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Letter to Achilles
You were burnt all over by your mother,
Only an ankle remains, more raw than the rest of your skin.
She thought she was making you immortal.
I whisper this aloud, to you Achilles
Alphabets of ink too coarse to touch so fine a runner.
Do you recall the trill of the sandgrouse,
That fantailed bird, afloat in the deserts of Punt?
Your mother loved its wings,
Charred and lacquered into mirrors
To shield the faces of the dead.
Why did she do that to you?
Did she think you were a sandgrouse and could flit away?
Achilles, turn homeward now.
Now hunger pins you to her door
Where a boy’s soles are carved in ash
In Kochi by the Sea
You walk in darkness
A candle in your hand, your sari unravels,
An inch of cotton snatched underfoot,
Sheer wax catches the doorpost.
Amma, is something burning?
Anamnesis, I looked it up in the dictionary
A seventeenth century usage in the language
You helped me learn, of Greek provenance
Used by some in medical literature for signs
That help uncover bodily condition.
Who was she?
In Kochi, that sunbaked city by the sea
I was high as your armpit.
You held me in your umbrella’s shade.
We saw a woman very pale, squatting on a doorstep
Someone was calling out her name.
A man, knife raised, circling a squawking bird
The woman paid no heed.
The bird poked under her sari, disappeared.
In the shadow of her clothing in between her feet
We saw vermillion dots, a trickle, a slow pour.
She dipped one pointed finger, then another
In the show of blood
Making a flower, a fist
A cockrel’s head, a candle, a cloud,
A quickly changing river,
Parts of a city, many houses burning,
The sheaves of redemption reeling.
You drew me aside so sharply, shielded my eyes.
Anamnesis, I try to think
Of what Plato might have meant
The body cleansed,
So seeing with the soul,
True recollection perfectly attuned
To every jot of what the future brings.
But there’s a discomfort in the inner life
I had not bargained for —
A stream with blistered rocks where I must walk
Barefoot as I did so many years ago
But now in a river bed
Not marked on any map I learnt to read
In a schoolhouse with a palm tree outside
Where the barbarous sun pours.
When you dropped your candle
Nothing came to fire
The future for an instant, pacified.
The dark was sweet and filled with singing birds
That fly into this garden without being asked,
A breath of joy, a fragrant certitude
Scarcely to be set into sentences.
Your umbrella was in the corner by the doorpost
Cupped in a flash of stormy light
Its ribs bent and broken by that wind renewed,
A monsoon crossing the Arabian sea.
And the woman we left behind?
Not to be seen except in figurations
Of the damned on Mattancheri palace walls
There she squatted on a stony road
Making forms of blood
Auguring what? Who could tell?
Figures cupped from the chaos of our dailiness,
Such ordinary things through which
We try to learn what the past presages,
And we think we touch,
A clarity of longing, a blessedness.
The afternoon you dragged me from the street
We walked beside the pounding beach
Past tiny wreaths of wood the color of wax
Washed out from the belly of a river
Cast into shapes of ruined cities,
No-nation cities lacking anthem, flag,
Their lintels blown, gardens stilled into ash.
Torn free of you I ran into the wind.
Waves crashed into voices,
The color of dropped blood,
The color of indigo cut from the mothering tree.
And underneath — in memory now —
I heard a darkness, luminous.
— From Ars Interpres 6 (2006). Print. http://www.arsint.com/2006/m_a_6.html