Anthology of Contemporary Indian Poetry

Randhir Khare

I Do Not Know You, City

(For Pune)

I do not know you, city,
You who grow as a wound does,
Edges dissolving-
Pouring into a grey pool,
Churned and set into slabs
Smothering heartbeats;
Eczema spreads burning the skin of fields
And forests that once smelt of seasons,
Pores sweating sewage;

I do not know you, city,
Appearing and disappearing
As you do-
In the eyes of the old, stiff kneed, in Tulsi Baugh
Stroking beads till they powder 
Into grooves of palms;
Bells and calls to prayer halo their chanting; 

 I do not know you, city,
As you crawl in the shadow
Of a dhangar's horse 
Down high roads of change
Searching for camp sites and grazing grounds
Signposts of the past
Now sprouting homes;
The ancient arteries of your heart
Clogged with forgetfulness. 
I do not know you, city,
As I walk the serrated edges of your today,
Wondering who you are,
Who you were,
Are you alive or dead?
Is all I see and hear and touch and taste and smell -

Unknown Soldier

(In the crypt, St Paul's Cathedral)

He went down
In the killing fields of Mespot
Shredded by shrapnel,
Food for trench-rats;

In Nam he fell
Among paddy shoots
Beside a child
Clutching a wooden doll;

They didn't recognize him
In Gaza 
When they scraped his remains
Off a dusty street;
He died again and again
In Colombo, Siachen, the Congo,
Rangoon, Moscow, Lebanon,
Lost among numbers.

He still leaves home
With a gun, a sickle,
Bow, arrow, spear
Or just bare hands - to war

For his family, his land,
Honour, glory, reward,
Living to die, dying to live,
His memory like ashes through a sieve. 


(In memory of my cousin Camilla who drowned in the Arabian Sea)

You gave your heart to the sea one day Camilla;
Heavy thighed, broad shouldered, heaving through
Flesh of waves you stroked your way -
Towards a warm red sun squatting on the skyline
Throbbing with dolphins,
Your lungs thrusting bubbles into the darkening air
Crying with evening birds;
You gave your heart to the sea one day Camilla
And only your body returned, broken and cold;
Your void was filled with shells and weeds and brine,
Face down on the sand, you lay,
Exposed to unfamiliar eyes.

You gave your heart to the sea one day Camilla
With the holy passion of a lover,
Wind singing in your ears the songs of the drowned
 And the quiet lament of the living.