She dwelt in a hut under tall dark boughs of the bowstring hemp
with leaves of flowers like the cobra's hood
In a valley surrounded by thick-set red hills of millet
Where once the tribesmen dug for tubers
and large precious stones.
green creepers of field beans clamber on the cool bushes of dawn
And dry burnished pods of the tamarind tree rattle in the winds
like drums beaten by Aryan dancers
Grandmother pounds moist paddy for rice-flakes
Holding up the wet muddy folds of her nine-yard sari
praising a culture of ground tilling
And feeds common house-crows with red beaks
White water lily thrives in the moss-ridden
Where ancient cousins with glistening amber skin
scamper around in icy-cold water
A worm mosquito net stretches across the bathroom window
its thinness revealing the secrets of blackened oil lamps
joss sticks ends
desiccated banana leaves
and Her sandalwood-encrusted face
glowing in the light of a thousand Vedic flames
A lone wicker chair sits on the veranda
under storm-lamps that hang from thin wooden poles
Clouds that flash with lightning continue to rain
The eyes of the buffalo that stands in the muddy ground
are red with sleep.
Her pale-brown skin is anointed
with fragrant-oils, turmeric and sandalwood.
She sits hunched
encased in the faded folds of her
nine-yard widow's raiment.
Chants secrets to the resplendent
ten-armed woman riding a Himalayan tiger.
Cries out her sufferings and yearnings.
Hers are used hands,
veins gnarled like the roots of a venerable Banyan,
that ring the sound of brass and silver bells,
scatter red-black roses and yellow-petalled jasmine
on domestic gods,
ignite a camphor tablet on the plate
carved with Krishna and his flute.
And there is rice curdled in milk and sugar
to rouse her Maker's hunger.
Embalmed in this long-distance blessing,
Grandmother sings in the traditions of her forefathers,
Blue blood claiming a legacy of ancient learning.
A face appears in the blood at sunrise.
At dawn light expands easily.
The black sea is water again.
Air stops moving.
Earth exhales warmth in slow
Beneath the veil of gold dust
is a woman's face.
Her voice culled from the sigh of reeds.
After the last bath of ablution,
The crowning drapes of finery,
Body perfumed in sandalwood paste,
Ashes and bones claim the ocean.
Embers crepitate from the Last Rite
on the pyre that faces north.
Death is a woman
carved out of the earth and river.
Sky and sea.
She is worn to a shadow,
Wisps of silver strands
escape the chignon at her mahogany nape.
Like the seed hollow of the papaya,
her womb has housed countless seeds
that have burst out
and planted themselves
in ripples of concentric circles around her.
She tiptoes around the altar,
replaces yesterday's flowers with still-wet
and bows before a mildewed incarnation
garlanded by wilted bronze petals,
deifies the yellowed image,
with vacant, staring eyes that seem ageless.
She nurses a bouquet of incense sticks
in her palm, and a hand,
pulsing steely veins between its knuckles,
sprinkles saffron water on the scripture.
The wick soaked in oil
keeps her flame alive, dispelling darkness.
Sinuous esoteric syllables tremble in thick-musked air,
mellow her lined forehead and gaunt cheeks.
The dead shall not come freely into her house.
© Ahila Sambamoorthy. All Rights Reserved.