FOUR TANKA

on television
a favourite series
with him and her
playing the parents
I wish were mine

from the river
ducks follow me home
their mother
scavenging elsewhere
… do I look like her?

we tell them
to put their masks on,
to no avail,
why aren’t we mean enough
to wish them ill

no longer wishing
to go back to work
this is me
carrying my burn-out
like a briefcase

LOST DOGS

There won’t be any stray dogs for a while.
No beaches, no coconut trees, no towels,
but it’s the lost dogs I’ll miss the most,
all of them Romeos looking for Juliets,
Annabelles, Chloës, and Scheherazades.
They’re comfortable, candid and unashamed,
they’ll show you everything and nothing,
you’ll never know what they’re up to,
and you’re never invited to stag events.

Sometimes, though, as there’s an afterlife,
they return as peacocks – tails with eyes,
screeching sounds, and small crowns.
It’s only when they think they’re alone
that they bark. It’s their secret call. No one,
no one, no one is ever allowed to know.

VIRUS

They say the virus lives on
surfaces. It’s shallow.
To make up for the handicap,
it plunges into the depths
of the lungs, terrorizing cells,
skyjacking airways, tearing
through tissue and membrane,
galloping in the blood, filling
every pore, entering the bone.

It knows its way without eyes,
it speaks to its kind without
speech, it creeps, multiplies,
and without any restraint. It
does not hide its face because
it is faceless, and yet we have
given it the honour of a name,
we have made room for it,
and we are feeding it well.

It has become a shape-shifting
thief, a master of disguise,
catching us while we breathe,
toppling our governments,
spiriting away our economies,
and yet it does not know love,
or laughter, it has no memory
of past peace, even as it wages
its silent war within us.

A SET OF THREE

tulip fields
reviving my dead
inner child

mountain in spring
my lungs fill
with laughter

sunlight on the trees
outside my window
where did world peace go

EVENING

There’s a war out there.
Everyday I go out to meet it.
It has become an everyday event,
leaving you behind
with your beans and cornflowers,
leaving the dahlias you put
in a vase. You ask me what time
I’ll be heading home, to dinner,
to our places at the table
where I’ll tell you who I killed,
how they screamed in pain,
bled to death, and rose again.
You ask me what time I’d like
my tea, and if I need a cushion
while I clean my knife and gun.
The dahlias are sipping water,
nodding their heads in sleep.

ABOUT A NOTHING SOMETHING

I have nothing from the old place.
I took a handful of clothes,
half a suitcase of books, some beads,
but the music had long died, the piano
figuratively smashed into pulp
after every visiting child had banged its
fist remorselessly on the keys, the ivory
turned irretrievably into cement.

I have nothing from the old place.
I have even forgotten how the insects
fly there, strangled by the screen doors,
how the candles woke up the dead
during power outages, how the trees
tore their own hair when the monsoon
screamed and wailed, how the moon
revealed rat trails in the open drains.

I will not take you to the old place,
where I left the old syllabary and verses,
where my poems in the forgotten tongue
were incinerated in an evening of rage,
the papers silenced because they cried
too noisily and forgot to be discreet.
I have forgotten the colour of the paint
on the high walls of the verandah.

There is nothing left of me there.

ETUDÉ

In spring the mountain
is covered with flowers,

simple gentility. We would
like to deserve it, to earn

this right to pin meanings
and glue truths to the skies,

the cloud-filtered aurora,
the breeze covered with

the gossip clubs of bees
and diamond drip of rain.

Outside, the sun’s dress,
is stretched on the ragwort,

nettles and fallen feathers
on casual display.

Further away, the hills
scramble over each other,

their skeletal rocks tumbling
after everyone turns away,

my eyes bright brown again
as the ocean stays grey.

FOR MICHELLE

The child sucked on the orange,
then said a word it heard elsewhere
– ‘sucksink’!
‘Don’t talk with your mouth
full!’ admonished the mother,
‘Swallow your food first!’,
preached the father,
and then forgot about it,
but the child did not
forget the word, because that
was the most important part,
the word the man in the park
said to the woman, the word
that sounded like a sneeze,
which made the child laugh,
its mouth filled with orange giggles.

PERIOD PIECES

One day we’ll sit on this couch,
we’ll tell each other stories about
this day and that, how it all went
when we were young, looking
at people as they walked by.
We’ll pretend you’re a famous artist
and I a concert pianist. You’ll make
me a painting, maybe a la Picasso,
I’ll play you a passage from Schubert,
both these things mauve or blue.
Later, we’ll have our garden tea,
with cake. We won’t make a scene,
we promise. We’ll breathe in slowly
and try not to crumple our faces and
skirts, taking care to leave the table
cloth unruffled, cups and plates clean,
napkins unsmudged. We’ll slow
down, down, past the bed to the
ground, past the hour of leavetaking,
after they have turned off the lights,
our sculptured selves lifeless again.

MORNING

Every time we chance to meet,
you look familiar, nothing new –
that plain, unremarkable face,

so I need to look in the mirror
to make sure all is still on track,
that no eyebrow has strayed,

eyebags dangling from my elbow,
knees ironed and folded,
the neck baked, waiting for lace,

hands kneading the morning,
all past sleepless lives forgiven.
Let me at least offer you tea.

1 2 3 5