When my grandfather was dying, he thought he heard heavens
labour in the ataxia of coppersmith barbets. He had memorized
them by their hindi name – basanta. But spring had already abated
back into the wings of a scarecrow we planted in the maize-cipher
Winter fumbled its torches inside the brazen heat of a sanjha chulha
Death stacked its sunlight in an arrangement of old slatted wood
the kind I feared creaking against my footsteps when I stole moths
from the dust of kerosene lamps. Smoke as spry as new ghosts as wax
-accented as the recession of the moon. Suddenly, the cage broke from its
own arpeggiated urgency – each rib, a fallen numeral in the tidy arithmetic
I couldn’t reason with. Time ragged in its own obvious beggary. Mean
-while the balconies still embellished by hanging baskets, birdfeeders, jute
swings, old water in shallow casks coated with a collation of seedlings.
Its brim drawn against a finger’s thin deliberation. Lacrimae, neutral veils.
What beauty returns us to our foremost tremble – our jaws still electric
in prayers, our knees abundant with pilgrimage. The body relinquishes
its last joys in a pool of late blue lotuses. The name He kept was a forest
staved in a tinderbox. The name He lost was a body hardening on dirty ice.
Tomorrow or day after, memory will allude to this moment and say no,
you can’t return to what you could have been. Meanwhile, the song still
continues to wet the edge of my lip like a revision to that first bird’s thirst.
basanta – a kind of passerine
sanjha chulha – earthern stoves popular in rural India