Madras Postcard, c. 1912
They threw me back
into the anterior
I learned that some mother
of mine was a water maid.
She balanced enormous kettles on her head
the way they do in panoramic photo essays.
Perhaps this explains my domestic
I wanted to be a kulak,
weave wreaths of grass and dung,
have hair the colour of my flesh,
but only in hindsight.
Otherwise I covered up the birthright
of river winds
with smells of American smog.
She was blacker than
pools of pitch sucked from the earth,
large-eyed, long-nosed, hobbled of foot,
breathing through a mouth
much like my own
but for the tongue.
Chance always contravenes.
By this I came to greet her,
squatter in the dark,
scabrous hands that molded rotis
and shaped my fate.
Admiring the men at their labour,
she would lag to scratch her face.
The elders called her unreliable
although she was strong of sinew and the guarantee
of many boy babies.
Fond of mischief, baubles, the constellations,
perhaps her blood simmered the way mine does
when I am angry or humbled.
Her soul was sold
possibly for love.
Later they told her she could not smoke a pipe,
walk out over the din of day,
run so the beads on her ankles jangled rudely.
She was a woman now;
mortification would be bought by other means.
Perhaps her ensuing severity was
quelled in secret
by a tender lover.
Maybe not speaking
made her a widow,
going round corners with the bravado of a cat.
Sometimes I wonder whether she knew music
or recited Vedic verses,
if her voice was inharmonious and brusque
or like the Gopis, full with tintinnabulations and sweet.
I know that nothing in the world
mattered to her
more than the river boats,
little buoys from the direction of the moon
traversing distances that seemed as extraneous,
but it was so long ago