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Three Poems

VISA GODS

 

In this story, Eurydice is dark & deadly

& has lived all her life in Hades.

In this story, Orpheus plays the drums.

 

A semester-at-sea program  Tamil refugee

solidarity group makes them meet.

Orpheus is ensnared watching the way

she talks with her hands and laughs

with her eyes and speaks with an accent
he has never taken to bed. Skin sun-kissed
as cinnamon stick, long hair that anchors storms,

a mouth filled with the coarsest curses on land.

Gossip says it was the spice in her meals,
it may well have been the sex.

 

For the sake of this story, Orpheus
has to bring her into the first world.
In his contract with the overlords
there’s no clause about looking back,

about trust, about hearing the footsteps

of the loved one before walking ahead—

that is not a white people thing at all.

 

Here, Orpheus must leave.

Eurydice must follow.

 

In other words, Eurydice,

to smuggle their love,

must screw her way
into Europe.

 

Eurydice must cross the seas,

pass through border controls,

fight for a Schengen, chant

prayers for her visa, borrow

recklessly with her bank, get

her passport stamped. She

must do this six hundred

times over a lifetime.

 

Hostage to nation-state, our man

Orpheus must wait, must will himself

to live for a woman who weeps when

she is away, weeps when it’s time
to leave, weeps when she cannot

come, who weeps in his arms
because their love story
is not in their hands.

 

Orpheus no longer plays the drums.

 

Now, there is no music in his life—

only the silence at parting,
the white noise of waiting.

 

 

A CAT CLOSING HER EYES

 

Poonai kanmoodi kondaal,

Poolokam irundu vidaathu

When a cat shuts its eyes,
the world does not turn dark.

 

It is said that mothers
have a proverb for every occasion—

amma recycled the same one
to see me through everything.

 

To tackle my teenage tantrums
Poonai kanmoodi kondaal…
Your sulking does not affect me, girl!

 

To combat my depression
Poonai kanmoodi kondaal…
Just stop wallowing in your sorrows, girl!

 

To stop me giving up
Poonai kanmoodi kondaal…
The world will move on without you, girl!

 

Most of all, to put me together,

heartbreak after heartbreak
Poonai kanmoodi kondaal…
He doesn’t see you, girl, you are beautiful,

men will find you, and you will find love!

 

 

INDIA IS MY COUNTRY

 

Like the fascist who led us to this ruin, death has also learnt

to wear a different disguise these days.

 

No heavy as sorrow rose-marigold garlands, no one tying up the corpse’s big toes together, no one folding their rigid hands as if in prayer, no one wrapping them in fresh silk clothes, no freezer boxes attached to power outlets, no one spraying eau-de-cologne so the dead keep fresh through the wake, no one stuffing the ears and nostrils of the corpse with cotton balls, no one fussing about with a coin on the dead one’s forehead, no women singing dirges, no women beating their breasts or tearing their clothes, no steady stream of visitors, no howling cries that ripple through the room, no bossy men to say women and children cannot come to graveyards, no cousins poking you in the ribs and saying the next body will fall in your home, no booze, no funeral drums, no pall-bearers, no coffins, no vaikarisi, none of the hysteria we came to associate with death, none of the collective catharsis, none of the never-ending tears

 

Only the endless sight of anonymous corpses wrapped in white plastic streaming out from ambulances, a lone relative who builds the pyre with a lot of help, rows & rows & rows of open-air pyres with wood mercilessly piled close together to contain the flames, unrepentant fire and ash, cremation workers moving around in that smoky daze, recycling the wood that has not had the heart to burn

 

On this last journey: no mortal remains, no farewells, no last words

 

We mourn for the dead,
we mourn for our numbness.

 

We mourn for the lost pride that let us say each day, India is

my country, and now we feebly add,
my country is a crematorium.


ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR

MEENA KANDASAMY is a poet, novelist and translator. Her latest books are a translation of the love poetry of 2000-year-old Tamil classic Tirukkural (THE BOOK OF DESIRE) and her own poetry collection, TOMORROW SOMEONE WILL ARREST YOU, which is forthcoming with Atlantic Books in May 2023.

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