The year of the earth rooster
On the fourth month of the new year we bought one hundred goldfish.
One by one mother dropped the slippery thrashing bodies into the lake.
We knew our turn would come. A new kite, ice cream in the hot afternoon.
The places we revealed as nature mistaken for habit.
The sky unfolding its ocean. Cloud patterns below the sky. The world
Revolved around us. Trees with rounded heads standing stiff and long.
But that was how we learnt. Prayers before sleep and morning prayers.
And at night the moon racing past clouds in the sky—a clear
Path of light as though we were watching a movie. The daily rituals
And the yearly ones. One year we could not find fish, we were far from water
I wasn’t sure what that would mean for us. Mother found a market of birds
And we set them flying near a goddesses’ temple. Watching them flee blindly.
The streets opened up a path and we counted the ones who stayed
On the ground. Mother said fate would take them home.
The moon was a thin stem but we got our story.
Before the Rain
Four days it rained after she died.
The plants put to bed by her broke their spines and lay flat. Turned brown
so we forgot they were there.
The government declared some districts as disaster zones. We saw roofs slide
down the river and foreign aid arrive on TV; midnight blue blankets.
The world cricket series began in India and a 19-year-old took the first wicket.
The men wore clean white clothes.
When I cried, I was comforted with updates on the latest death tolls.
A cow floated down the tumid river from one village to the next
without any injuries. The newspapers named her ‘Trishuli’—for the river.
Numbers rose, the television flashed portraits of orphaned mothers
and children. Mourners followed the colour of grief. Shades of white.
Three batsmen were out in two hours.
Cremation in the rain allows for little composure. Umbrellas not forgotten.
Extra wood. Mud on white.
The sun hot in India. One player from the visiting team complained
of migraines. Throughout the day, transistors carried the score from street to street.
Numbers had risen. On the fifth day, we had sun.
Everyone hung their clothes out in their yards.
Carried from here
Due to early monsoon rains Saturday’s class was dismissed.
Seven nuns abandoned their books on the roof.
Raindrops, I said in English. They wanted to learn
functional words: immediately, approximate, conversion
A man pissed outside the window. He drew a perfect square
on the wall, then stuck his tongue out at me.
We took a walk and studied mud,
reading stories in the loudness of footprints.
Night brings its night talk. Ani Yeshe hid her face behind her
robes and asked for a precise translation of masturbation.
Stars were motionless on the street. Fifteen nuns and I
squatted in the dark and learnt to count. One, two, three…
Water drove the dogs crazy. Ama said it had more
to do with the place. Served strawberries to the nuns.
Green is insufficient for some shades. I told them it was green
but a snorting green. A green nodding into slumber.
I translate letters for parents whose children are learning
other things. Unpredictable in his allegiance to English grammar,
A Tibetan son sends orange mountains of love to his ama.
The gloaming chews up the horizon. His mother nods her head.
The nuns want to know if I can teach them
what the “school people” learn.
I tell them one learns according to one’s needs,
as the evening news on TV is read in crisp British.
Ani Doma pines for winter. She has a new woollen sweater,
the style not quite nun-like. But she’s ready for it.
I wanted paper for the nuns. Plain white.
Cheap Chinese paper, she said when she touched it.
Love Letter 19
You were happiest in late summer afternoons.
The sun taking his nap. Cat-eyes,
Your mind supple to whims. Butter tea
Under the jacaranda tree. I see jacaranda
Even though the smell of juniper comes in.
That gentle pat of the sun. Taciturn hands
Of a woman that become cotton
After years of working in the sun.
The way yours might have been if your hands
Were still here. And the stars of old days, if days could age
Stars of grandmother eyes. So like the rheumy gaze
Of yaks. Counting lice in hair.
Days are evasive now. They lose their stutter.
They do not age. I want the kind of day
That learns to crawl and chew.
To walk Outside the gate we call home.