Anthology of Contemporary Indian Poetry

Meena Kandasamy

Passion Becomes Piety

the guilt-glazed love lay on andal's breasts,
thick and heavy as him.

                frightened with force
and locked away, she conjured him every night.
her emperumaan, her emperor-man.

recklessness on speed-dial, she became
a rape romantic. he, a bodice ripper.

                their bootleg shadows
burst out with the sun. people pointed fingers
at parted curtains, a scandal of shape-shifters.

her hair undone, silver-grey lips, skipped meals,
and nightmares of a thousand elephants . . .

                she learned to nurse
every rumour like a love-bite. in her defence,
she said her darling was a deity.

they sent her packing to spend time with him
murder as marriage, execution as consummation.

                nothing survived them. . .
only her poems which celebrated those fucks
he doled out for her frantic devotion.

Six Hours of Chastity

The day dies abruptly. 
Nalayani, most chaste of womankind,
Carries the basket-case of a husband
To his favorite prostitute's place.

She sits in a veranda of the brothel-home and
Someone who saunters there mistakes the devout
Wife to be a mistress of guilt, a woman of night.

She plays along, she pretends to this visiting stranger, 
This wayfaring man, who suffers and seeks salvation 
By day, but wants to buy a willing woman for the night. 

The second seems as different, and as indifferent, and
As she acts out a whore, money is a matter of ritual, 
Shining, it appears at her side. Enter the third man. 

Spice vendor, smelling of sweat on cinnamon bark, 
Six-fingered on each hand. A wife for every finger 
On the right, a city to stop at, for fingers on the left. 

The next is lean as a knife, he wears black. At eighteen
It is a rite of passage. He twists. He turns. He shuts 
His eyes as he thinks he soars and spills. Exit the fourth. 

To increase the number of his sins against recoiling skin, 
To drown his sorrow and his loss, to fight the knaves 
Who make him what he was, in walks the gambler. 

"After the fifth man, every woman becomes a temple." 

In the darkest-hour before dawn, the priest enters there,
Enters her, to make love to her leftovers, fidgeting in his
Guilt, and cowardice, like the clinking of holy cymbals.
And the sun is born into the arms of a defiled night. . . 

Six men, one for every hour of night.
A waiting angel, she picks up her husband,
(Who lies, clay-like and clumsy in his basket) 
Not bothered to serve out spite or spew her hate.

Six men, one for every hour of night.
And on the way home, as his weight cuts her 
Shoulder blades, she laughs and cries and laughs
Again, at the lightness of her burden, the end of fate.