Anthology of Contemporary Indian Poetry

Menka Shivdasani

Why Rabbits Never Sleep

Lettuce is Nature's sedative, I read somewhere,
so at three a.m., I finally
decided to make a little salad.
There were cockroaches in the refrigerator
but I washed the vegetable well, then peeled
layer after layer, startling a sleepy worm
that had crawled indignantly from beneath the leaves.
But the pieces lay untidily, splashed across the plate,
like splotches of sun on the street;
so I tried another strategy - common, really,
any housewife-poet will know it.
I took a knife, its blade seductive in the dark,
and I chopped. The fragments, I noticed, as I yawned,
had begun to take the most extraordinary shapes.
Somewhere I recognised a bride,
her toenails turned to ash,
a mother-in-law and husband shut the door.
Another piece bore the face of a politician;
a third was a child with eyes wide open.
And why did the dish resemble
a wounded Hiroshima?
I went at it like the smiling Nazi
in a half-remembered film, who invited
his prisoner to lunch, then demonstrated
the art of cutting carrots.
"Chop, chop," he said, and as the slices fell,
still smiling, hacked the prisoner's finger off,
two actually, with the words, "Chop, chop,"
and another smile.
That night, I discovered the reason
rabbits never seem to sleep.

Tea Party

When you and I were about to break
there was no question of a fight
over who would take the cups
and who the saucers.
You spilled over with steam,
meniscus rippling with the slightest
touch; I, supine on the floor,
licked the milk once meant
for you. Both of us
were china at that point.
One of us had been to China too,
known the meaning of porcelain freedoms,
sniffed red guards. One of us
had known the sound of an alien tongue,
harsh and guttural as it came
from smiling mouths.
Our smiles were circular, yours and mine,
yours from the top of the tea
and mine below - two halves joined
together on separate rims. When we blew
at each other, the crockery
stayed firm, and who but you
and I would know the liquid moved?
No, there was no fight
over chipped white glass.
The pieces lay upon the kitchen floor.
And I - I've moved to tea parties
in other living rooms, balancing
alien porcelain on a frigid palm.