Anthology of Contemporary Indian Poetry

Gieve Patel

How Do You Withstand, Body?

How do your withstand, body,
Destruction repeatedly
Aimed at you? Minutes,
Seconds, like gun reports
Tattoo you with holes.
Your area of five
By one is not
Room enough for
The fists, the blows;
All instruments itch
To make a hedgehog
Of your hide. It's your fate,
Poor slut: To walk compliantly
Before heroes! Offering 
In your demolition
A besotted kind of love:
Dumb, discoloured,
Battered patches; meat-mouths
For monsters' kisses.

(From How Do You Withstand, Body?)


It is startling to see how swiftly
A man may be sliced
From chin to prick,
How easily the bones
He has felt whole
Under his chest
For a sixty, seventy years
May be snapped,
With what calm,
Liver, lung and heart
Be examined, the bowels
Noted for defect, the brain
For haemorrhage,
And all these insides
That have for a lifetime
Raged and strained to understand
Be dumped back into the body,
Now stitched to perfection,
Before announcing death
Due to an obscure reason.
 From Poems 

Squirrels in Washington

Squirrels in Washington come
Galloping at you on fours, then brake
To a halt a few feet away
And beg on hindquarters.
No one stones them,
And their fear is diminished.
They do halt, even so,
Some feet away, those few feet
The object of my wonder. Do I
Emit currents
At closer quarters? Are those
The few feet I would keep
From a tame tiger? Is there
A hierarchy, then, of distances,
That must be observed,
And non-observance would at once
Agglutinate all of Nature
Into a messy, inextricable mass?
Ah Daphne! Passing 
From woman to foliage did she for a moment
Sense all vegetable sap as current
Of her own bloodstream, the green
Flooding into the red? And when
She achieved her final arboreal being,
Shed dewy tears each dawn
For that lost fleeting moment,
That hint of freedom,
In transit, between cage and cage?

                                      From Mirrored, Mirroring