She lifts herself with a growl
as old as seven lifetimes and notices
she is no longer troubled
by the earth. Doubled in air
a floating gloom,
she circles her tree and looks
downwards. So far down--the grass,
wildflowers, pebbles marked
with old piss and goat shit--she cannot see
beyond her armpit.
This is how she blots her flight
with gaps between matter. Here is space
and there, nothing
but thunder and noisy laughter.
There is no gravitas
2. Looking for Feet
What are feet? I learn
we need them to swallow
weight and allow loco
-motion. Sometimes, feet
grow claws that fear clothes.
Talus and calcaneus have looped
around like stolen smiles
creating a secret
ocean behind her back.
The violence of turned tendon, ligament,
sinew do not match the rigid slowness
of her face.
She wants to stay
still; her feet want to walk
away. Her feet
aren’t mine, but they have
that same fringe quality. The same
how to move.
3. There is a man
who fears her. He removes from his face
stains yet unborn and stares
at handprints on the sand.
They tease and withdraw. He waits
for her to mime him. She arrives.
She has holes in her brow and a threaded mouth.
Piercings to memorise each new twig of the tree,
nameless like her. She walks by and tries
not to catch his eye as he pisses into the night.
The tree unfurls
its branches, suddenly dustgreen
with shell-sharp leaves
and the woman turns and
flickers in white, fleeting
and sacred. Where will she go
now, this shadow? Will she walk inside him
precious like sorrow? Will she
come again tomorrow?
Climbing is a useful art, especially
the art of climbing up trees, over
walls, into beds. You need both nails
and feet for fast ascendancy. She makes good
use of her fingers; sadly, her feet
do not follow orders
and her skin is torn apart
by thorn and bark.
To move upward is to burn the sky, grow
lonely, laugh a little strangely.
I could have learnt to climb, too.
How easy are the details,
the differences between two
frowns, two worlds, two scales. Here
is the ground. Up there, unseeing, talking to herself,
is the woman who cannot
paint her toenails.
5. Baby by the river
Go to sleep, go
to sleep, baby, she sings.
She places it in the tree-hole, drops
a few drops of blood on its lips
and covers it with leaves.
Before becoming this bundle,
mewling and angry,
you were mine. I kissed you, my child,
so muted, so tender.
She hurls the flowers away, shatters into a thousand howls
Oh no, no, no.
I found you here. By this river, dense
with hyacinths. Someone left
you here, I stole you, you appeared
out of nowhere. I don’t remember. Perhaps
you will feel better if I
kept you safe
inside my mouth.
6. The tree that knew her
Mimusops elengi rhymes with her
name. Well, just a little.
Everyone says she should sit
on other trees. The usual trees.
She, however, loved the Maulsari,
the Bokul, the Kirakuli with its white flowers
that she stuck to her breasts with spit. Sometimes,
she hid within its hollows, disappearing
into nothing, feigning death, turning into
bark. Sometimes, she grew into
petals: so auspicious, so fierce.
The tree knew her like it knew me: the quiet
of home, remorse of a river, clap
of birds’ wings over a scarce island.
And she reassembles herself
outside the trunk--
clavicle, calves, coccyx--
until she becomes
a pinprick of moondark.
7. Against Hair
She once told me
she never combed her hair.
Knotted, knee-length, lice-ridden
hair that could decode all stories.
Her hair is thrice song
and twice surrender.
The split ends are tributaries: Dibang,
Kameng, Dhonsiri, Subansiri,
the dandruff: stardust,
the grey: filaments of the day.
Her hair grew over branches, leaves,
Bokul flowers like something breathing.
I too wanted to try that trick.
But dreams of Jabakusum, untangling
fingers, scratch of comb
teeth against scalp, the belly-burst
spurt of lice blood kept me
from imitating her grace.