It takes much to be empowered:
you must feel the lava
spewing from your breath,
rising from the volcano
that hisses near your intestine,
spilling over to turn the rivers red.
It takes much to be empowered:
to feel whole when
bits of breast and ovary
lie in plastic bags,
dissected into bland reports
that tell the world you’re well.
It takes much to know the burning coal
that lay inside of you
is now a charred and empty space
and the river is no longer red.
It takes much to know you have
scaled the mountain, scarred yourself
with the ridges at your feet
and you have almost touched the horizon
where the sky bleeds black.
It takes a special pair of molten eyes
to see that untouched self
and to meet yourself on the other side
where the rivers flow no more.
That’s when you feel empowered,
that’s when you still feel whole.
Kites are flimsy, fragile,
bearing their wooden cross,
biding their time in airless drawers,
hidden away from the sky.
Kites are nasty, like women.
sharp-edged, they fly
against the clouds,
bite into your hand.
The threads they bear
have hidden shards of glass,
unfurling as they gauge the weft of wind.
You who stand on the parapet edge,
believing you hold the strings,
look up where it hovers and rustles.
Kites are nasty, they soar,
they tug against the reins,
catch the nearest squall
You will only be left
with a stinging hand
and an empty space above.
The television seeps through the wall
like yet another nightmare.
Somebody’s crying as usual, tomato ketchup
oozing past a knife. And here, something else
coagulates beneath my eyelash.
Nothing they taught me in the chemistry lab
prepared me for the iodine gas
raging purple as a sin in my gut,
some awful cure for a wound
that turned to air.
Sita, garish as a myth,
lacerates me as she wails
on the screen.
So much motion
trapped in a drawing room
cabinet. I rock on the chair,
remain exactly where I am,
see Sita get carried away
by the demon. Then,
it is time for lunch.
Later, the news comes on.
The child, emaciated, is no longer
even a headline. The reader turns
to the latest cricket score.
A bomb explodes inside my womb,
but I survive till Sunday comes again,
time for Sita to creep
back through the wall.
I slide the week behind me like grime,
or rather, like a snake sheds its skin,
swallow my past like a rabbit,
whole, undigested, and it shows
somewhere in the middle of my coil.
I want to stick my fangs into Sita,
but she vanishes just as I strike.
*These poems appear in Frazil (1980-2017)
Menka Shivdasani is the author of four collections of poetry, with her most recent being Frazil (1980 – 2017). She has edited two anthologies of contemporary Indian poetry for the American e-zine www.bigbridge.org, and an anthology of women’s writing, If the Roof Leaks, Let it Leak (SPARROW). She is co-translator of Freedom and Fissures, an anthology of Sindhi Partition poetry (Sahitya Akademi). She has been conducting a four-day poetry festival in Mumbai for the global movement 100 Thousand Poets for Change since 2012, and in 1986, she had played a key role in founding the Poetry Circle in Mumbai. Her work as a journalist includes 14 books as co-author/ editor.