Anthology of Contemporary Indian Poetry

Jeet Thayil

Poem with Prediction

Because he's old and unsure, 
he counts on your faith in images
and your fear, which is as pure
as when you were a child, turning the pages
of the illustrated books. He intones castrato symbol & basso portent, 
reveals the unexpurgated blood truth of fairy tales, pretends 
his closed, unchanged-in-2-millenia judgments 
are improvised and no 5-star 
awaited you. He gives you viral in exchange for Sister
Tree and calls it fair trade. You're allowed to whine
if you stay in key and watch your rhyme.  
But your innocence 
will be punished, this is a rule of the Great Gagadong.
Another is, You will love and obey him and let him lick 
your wound with his infected tongue.  
He brings you the good news-your tick 
is erratic, 
you are uninspired, dear 
idiot, and no meaning will adhere 
to you or your dead. His wide hand will rain 
with blessings and good sense.
He'll translate the world into plain
language for you who are without ability. Your need for money 
is as banal as it is weak. 
The real work 
is his to accomplish-in a week. 
Your demands are too many,
your skin too soft. You deserve the paddle of his handmade violin.


for Shakti

Gone and gone doesn't mean a thing-
the world and we continue to be.
Happy to eat our pig and live, we sing
their names against the shame. We know
someone waits where the sky and sea
are tilted. She leans on light as on a floor.

The bridge between is and was descends
too soon, sweeps them up like chimney dust,
whose lips we loved, who were friends
when hands were hands that held us fast.
They reach to us, lost among the lost,
their shared minds stretched to the past,

inconsolable mouths slack with loss,
not able, not yet, to let go of us.

with a first line by Sebastian Mathews

To see if I'd still be here, 
looking back at you, my figure 
still, yours in motion, our
minds receding into the future, 
the miles between us stretched like wire.
In my dream, it was a Sunday in summer
when you returned to the East River. 
The city's last dogwood shivered
in the sun, but you didn't see her. 
On the subway (your token had expired
years ago), you said, Nothing's sadder 
than this. We found seats together.
I reached for you, but you weren't there.
Someone looked at me with pity and fear.

with a first line by Theresa Burns


To our bodies, expanding, numberless, slow,
August brought new knowledge of rain
gone berserk, of water pouring south.
Our dwarf palm stood with her mouth
open, making her objections plain,
dreaming, like us, of somewhere to go,

somewhere safe from the sea come to live
among us. But the streets were gone,
taken by a color not-quite-green,
in which something unseen
waited to greet us. Even the sun
went under. It was time to leave,
but how could we outrun the weather?
Where could we go, and stay together?

with a first line by Elaine Sexton


Forget the sea, let it fade.
How much longer can the craziness last?
    It'll stop
as soon as you imagine a new lost 
in which water and wind won't make a sound,
    Republic of the Not-Yet-Found,
a place you've seen before and where you've stayed.

    Only forget the town's old
name, the taste of apples, the words you know
as your own.
Someone new is coming through; you should go,
not home,
not backwards, but out where the light is wide
and those you lost are by your side,
radiant, ambulant, their downed bodies whole.

Everybody forgets every dear thing.
I know how it goes. This is safe keeping.

with a first line by Curtis Bauer


When it rains, the dead descend, you appear, 
the smell of rainwater in your hair,

wearing the ring I placed on your finger,
a scent like heat and a voice not yours, a
child's voice singing of age-old danger,
in Hindi, a lover's lament from Pyaasa.

Your lips, clear of the color you wear,
are not new to me, are lovely and bare,

and our old argument still burns. 
How soon will you forget me if I die?
By the river in this room and the way it returns,
I swear, If I forget you, let everything die.

When it rains the dead ascend, disappear
where we cannot follow, into the living air.

with a first line by Michelle Yasmin Valladares