Three Poems

by Arundhathi Subramaniam

God’s Forgotten Nickname 

Sule Sankavva

Who says sluts don’t have choices?

We can’t choose our clients–
and believe me, I’ve seen them all,
fried, boiled, scrambled, poached, 
sunny side up, 
runny side down–

                 but we can choose our gods.

I chose mine
because he came without a name

and on some nights
without a body.

I chose him
because he waited his turn,

didn’t ask me to hurry,
or clean up,
didn’t complain about the line
of shuffling men at my door.

When colleagues badger me for details
I turn sassy. I say,

     Mahadevi’s god unhoused her, 
Jana’s deloused her,
Andal’s aroused her, 
Avvaiyar’s doused her.
Some like them fried, 
others like them boiled
some like them immaculate, 
     I like my gods soiled.

But they aren’t impressed.

He must have a USP, they claim.
A sun sign, an address.
For god’s sake, a name.
I grow quiet.

He has a garland of fancy titles, I say,
but they don’t quite work for me.

Perhaps he is the world’s greatest lover
but how does that matter
when planets shrivel and char
in the flaming cemetery
of his gaze?

And maybe he birthed
the three worlds
beneath the delirious hurricane
of his feet, but how does that count
if he’s too bloody innocent
to read the lurch and plummet
of a contrarian
heart, the fine print
of my breath?

And yet,
he is mine, friends,
for a simple reason.

For he rushes to my side
when I utter
his darkest,
most intimate,
most forgotten,
the one coveted by every god there is:

                  My God Without Shame.

*Sule Sankavva, twelfth century mystic and sex-worker, who wrote poetry addressed to Nirlajjeswhara (God Without Shame).


The Idol Worshipper’s Song

When a god opens
his eyes,


agrees to participate
in love
and perishability,

bring out the sun.

Kitten-boned deities
with eyes like snow leopards,

who smell like
it’s just rained–

hold them close,

treasure them like you would
this wobbling world.

Gods weren’t baked
to be broken.

Gods weren’t cooked
to be frozen.

Gods were made,
like we were,

to melt.

Grant a Woman Her Fifties

Grant her the chance
to purse her lips
at soy milk in coffee
and religion in politics
and those who chase stray cats
and those who run the world
and those who run.

Grant her the chance to live
half in half out,
like a frog
on a shiver
of lotus leaf.

When she runs her hands
over the crumbly brown bark
of her body,
that she does not yearn
for green blood
and purple succulence.

She sees
the ease now
of burnt wood and gnarliness.
Sometimes, the beauty, even.

Grant a woman her fifties,

the chance to see
that young forests become old
and the old become sky
and the sky becomes pond
where frogs meet
to drink the shrapnel wound
of the moon.

Grant a woman her fifties
to unpurse her lips
and savour
where they meet —

the darkening,
the steady rampage of light.

Author’s Bio:

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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