The Broken Rainbow

    By Ruth Vanita


    She says she cannot sleep,
    smiles as if she’d rather weep.
    My hands are empty as hands
    always are. I cannot make
    the world a smaller place, or bring
    the moon closer to comfort her.
    Words are weak magic, disobeyed
    by dreams. What use to sing when night
    so long must be endured – no song
    conjures the sight that she would see.
    Wakeful in me and restlessly
    she stirs. I become a mirror
    gleaming, hour after silent hour.

    Gay Indian Poets

    for Prageeta, who asked the question

    For years it lay quiet in a corner –
    the answer a mirror caked with dust,
    till a slant question set it dazzling.

    To what school of poets did you belong?
    she asked. Belong? Where? In what world?
    There was a you, an I, but no – no ‘we’.
    The dead were speaking and I overheard
    enough to stammer. Song needs windows.
    Maybe one will do, if through the bars
    a king may hear a minstrel serenade.


    Pain is not a matchstick you can light,
    and if it were,
    there’d have to be air too, and dryness
    to make fire
    and in the flames
    perhaps a god.

    No line you draw will keep it out, or in.
    Before you drew,
    lines were already crossed and cities burnt.
    All that you fear
    is done – battles
    begun end, here.

    In this forest you can’t lose your way.
    It spans the world.
    All roads are right and none leads anywhere.
    All space is yours
    to take in, to
    breathe out, to bear.

    Excerpted from The Broken Rainbow, Ruth Vanita Copper Coin Press, India

    Ruth Vanita is the author, most recently, of two novels, Memory of Light (2022) and A Slight Angle (forthcoming 2024) and The Broken Rainbow: Poems and Translations (2023). Her books include The Dharma of Justice in the Sanskrit Epics: Debates on Gender, Varna and Species (OUP, 2022) and Love’s Rite: Same-Sex Marriages in Modern India (Penguin, 2005; updated 2023); Dancing with the Nation: Courtesans in Bombay Cinema; Gender, Sex and the City: Urdu Rekhti Poetry. She has translated several works of fiction and poetry from Hindi to English, most recently Mahadevi Varma’s My Family.

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