Three Poems by Arundhati Subramaniam

The Lover

The woman doesn’t call herself
a saint,

just a lover
of a saint

who’s been dead four hundred years.

She doesn’t see people 
on weekdays

but her master tells her
we’re safe, 

so she calls us in to where she sits
her body blazing
in its nakedness

its tummyfold and breastsag
and wild spiraling nipple 
reminding us that life
is circles --
crazy, looping, involuting, dazzling

She tells us 
the world calls her a whore.

She told her master about it too
but he only said,

‘The rest of the world serves 
many masters --
family, money, lovers, bosses,
children, power, money, money
in endless carousels --

                   the crazy autopilot 
                   of samsara.

But you, love, think only of me.
Who’s the whore here?’

Outside the window
the sun is a red silk lampshade

over a great soiled bedspread
ricocheting in the wind.

When Landscape Becomes Woman

I was eight when I looked
through a keyhole

and saw my mother in the drawing room
in her hibiscus silk sari,

her fingers slender 
around a glass of iced cola

and I grew suddenly shy
for never having seen her before.

I knew her well, of course --
serene undulation of blue mulmul, 
wrist serrated by thin gold bangle, 
gentle convexity of mole 
on upper right arm 
and high arched foot --
better than I knew myself.

And I knew her voice
like running water --
           ice cubes in cola. 

But through the keyhole
at the grownup party
she was no longer 

She seemed to know
how to incline her neck,
just when to sip 
her swirly drink
and she understood the language 
of baritone voices and lacquered nails
and words like Emergency. 

I could have watched her all night.

And that’s how I discovered
that keyholes always reveal more 
than doorways.

That a chink in the wall
is all you need 
to tumble
into a parallel universe. 

That mothers are women.

This Could Be Enough

We are warm with Mojitos
and your stories of Poland 

and your verities about men
who fear intimacy.

This sisterhood could almost be enough
and still it isn’t, we know.

And those men --
the ones who fear intimacy

          and the ones that don’t --
they won’t be enough either.

But this evening 
of muddled longing and rage, 

me in my red skirt, 
you in your summer dress, 

the man at the far table
glowering in lust,

the ditsy waiter
(his gaze greened by a fleeting memory 
of rains in Mangalore),

the embrace 
of this gently hysterical city,

and the hours deemed happy
by the gods 
of Tuesday night,

is all we really need to remember.

Ten years later,
       and maybe sooner,
we won’t ask for more.

Arundhathi Subramaniam is the author of four books of poems, most recently When God Is a Traveller (Bloodaxe Books, 2014) and Where I Live: New & Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2009). Her prose works include the bestselling biography of a contemporary mystic Sadhguru: More Than a Life, Penguin and Book of Buddha, Penguin Books (reprinted several times). As editor, she has worked on a Penguin anthology of essays on sacred journeys in the country (Pilgrim’s India), and a Sahitya Akademi anthology of Post-Independence Indian Poetry in English (Another Country). She has co-edited a Penguin anthology of contemporary Indian love poems in English (Confronting Love).