Anthology of Contemporary Indian Poetry

Arvind Krishna Mehrotra

Approaching Fifty

In unwiped bathroom mirrors,
He sees all three faces
Looking at him:

His own,
The grey-haired man's
Whose life policy has matured,
And the mocking youth's
Who paid the first premium.

From The Transfiguring Places, Ravi Dayal Publisher

The Sale

It's yours for the price, and these
old bits have character too. Today
they may not be available.
Naturally I can't press you
to buy them, and were I not leaving 
- you hear the sun choking with an eclipse -
I would never have thought of selling.
You may take your time though, and 
satisfy yourself. Yes, this is Europe
that America. This scarecrow Asia
that groin Africa and amputated
Australia. These five. I don't have more.
Maybe another egg-laying island remains
in the sea. You remember in my letter
I wrote of forests? They're wrapped
in leaves and there should be
no trouble in carrying them.
This skull contains the rivers.
About that I'm sorry. Had you come
yesterday I might have given you two.
I'll take another look. Yes, I do
have a mummy somewhere; only last
night the pyramids came
and knocked at my gate for a long time.

Would you mind if I showed you
a few more things now yours?
Be careful, one river is still wet
and slippery; its waters continue to 
run like footprints. Well, this is a
brick and we call that string.
This microscope contains the margins
of a poem. I've a map left, drawn
by migrating birds. 
Come into the attic.
That's not a doll - it's the
photograph of a brain walking
on sand and in the next one
it's wearing an oasis-like crown,
I must also show you a tiger's skin
which once hid a palace.
On one roof you'll see
the antelope's horns
on another the falling wind. These round
things are bangles, that long one
a gun. This cave is the inside
of a boot. And here
carved wheels turn through stone.

I wish you had asked me earlier.
The paintings have been bought
by a broken mirror
but I think I can lead you
to a crack in the wall.
I've a skeleton too.
It's full of butterflies
who at dawn will carry away
the crown.
I've also a wheel-chair to show you;
it belonged to my uncle
and one day the hook
that hangs from the sky
touched him. If you open the
cupboard you'll see his memory
on the upper shelves and two books
now yours. 
Ruskin's Lectures on Art and a 
Short History of English Literature by Legouis.
I'll take another minute.
Can you climb this ladder?
Well, that's the sun and moon
and with this candle you can
work the clouds. I'm sorry I was
short of space
and had to pack the Great Bear
in this clock. Oh them,
let them not worry you.
They're only fishermen and king
who will sail soon as one's bait
is ready and the other's dominion.

From Nine Enclosures, Clearing House