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.


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

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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

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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?

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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

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

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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

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

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

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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

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

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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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