Five Poems

FIREFLIES

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.

EARTH TIME UNEARTHS A MEMORY

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.

BATS

The bats are out
tonight. Roller-coasting.
Shadow-boxing.
Enormous.
Dark as moths.
Flightier than butterflies.
Flitter-flutter-flitter
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
descends.
Breezy evening.
Delicious air
sprinkled with
zest and spice
from the sea.
Quietly. So very,
very, quietly
Bats reclaim
their night.

LEAF FALL IN CHENNAI

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.

DELUGE

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.