    children, power, money, money
    in endless carousels —

                   the crazy autopilot
                   of samsara.

    But you, love, think only of me.
    Who’s the whore here?’

    Outside the window
    the sun is a red silk lampshade

    over a great soiled bedspread
    ricocheting in the wind.

    When Landscape Becomes Woman

    I was eight when I looked
    through a keyhole

    and saw my mother in the drawing room
    in her hibiscus silk sari,

    her fingers slender
    around a glass of iced cola

    and I grew suddenly shy
    for never having seen her before.

    I knew her well, of course —
    serene undulation of blue mulmul,
    wrist serrated by thin gold bangle,
    gentle convexity of mole
    on upper right arm
    and high arched foot —
    better than I knew myself.

    And I knew her voice
    like running water —
                   ice cubes in cola.

    But through the keyhole
    at the grownup party
    she was no longer

    She seemed to know
    how to incline her neck,
    just when to sip
    her swirly drink
    and she understood the language
    of baritone voices and lacquered nails
    and words like Emergency.

    I could have watched her all night.

    And that’s how I discovered
    that keyholes always reveal more
    than doorways.

    That a chink in the wall
    is all you need
    to tumble
    into a parallel universe.

    That mothers are women.

    This Could Be Enough

    We are warm with Mojitos
    and your stories of Poland

    and your verities about men
    who fear intimacy.

    This sisterhood could almost be enough
    and still it isn’t, we know.

    And those men —
    the ones who fear intimacy

                   and the ones that don’t —
    they won’t be enough either.

    But this evening
    of muddled longing and rage,

    me in my red skirt,
    you in your summer dress,

    the man at the far table
    glowering in lust,

    the ditsy waiter
    (his gaze greened by a fleeting memory
    of rains in Mangalore),

    the embrace
    of this gently hysterical city,

    and the hours deemed happy
    by the gods
    of Tuesday night,

    is all we really need to remember.

    Ten years later,
                   and maybe sooner,
    we won’t ask for more.

    Arundhathi Subramaniam is the author of four books of poems, most recently When God Is a Traveller (Bloodaxe Books, 2014) and Where I Live: New & Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2009). Her prose works include the bestselling biography of a contemporary mystic Sadhguru: More Than a Life, Penguin and Book of Buddha, Penguin Books (reprinted several times). As editor, she has worked on a Penguin anthology of essays on sacred journeys in the country (Pilgrim’s India), and a Sahitya Akademi anthology of Post-Independence Indian Poetry in English (Another Country). She has co-edited a Penguin anthology of contemporary Indian love poems in English (Confronting Love).

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