Four Poems

    By Ajay Kumar

    remains to be seen

    after the 2022 hunga tonga eruption and tsunami

    footages and images on our feeds
    but no feedback. as we scroll on

    in our monologues of curiosity
    a small part of the world has left us

    on read, unable to reply, an expanding cloud
    of ash swallowing its testimony.

    when a place is severed from what
    tethered it to the world we remember

    it is an island but when nearly 12000 kms away
    a fisherman swears to his wife he could taste ash

    in the air tonight we might recognise
    that the dimensions of an island can never be

    you-by-me, that what we call an island
    is something we haven’t looked at deep enough

    to see how it connects to the rest, that what holds
    a fragile thing aloft is also a fragile thing.

    barrenhood

    beg, bhindi. sing for light and water.
    first the sun’s laughter arrested at the building’s
    edge like a wish on an eyelash. then the rain
    lobbied by cement lofts and tin roofs so what
    trickles down is the logic of water, not its kiss.

    the truth is, bhindi. a mock of growbags
    and pots with holes in them. my grandma
    gave my mother fifteen seeds out of which
    four sprouted and one of them became
    the jaggery of her pride, bhindi of her eye.

    now you lie like a knot of phlegm and snot
    when a garden’s dream sneezed in its mask.
    how small it all is relative to grandma’s garden
    where the seeds came from and how small that was
    when held against the memory of the field
    that never recovered from ockhi’s tears.

    no subsidised pesticide able to sign the soil
    with an earthworm’s calligraphy. the truth is
    bhindi. i envy the way my mother doted on you
    the way she conducted your shower, namakarana
    rice ceremony, wrote om on your green tongue
    all in the duration of one phone call to grandma.

    i envy how you don’t know, yet are. if a tree fell
    in a forest it becomes more trees. can i
    say the same about us? languages must research
    your yellow and green life to learn how to say something
    and mean it. the truth is, bhindi. both my parents
    were presumed dead on arrival. my friend is a triplet
    who was a quadruplet in the womb. my neighbours
    could recreate the city by tracing lines between
    the temples and fertility clinics they’ve been pilgrims to.

    my grandpa had even started digging a grave
    in the wall. i beg, bhindi. keep going, carry on.
    as you crumple into a strangled brown scream
    let me tell you how abruptly she cut the call
    when she realised that eleven hadn’t sprouted.
    i beg you to keep singing, now that you know.

    theories of gravity

    when buried beneath a snowstorm
    you lose sense of every direction
    except desperation. in darkness sometimes
    trying to dig your way out you end
    up burying yourself even deeper
    becoming an epitaph on your own
    struggle, a tldr made flesh.

    i’ve never really seen real snow
    but i still suffocate whenever
    it’s newly cold. it is said i should lie
    down bellyfirst and let someone drum
    soft taps onto my back and sides, drink
    warm milk with turmeric daily and have
    a spoonful of honey with powdered pepper
    every night. but i make do with an inhaler
    a tub of vicks vaporub and a bad joke.

    when buried under snow, it is said
    dig a little and then spit— if it falls
    on your face you’re moving
    in the right direction. the bad joke?
    when she asks me why do you still
    use the inhaler
     i could say because
    you’re still breathtaking.
     i remember
    watching the revenant which had lots
    of harsh snow but also a tender line
    in pawnee that kept flashing across
    dicaprio’s grizzly-mauled mind—
    when there is a storm… and you
    stand in front of a tree… if you look
    at its branches, you swear it will fall
    but if you watch the trunk, you will
    see its strength.

    while digging your way out of that darkness
    forget the spit on your face and the fact
    that you’ve lost your goggles— as soon as you
    surface the swirling prisms of the snowstorm
    will blind you. i’ve seen enough
    clips of snow to know small snowballs
    don’t roll into big ones like we’re shown
    in cartoons— they become some vaguely
    wobbling wheel. what does that say
    of the way we teach our kids
    about consequences? i’ve never seen
    real snow, let alone be buried in it
    but i still have spit on my face.

    what does that say about the way
    we keep ourselves warm?
    what does that say about you
    taking my breath away?

    about 5,34,00,00,000 results (0.63 seconds) for your search “ecology”

    (you can start scrolling)

    wallpaper: the sun lingers
    only just, on the back of a squirrel
    drinking dew, everything else
    is fog fog fog

    swipe ↑

    scene: she tugs at her grandfather’s
    polythene skin, which wants to take
    all plastic, but has no more body
    cut to: his ashes floating into gunshots
    while bulletproof butterflies flutter

    swipe ↑

    prompt: the same attitudes wear new butterflies
    to tell you— imagine if grass stiffened when dew
    rolled down, how fast and thick the clouds would be
    and how quickly the pond will fill up

    swipe ↑

    morphology: the shape of commas
    like tadpoles, full-stops that grew tails
    smudged by a wet touch
    phonology: as you go into the mouth
    the roundness reduces, like rocks
    pebbled in riverbeds, soaps touched
    over and over again

    swipe ↑

    haiku: with a snakelike gait
    rain pierces the lilypad
    nervous frogs watch by

    frequently asked question: to a faraway brook
    ask the pain of two drops
    refusing to let go

    swipe ↑

    did you know: the petiole
    is the slender stalk by which the leaf
    is attached to the storm around it?
    what a dark and narrow path
    we come out of and how hauntingly
    similar the journey back?

    swipe ↑

    statistics: at dusk the mother chicken
    does not return with all her children
    (eagle 25% wildcat 25% civet 25%
    human 25%) and the dried yellow
    drumstick leaves are swept away
    by the wind-broom of stepmother nature

    swipe ↑

    soundscape: the dog fight in the hills
    comes to us in winds
    panorama: our eyes are citizen
    wherever the leaf falls

    swipe ↑

    reality show: a mynah descends on a branch
    dislodging a barely-held leaf that makes
    a squirrel running on the roof pause to wait
    and watch the swirling leaf be caught back

    swipe ↑

    theory: every falling leaf is a sigh
    a part of autumn’s broken blanket

    swipe ↑

    climate change: the men have rolled up
    the deserts, the women have gathered
    Antarctica in cubes

    swipe ↑

    archive footage: when the caveman entered
    there were poppies— he had a three-battery torch
    he could hunt an antelope with, he had a memory
    of the cavewoman blushing like rocks’ red-gold
    patches preparing bed for pioneer mushrooms

    swipe ↑

    documentary: virgin mary and infant jesus
    carved in radishes in oaxaca, mexico.

    swipe ↑

    definition: transmutation is a snake slithering
    to your feet, molting and becoming an anklet
    is a krishna bee come to butter-loot radha jasmine
    but making love instead
    hypothesis: the law of nature is leaning—
    the bee on the flower on the hill on the sky

    swipe ↑

    how-to: it is easier to keep track of the sun
    if you saw it rise in the morning, once it
    coughs on your shoulder, let it dry
    under the eaves where the sky is on the grass
    paper-weighted by a sparrow’s dirge

    swipe ↑

    do it yourself: to make a sparrow’s grave
    you’ll need a lack of direction, an alchemy
    of a sneeze’s atlas on a glass surface

    swipe ↑

    obituary: it is raining—
    only the elders of the desert chant
    when it’s raining

    swipe ↑

    zen: felt like a million birds crying in the tree
    turns out a single bird singing a million songs

    swipe ↑

    nat geo compilation: in the trees
    there’s a decade in that one note
    the koel likes to hold, its eyes red
    like sun-worn lobster shells, held
    as white-throats drop anchovies
    like punctuation, like leaves falling
    in alliteration, of an army of ants
    on mango leaves, of half-eaten papayas
    tumbling down after a band on monkeys
    and leaf miners tracing labyrinths
    of unknown countries and eagles flapping
    once to prove gravity, twice to prove life

    swipe ↑

    personality quiz: if we could
    like salmons, return to spawn
    to be mayfly and jellyfish together

    (the scroll goes on forever but you don’t, so exit for now)

    Ajay Kumar lives in Chennai, India, where he’s pursuing his BA in English Language and Literature. His work has appeared in The Bombay Literary Magazine, Rattle, The Bombay Review, Muse India, and nether Quarterly, among others.

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