What need of poets

What need of poets when pyres are lit
On sidewalks – shall I say ‘let us go then,
You and I, when the evening is spread out
Against the sky’ and patients no longer
Etherized are strewn in our way? What need
Of imagery for a people starved
Of oxygen? Will metaphor bridge the
Chasm between the living and those
Unable to breathe? Should I not, instead,
Stake out my ground, and as a signpost might,
Point and direct the onlooker to parks
Abloom with pyre-beds, and flames that feed
Oxygen-giving trees with their dead? When
The iron hearts of crematoriums surrender
The poet needs must accept defeat. No mere
Broken heart melting with pity that still
Beats in my wordless body can compete



 :a pleasing view;
:a mental vision of a succession of remembered or anticipated events.

The dignity of lamps lights them still
Even when felled. The freshly dug pits
Receive them with the compassion of
A mass grave for unaccommodated
Humankind. Their roots do not flail
Naked, expelled from earthy homes.
Their heads do not bow, bending and
Leafy, green amidst sandstone
Domes. No cry no shout no wail
Of iron links sundered from brass
Headed rail no sound of an ending.
So silent, this raising of dust in the
Awkward extraction of the mighty
Stout-as-stone heart of a nation.
Where grief, quiet as smoke,
Stands sentinel, asking neither
Elegy nor pity for the vast cremation
Ground that is this city.

Dearly Beloved

We are gathered here in spirit and in

Spirit only. The body of death eludes us

Now as it promises to do after the 

Holding close denied the heart. This

Holding apart of love and death, this

Mourning denied the touch of breath,

This burying of presence, this closing

Of the eyes howsoever brief, this 

Standing before the burning pyres

Of the cleaved body of grief is gathered

Here, in our empty hands, dearly beloved,

Gathered here. Our empty hands. 


– not a number you associate with 

The age of the dead. Four hundred – not a 

Measure of kilometres you think of as lying 

Ahead. Hundreds of thousands – an amount

That exceeds the space in my mind, so many

Hearts beating that when one of them burst, even

Its silence seems impossible to find. How do we

Claim to think of ourselves as one, a number

So invisible that we may never know its kind.

How will we account for fares unrefunded,

Trains unboarded, homes unreached, the lives

Discounted, the peace unbreathed, the pity

Unspoken. One, a number divisible only by itself

On every step of every long march home 

Lies broken.

The Measure of Debt

How sweetly sleep the tree-lined streets

That guide the city’s weary. Unbearably

Light their burden tonight, the thin-soled

Steps of the unchosen in flight. How sweetly 

Scented and cleanly airy the lone highways

Under the cool moon’s light, their painted lines

Barely marking the grime of thousands of

Footprints crossing the white. How sweetly 

Flows the river blue through the city as it used

To do, rippling our endless thirst for beauty

That is our civilizational right. Spilt milk shared

By animals and men who bend their mouths

To the dark asphalt, sunrise placing of hunger’s

Hope mark the tar six feet apart. It used to be

That the beauty of death was that all it asked

Was six feet of ground. It used to be we kept 

In sight the measure of debt owed to Beauty’s


A Hundred and One Nights of the Falcon

Where I come from, no gift comes in round numbers. No ten

Rupees is ever given, it is always eleven, a token

Of not finishing, not ending, the extra one a harbinger

An invitation, a wish, a granting of plenty, of more

To come. Auspicious, we call it. A bringing to the fore

Of a promise for the years before the young. Where

I come from there is a tale of a clever woman who staved

Off death with a thousand tales, each one saved

For another night won, a full thousand and one. Where

I come from, legend has it that women sat vigil not 

One night or two, not a couple, a handful, a dozen, a 

Few. Stories are told in hushed tones of a full hundred 

And one, every thrower of stones has heard it, every 

Wielder of guns. Songs are sung of the women of the night

Who spread their wings, became falcons, and took flight.

‘Not by eastern windows only’

I read it first when I was twelve,
A poem my father remembered from
His early days in school. I’m not sure
What he was thinking but we spoke of it
Often over the years. Battles waged and lost
Wars that ended in tears, hope was always
The prize. Because the quality of light
Perhaps, is also twice blest, touching
Those who are beaten and those who wield
The batons of power with the same
Vision of unrest. Every woman sitting
Through the night, every student braving
Authority’s might, every migrant
Shouting against the roar, every
Citizen courting arrest – they know
Why they fight, they know what this
Is for, they know why they persist. Hope
Is the only reward of all those who resist.