Five Poems

    By Shikhandin


    One April evening I saw the dance
    of fireflies. Small smoulders coruscating
    amidst the gnarly boughs
    of an old Indian Almond tree, which fell
    to a cyclone a year later. By then the fireflies
    were already gone. Beyond the tree,
    over the marshy fallow land where
    wading birds come and go, because
    they are tough enough to withstand urban clutter,
    the fireflies disappeared. In a wink.
    I think of them when I look up. But even the stars
    are veiled these days.
    The moon has dulled to a pewter shade.

    I walked a mile to reach the lake
    where the water weeds struggle
    for the right to be, each summer.
    The sun was about to sink when I met
    the lake’s cracked lips. The gloaming
    was like a ghost haunting plaintively.
    The air was so sad and still.
    And then I saw it. A light. A spark. Vanishing
    as quickly as it had appeared.
    A pinprick burst. Then another and another.
    Bouncing around in the gloom.
    The tiniest of holes poking through
    the new born night’s skin. Mesmerised I stood
    there. Like a tourist at a resort built
    near a temporary habitat for migratory birds.
    My footprint a dead weight tied to a noose.


    The day’s first dew clings to a blade
    of new grass that doesn’t yet know
    its own tenderness.
    Nor strength. Pearly. Translucent.
    Reluctant. A transient nacre,
    the dew slides when it loses grip,
    but doesn’t drop. Even as it gives of itself,
    layer by layer to the hankering day.
    Time’s impatience is a slow march.

    The crows that have gathered
    on your garden wall for your daily
    offering of rice to your ancestors.
    The dragonflies that die
    every day after mating. The tabby
    cat that eats her weakest kitten, both
    to cease its suffering and let
    her fittest survive. They know the seasons.
    Their mercy follows the clock.

    A spider weaves its web over
    and over again. Mending the weakest
    link. Strengthening the silk. Back
    and forth. Forth and back. Invisible
    cloak that prolongs life or ends it,
    depending on your point of view. Mystical
    rhythm. The cycles, a millennium old.
    The natural world’s kindness is beyond human ken.

    You swivel your head at the nudge of a memory.
    The little green snake that had its mouth open
    in anguish or terror – who knew
    or cared? – hissed its swan song
    beneath the avalanche of stones and the screams of school girls.
    You see it clearly now – That dry drain
    in which it lay, raising its head, but seeing no mercy
    above it. Only a kaleidoscope of monstrous
    faces hellbent on ending its time
    long before its own clock was meant to stop.
    Tic toc tic toc tic toc.
    Walls absorb the beat. Sand grains fall
    somewhere. You cannot reverse time.
    You can kill. You cannot give back life.


    The bats are out
    tonight. Roller-coasting.
    Dark as moths.
    Flightier than butterflies.
    in the gloaming.
    Weaving in and out
    of the undulating
    swarthy trees.
    The big bats glide.
    Glad for the sky
    in this humming,
    brimming dark.
    The little ones dive.
    Startled heads
    duck. Rise.
    Duck. Rise.
    A star or two
    are out too,
    braving the catcalls
    of city lights.
    A fruity scent
    Breezy evening.
    Delicious air
    sprinkled with
    zest and spice
    from the sea.
    Quietly. So very,
    very, quietly
    Bats reclaim
    their night.


    It is not Autumn, but the leaves are turning red.
    It is never Autumn here.
    Then why this endless blush and shame
    or is it anger? Red
    glowering anger. And what
    of the smog and dust? The heat. And hate? Yes,
    that too must be accounted for.
    There is such beauty in the death of a leaf.
    Dying as if all is not lost.
    And, something is still waiting…
    Soft. So soft. Even the limbs
    of crawlers tread softly. Unheard by
    human ears. Beyond eye level. Dry
    earth eats the smoke of chlorophyl and
    breathes. Turns a forgiving,
    benevolent eye. It is not Autumn here.
    It is never Autumn here.
    The leaves are dying at their own
    pace and time. Their self-propelled
    cycles. They chart their courses. We
    cannot read them. But they read us.
    At nightfall they go into a huddle,
    streaming healing messages to each
    other. At sunrise they forgive us.


    Our clothes must bend to the wind
    for the sun is a malodorous thing
    these days. Rain wants to be let in
    at the oddest of hours. Like a feral
    cat that has tasted cooked meat
    at the hands of man, and thinks what sin
    can sully its already tainted reputation,
    if it got a smidgeon of domestication
    rubbed into its life? Yes, indeed what harm
    other than the onslaught of a sudden swarm
    of intrusive and cloying affection?
    This deluge is a mere prelude.
    There will be river-roads curving through
    a city already drowning under humanity. And there
    will be biscuit-dry towns crumbling
    under the weight of people fleeing
    empty kitchens and prospects. But you live
    in a gated, and elevated community
    of canaries. Oblivious of the weather. The
    collapsing economy can barely dim
    your spirit. You peck at the bubbles on a crystal rim.
    Hopes and fears swirling among the eddies
    of your continuous crusades. But for you it is the real
    horror of imagined flooding in
    and around your sculpted precincts.
    Water turns people into debris. Drought
    creates refugees. Your homes are painted boats.
    No flotsam-jetsam are allowed to encroach
    or dislodge their moorings. But you forget. Roads
    are disobedient. They live outside all jurisdiction,
    singing as they go, ducking into alley ways
    like mysterious rivers. You can plug your ears
    or turn up the volume. Draw in the drapes. Repose
    with feline ease before the crackle of reality shows.
    You can hold out for as long as you can. Hoard your belongings.
    You can tell yourself they cried wolf too many times.
    But some droughts are here to stay. No matter
    what the naysayers say. And some deluges are so stealthy
    you won’t see them until you’re drowned already.

    Shikhandin is the pen name of an Indian writer. Books include ?After Grief ? Poems? (Red River, India), ?Impetuous women? (Penguin-Random House India), “Immoderate Men” (Speaking Tiger), and “Vibhuti Cat” (Duckbill-Penguin-Random House India). Her sci-fi/speculative works were published in ?A Dying Planet? (Flametree Press), ?Avatar? (Future Fiction), Sybil?s Garage, Enchanted Conversation, After Dinner Conversation, etc. Her children’s stories have been included in anthologies from Puffin and Harper Collins amongst others. Her poetry and prose have been widely published worldwide. She has won several awards and honours in India and abroad.

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