Anthology of Contemporary Indian Poetry

Annie Zaidi

Cine Sestina

Tell me how it's done, how these monsters of Lake
Desire are overcome. How do I discipline this blue bird
falling from my summer heart? Give me a shard
of your blood on a finger-long slab of glass smeared
with chemicals, so we might conclude this cinema
of who you are, and why I can belong to no-one else.

I have no faith in promised time, in someone else
wearing your face, your name drowning in a lake
of namesakes and lookalikes. This trite cinema
of roulette love and hearts cast like dice, of birds
coming home to roost - shove it! I will not smear
my bed with platitudinous dreams. There's not one shard

of truth about this being my darkest hour. With shards
of dawn in my eye, I come to you. You, no one else.
If you are not ready with coal, candles, almonds smeared
with honey; if our evenings are not crinkled from laking
around my district of genteel poverty; if we cannot be firebirds - 
ashen, alive, legless, marking the holiest place in the cinema

of this planet; if we are not red, black, beaked like cinematic
creatures who always lose the last battle, splitting into a million shards
of a thing that cannot die; if we cannot stretch stolen time like birds'
wings and dust ourselves down with joy... Dear god! This if, or else!
This bone-tearing possibility of sheer curtains, a houseboat, a lake;
this glacier of longing sliding down a hundred feet a day; this smear

of want on my breath; this damning habit of prayer smearing
my agnostic soul; this scouring of God in temples as if I was a cinema
fool; this battering ram of hope on sensibly locked doors; this lake
of alligator dreams - Dear god! You think I'm precious. All shards
and shell-shock and chipped nail polish. But what else
can I bring except my worn talon care, my shorn bird's

body? Listen. I dreamt of the Mithi in flood, and blackbirds
trapped in your hair. My hands are birds, my lips are smeared
with ice, my legs are landslides, my eyes grey feathers, or else
a two-bigha farm where tragedy unfolds on a scale that only cinema
can bear to tell. I dream of turning on the shower and shards
of other people sluice my face. I dream of us, a boat, a lake.

There must be some place else to go - a safe misty slope where birds
can yank from earth, a lake, with nothing more than molten lips. Here, smeared
with cinema light, we do not explain ourselves but are revealed, shard by shard.

City, Twilight

People have done these things before.
Heart sliced open, somebody has talked before 
of ripping stars out of the sky.    What right has anything to shine
when her heart lies, mashed
pomegranate on dust?

Somebody before now has wanted to raise a butcher's knife
and carve out the irascible sun
pluck out the heart of a planet
take a cleaver and make mince
of this thing that goes on making day
come what bloody may.

It leads her to think of all wish-I-coulds
why-can't-it-bes and she says (as others have, no doubt):           There, right there 
is why it deserves to fall. The stars. The sun. The bloody golden moon
that becomes whatever he likes and yet the universe allows him
to stay whole.

In sheer surprise a star bursts
through the smog and falls
off its chair, laughing.

The moon muffles his mouth
on the nearest ragged cloud, swears
to show up - same time, next month - nonchalant, he leaves
with a wink.

All the stars blink,
dazed, just a little crazed by this charming yellow monster
of sliding loyalties.

The sun simply reddens his face, politely swerves
out of sight. He knows enough to show a shame 
he doesn't deserve. He sinks.
On the promenade she pauses, willing it:      Go drown! 
she says.

And he does.

Against this uninterrupted view 
(why do they cut the palms down?)
she feels the tide rising.      This is madness 
she says 
and picks up the phone.

Before now, somebody must have wanted
to hold down a pillow
on the gap-toothed face of morning.
Or hurl herself out of a seventh floor window.
She thinks:        This has happened before.

On the way down, she too must spread her arms
in a final, token salaam to trust.
As if a just-met lover was there, waist to waist, arms aligned, 
egging her on:	 	Take off your slippers. Fly. Go on.

And she does.

She will not open her eyes too soon
nor look behind to see if the beloved follows this time.
There is no doubt this time.

Lifer Giving Advice to New Convict in Female Ward

Prison holds the key to freedom.
Freedom is... what? A well-cooked meal that you don't have to cook yourself. And soap.
Soap, yes, soap costs money you know. Which they don't always give you.
You'll learn to steal, though. Don't worry. Steal both, soap and money.
Money can be made right here.
Here! The coins pile up, see? Came from stuff I sold.
Sold cut-up bits of soap and bought a smoke.
Smoke a beedi, here... You'll learn to make do.

Do not worry.
Worry kills.

Kills you more than they kill you at home.

Home, basti, city, work...
Work, work, work, work!
Work in the kitchen. Work at work. Work at night.
Night's dark work... and here we are. Because once we were worked to death.
Death's coming, this way or that.
That was all the choice you had - you, at his hands or...
Or he, at yours. Matter of time.

Time kills too you know. So do we.
We killed. I did. And so did you.
You did, didn't you? Just like time kills. Or work. Or men.

Men! The things they make us do!
Do you really want to go back?
Back to cleaning, cooking, pretending it's home?
Home, to that basti? All those cow-brain people?
People are horrible, you know. They won't let you be.

Be smart, like me. Sell half your soap.
Soap buys beedis. Ganja sometimes.

Sometimes, out in the yard, the sun slides down mellow,
mellow yellow sunshine down the front of your throat. Think!
Think of not cooking three meals a day.
Days and days gliding by, light and slippery.
Slippery as oiled hair or soap.

Soap, yes. That's all you will need at first.
First time here? I know, you don't see it like this.
This is all you need, though. Trust me.
Trust me. I've been here a lifetime,