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,
    jasmine-scented
    nickname,
    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,

    blinks,
    yawns,

    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,
    know
    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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