Anthology of Contemporary Indian Poetry

Tanya Mendonsa

The Daughters of the Lie

Our ways are mild
but we have tigers in the blood.
We speak them smooth
but ice runs in our veins :

we would tear the heart out of an enemy
as easily as we would break bread
or pull a lettuce.

Nobody knows us,
the daughters of the lie.

At a sticking point,
the heath is as good a bed for us
as any sanctioned mattress.

With mercy to all
we have pity for none.

Although they lie with us
and stroke the sheepskin,
they never see the wolf.

The fangs and claws 
are in the mind and heart,
and nobody is spared.

We have kestrel's eyes
and our kin are the wildness and the wet.

Come, the feast is spread.
You can sate yourself on me

and never taste my truth.

I Sing a Song of Goa

I sing a song of Goa :

Of the first liquid purl of birdsong that pulls 
Up the kingfisher day like a fishing line looping into water;
Of the fist of the sun at noon and the cracking of the parched earth;
Of the brawling of buffaloes, breasting the woodsmoke,
Heading for home.

I sing of the creak of the windlass and the clean
Taste of water in the earthenware pitchers;
Of the desultory conversations on the balcaos at dusk
- somebody's daughter; somebody's son  - 
As the crickets fiddle on hot stones and the sun dives,
Dolphin-deep, into the sea;
Of the anguished squeal of the Christmas pig, as flesh
Becomes sorpotel on the laden tables of festivity.

I sing of the riches of May, when the mango and the cashew apple
Grow so heavy with desire that scent weds heat;
Of the generous gulmohur, so reckless with its flowery coinage that it
Paves the country roads with red gold;
Of the baptism of the first rains, when the round
Earth grows hair : a tender fuzz of green on the skull,
Over the bones of the beloved soil.

I sing of the knotted rosaries of families, that stretch to lands far away;
Of the crucifixion of weddings ( nailed to the cross of respectability );
Of the benediction of funerals, and the village drunk
Howling his loss to the young moon on her back...
Loss of love ?
Of life ?
Never mind : it is the deepest sound a human being can make.

But, too,
I sing the lament of the rape of the hillsides by bulldozers and moneymen;
I sing along the veins of the rivers whose blood
Is being poisoned by the excreta of factories;
I sing a farewell to the sons and the daughters who go abroad 
To seek their fortunes, leaving the fields untilled.
This land is drenched in the voices of our ancestors.

They are stirring in their graves and questioning us in their various voices :
Will the bread we eat today be baked tomorrow?
Will the fisherman's boat be capsized by the trawler?
Will the farmers sowing rice be stacking cans in supermarkets soon?

No one is safe, and every innocent must answer the charge.
The jury is out, and the sentence hangs fire :
All we have to tender as bail is the earth beneath 
And the sky above:
Neither is acceptable as surety.

But I still sing of the blessing of each dawn,
When we wake with the wafer of hope on our tongues.
The church and temple bells still ring, and the hoot
Of the breadman on his bicycle echoes the rooster.

Some wake;

Some sleep;

And some work to save this land
From the nightmares that gallop apace with our dreams.

If I sing a song of Goa,
Will Goa someday sing a song of me?

If it does,
Let it be from the throat of that wayside flower
That releases its sweetness
As it falls,
And has a stain of vermilion at its heart, so that the foot
That treads on it imprints its fragrance on the tender
Hollow of the instep,

To perfume the road ahead,

Until all the roads seem to be singing.