Sunday, July 20, 2014


No one knows what the locusts
pray at night
before they storm
the church yards.

Whose number do they
dial, what last minute
lovers do they take?

No one knows
why they
block out the sun sometimes
rather than the moon.

She used to think
That to know these things,
One had to be a locust.

Now she is not sure
If the locusts know anything.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Eating Great-Grandfather

First published in Fulcrum, Number 3

Dull green paint over wood
Cold lead.
Obstinate — its use diminished —
Its writing faded even as it is driven on the page.
A broad pencil
Recycled from dead Bejanji Pappa’s
Stationary coffers, I hope,
And gnaw the bitter flaking end.
Some remnants of spit from him
Dance on my tongue
But he was very proper and wouldn’t chew like me — a
Monkey girl -
Perched on the refrigerator
So that thousands of miles away I can get an aerial view of Berlin as my
Great-grandfather did
In black and white like his photographs:
By then economics had given back the colour to
Hitler’s youth. I count, on my abnormally long seven-year-old fingers,
How much my pink and white
Phantom candy cigarettes would cost in the Berlin of 1924. More than my Lego blocks.

My Great-grandfather was blind before he died
And I close my eyes and walk around the house barefoot
Imagining what it felt like to have blood
Circulating, throbbing in my eyes and not seeing, like I
Miss the dead I never met.
As if by holding pencils they once used I could touch them
But don’t I know the lead is stoic, like my Grandfather, and the ashes, my skeleton too.
A kucha black granite slab was polished to sit on Bejanji Pappa’s remains
And my Grandfather’s ribs are under my fingers constantly from the forty minutes I tried to push
My life force back into his warm, helpless body
But he was dead, too late for CPR. His Pappa and he, they left me.
And now I go about taking large gulps of air to remind me
They once lived and breathed this air I breathe in now -
Oxygen that traced their bronchi
Now fleets past mine.
Maybe my cells’ ancestral molecules are dusted onto an old suit worn on the ship, maybe
My children shall eat red desi carrots grown on the Belgaum soil —
Decomposed Great-grandfather, Bejanji Pappa.

First published in Fulcrum, Number 3, 2004

Saturday, July 5, 2014

On God on day 550

Look at the calendar. It is day 550 of writing full time. Jan 1, 2013 until today. 

Reading Ted Hughes:

On God

You were like a religious fanatic
Without a god - unable to pray.
You wanted to be a writer.
Wanted to write? What was it within you
Had to tell its tale?
The story that has to be told
Is the writer's God, who calls
Out of sleep, inaudibly: 'Write.'
Write what?

Was at dinner at a writer friend's home yesterday and his 83 year old father said, in Tamil society, when a boy is interviewed as a prospective husband, the girl's family asks, "What do you do?"
If the boy says, "I am a writer," the girl's family says, "Yes, but what do you do for a living?"

The girl is discouraged from marrying the boy.

Monday, June 9, 2014


From Leeya Mehta's chapbook 'Towers of Silence' (AARK Arts, 2004). 'White' was first published in Fulcrum, 2004.


I sit up in bed in the morning after you’ve smoothed me
Sandpapered me
And look at you
Standing staring at me
With your back to the window.
Stained glass I made lets in dawn.

My hair is long, unmessy
Most of my body is covered with a sheet
Yet I feel naked
As an ancient frozen corpse discovered alive -
Baffled in a new age by the sound of horns
Where once operas of droning land rose from the sea:
The shifting of continents

You did not keep me awake this night; we
Softened my desire
Before I fell asleep. And then you
Stood at the window all night
And you watched car lights, while I
Slept, dreaming of resurrection:
Returning to the sweetest past, a beginning
Before recollection.

I watch my feet on the floor, squeeze them to the tiles
You break your stare and turn away
I walk to you and touch you, you are cold and empty
Like a dead man with a vacuum soul.
What did the world do to you
I want to ask

But instead I hold you close, forgive your
Sins, so deep, so unforgivable
Let us pass into bearing

Bearing pain, each other, bearing children,
Sad, posthumous adults



blue unaerated nails need love
touch that restarts breath


YELLOW, 1957


He brought home a chick
A tennis ball of yellow mirth
That watched him - an artist studying its muse.
It decided, quite like she had once believed,
That he was its perfect father, 

Knowing no better.
She named it Miss Peckpeck even though
He refused to accept this Anglicised obviousness
And called it Sakubai just like he had named
Every one of her dolls. Blonde and brunette.
Miss Peckpeck knew that he was the head of the
House. Something she was beginning to resist at five and a half
Seeing no rationality in his whippings.
His Sakubai greeted him after work at the
Front door every evening at six.
Five inches tall it couldn’t hug him
So it made up by running with eager concentration at his heel
Like a pom pom on his sock.
He had to be careful, one wrong step and it was
Sakubai the chick with grievous damage to its
Chuffed out chest
It needed time to gauge distances
Nor did it like to be left out of after dinner
Kisses and demanded its own sleeping arrangements.
He rocked it into chicken dreams in his handkerchief,
Its golden fuzz quivering in the breeze.
Sakubai terminated its childhood four weeks after its arrival.
It wanted to know what lay inside a shallow bucket
Used to soak socks in, fell over and drowned.

Concussion followed by ingestion of water, she was told, years
Later, in her thirties. On the day of the drowning she had
Returned from Saturday school
And he said that Sakubai had been sent to a farm
Where she would be free with her own kind.
He wanted her childhood to be innocent -
Without the grief of Miss Peckpeck’s
‘Curiosity killed the cat’ story.
“Five and a half, too young for death,” her father said,
“I wanted to protect you.”
She said, “You knew about it and still you didn’t do anything?”
“There you go,” he said. She explained, shouting, “There was a
Watchman with black encrusted nails in school who took me
Into a classroom every break. I was five then, not
Five and a bloody half.”
“Can’t you talk softly?” he said. “Must you always make
Your point? You’ve turned this house into a fish market.”
Their fights started like that, freak bullets that always missed
His heart, and came from hers.



At the river’s soft purring trembling heart
We shared our secrets, our cold soot secrets.

The river listened and when we rose to go
It wept white opaque tears, bruising its agate limbs.

I remember this river, fifty years have passed.
But you, you have twisted my secrets into a conspiracy —

I have inherited insanity and this blue-veined madness is
Our children’s heirloom.



What colour is a scream?


From Leeya Mehta's chapbook 'Towers of Silence' (AARK Arts, 2004). 'White' was first published in Fulcrum, 2004.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Lure-Id - In memory of Francis Bacon

In memory of Francis Bacon (1909-1992)

     A light-bulb hanging from the doom of heaven,
     Its wiring: human sinew twisted together

     The truth. As you came closer to your only other inevitable
     (not bottomless vacant-eyed sex), your cheeks came down

     Against your nose: fetal wings. Your eyes: goblin uncompassion.
     Your mouth in a black and white photograph: a moment’s abyss.

Come back to me as you were that first
Bright summer’s day, so beautiful with your

Don’t be human. Come back.

From Leeya Mehta's chapbook 'Towers of Silence' (AARK Arts, 2004)

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Abduction: essay

Since the Beloit Journal no longer carries the links, here is the original essay that I was invited to write to accompany the poem which appears here:

At the beginning of The Abduction I construct a personal image of war; and as I am writing this note to accompany my poem, I believe we are again at war for the idea of India.
The Abduction begins among the spires of Oxford University in England, where I was a student and first heard about India’s nuclear tests in the Pokhran desert. Some of the images in the poem are from my life at Oxford. My bedroom overlooked a crab apple tree. I rode my bicycle over Magdalen bridge, under which boats passed on their way up the Cherwell River.
Other symbols in the poem are specific to my own cultural heritage as a Parsi Zoroastrian. Zoroastrianism predates Judaism and is considered to be the first monotheistic religion. My ancestors came to India from Persia fleeing religious persecution from Islam. In the poem I refer to some of those lost ancestors, who never made it to safety in India, and whose skeletons lie at the bottom of the Arabian Sea. The first Parsis landed on the beaches of Gujarat, the birthplace of Gandhi as well as the controversial Narendra Modi, India’s likely next Prime Minister. In India, Parsis found religious freedom and great economic opportunity.
The vision of India that I grew up with was deeply influenced by my socially liberal family and the school where I spent twelve years from Pre-K through tenth grade. I came to see India as a special place with transformative ideas: democracy, non-alignment, ahimsa or non-violence, non-proliferation and religious freedom.
Fissures began to appear in this utopian landscape around the time I went on to a new high school. It started with the destruction of the Babri Masjid in 1992 and Hindu-Muslim riots in Bombay. When the carnage began, a school friend dismissed it saying, “Only twenty Muslims have been killed so far.” A Hindu friend said of a fellow Muslim student, “Why doesn’t she just go back to Pakistan, where she belongs?” I remember saying, “But she was born here, she’s never been to Pakistan. This is her home.” A new cycle of violence had begun, and in 1993, Bombay had one of its worst terrorist attacks by the Muslim underworld.
In The Abduction I make a reference to the Gujarat pogrom against Muslims in 2002, after the Godhra train fire, which killed Hindu pilgrims and was blamed on Islamic terrorists. Muslim artist friends had to flee to neighboring states because they could not find sanctuary anywhere in Ahmedabad, the city of their birth, as hundreds of thousands of Muslims became internally displaced, lining the roads leading out of Gujarat.
Each time we repeat this cycle of violence, I am concerned that we are returning to that place when India was partitioned. Pakistan was partly created because Muslims believed that a Hindu India would not provide equal opportunity to its minority Muslim citizens. Muslim families were uprooted and went to Pakistan; Hindu families fled to India. A million people perished in this bloody migration. In spite of this, India continues to be home to nearly 180 million Muslims, the second largest Muslim population in the world.
In ‘Watching the Fifth War’, a short story set after the Indo-Pak conflict in Kargil in 1999, I wrote about how a Hindu and Muslim family inadvertently exchanged homes after India’s Partition. I was interested in the way we inhabit the same space as if we are simultaneously interlopers and brothers. In The Abduction, it is a similar dual nature that is personified by the twinned figures representing my inner battle between conscience and an alter ego, which in turn represents nationalism and a need to belong—to belong to a country, to a parochial history tied to blood and religion. The Asho Farohar that the narrator wears around her neck is the Zoroastrian guardian angel, symbolizing the soul’s battle between good and evil.
I visited Pokhran, where India's nuclear tests were conducted, shortly before going to Hiroshima in Japan. It was there that it became even clearer that it made no sense to own that which you will never use. If you have an atom bomb, you may, in fact, use it. For the narrator in The Abduction, the cycle of violence must end with her. This personal renunciation of blood nationalism is not an act of helplessness or futility even if there is an overwhelming sense of loss.
The idea of India has always been in conflict. I fear that with the ongoing election in India we might be heading into a dark period. This can perhaps be avoided if enough of us go through a struggle similar to the narrator's in the poem—one which Gandhi saw as an allegorical battle between our higher selves and the allure of the blood within. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Poem: The Abduction (Beloit Poetry Journal)

Lines composed in the Thar desert, six years after India’s nuclear test

It’s been six years since angels crossed the road at springtime.

Six years ago the Cherwell carried boats of scrolls whose black letters sliced
through ivory sheets. We undid the blue ribbons and the words fell onto our feet,
cutting our flesh. We bled. Our feet caked, shards of T’s and Y’s stuck out as we
ran home in a sapphire meadow knee deep in water, grey spires suffocating as the
wings came down in millions around us.

That night at the ball we crammed strawberries into angels’ mouths but they
would not keep silent. “The desert is so still at night,” they said. “You can hear
the shifting of the sand.”

The juice from the berries dripped from their lips and splashed on our feet,
burning them. “My stinging skin, where is my home, where is my home?” I
asked. The night was fluorescent, your green dress fired cannonballs into the sky.
“It is time to celebrate,” you said, “not to mourn.”

We danced. Fireflies in the desert broke into homes, hovered over sleeping
children, entered bloodstreams, blew up spleens, burned up hearts, singed brains
and livers.

“The desert rose to the sky,” I said, but you had already forgiven them.

Your mouth covered my eyes, my tears made you spin round and round, your
waist-length hair catching the strobe lights. Your seduction was complete, how
could I resist you? You pleaded, “Love me. Love me,” so I took your hand.
“Dance,” I said. I wished you were dead.

At seven o’clock no sun rose over the valley. The streets were empty as we
dragged our trains home. You stopped for a moment to take up the fabric in
your hands and then—as if you knew I would need something of youyou tore
off the dirty train and stuffed it into my surprised hands.

Six years ago angels crossed the road at springtime in front of me. I stood in an
emerald green dress, alone. They carried you away with them.

The empty street wound round the river’s neck and as I crossed the bridge
on the high street, I saw the boats sail out of view. I threw the green rag after
them. I was free. I was free of you.

I have a memory of you alone in the night,
The rain outside, you screaming to belong,
My people you called them.
I will not accept that, I said, pushing you away,
These are not your people, these are not my people.
You wore your silver angel around your neck
As if it would protect you from hate.
Conquerors and conquered we have been
With such jewels of god hanging by our hearts.
Like the sand in the desert, you had believed
The burning train would never happen again,
That the women on their backs were the victims of barbarians,
Not our people.
“Why do you want to belong?” I had asked you.
Sometimes I feel belonging is like loving a corpse,
History’s endless funerals.

I return without you to Bombay, the city of our birth. Memory is a curse; what
have you done?

I search. I know that carved silver creature must be somewhere. You hadn’t taken it
with you the night of the ball, you had left it on the dresser by the window
overlooking the crab apple tree. I must find that Asho Farohar, I must wear it, I
must remember what happens when I hate, when I hate who we are because I
fear our people are killers.

You could not understand why I do not like mirrors. In the mirror in the green
dress we were the same person; my betrayal—when you decided silently in a
room full of angels to leave me—was to let you go.

I have been looking for you in a hundred cities;
I have been calling your name;
I watch the mountains rise up in Tehran like
Vultures worshipping the sun;
I throw my net into the Arabian Sea and pull up
Skeletons of exiles who searched for land.

Hesitant in prayer, I stand in an ancestral fire temple in Udwada
Repeating softly, humata, hukhta, huvarashta
Good thoughts, good words, good deeds.
You are nowhere to be found.
Don’t my children need to know who you are?

Finally, in Pokhran, in an ancient haveli with
A Hindu shrine that leads off from a courtyard full of peacocks
I sit silently watching for a sign.
The sand moans, the well runs dry, the angels do not come.
They will not come.

India conducted its nuclear tests in Pokhran in the Thar desert in Rajasthan, most recently in 1998. 
Indian Zoroastrians wear an Asho Farohar around their necks, symbolizing the soul’s battle between good and evil.  They first sought refuge after 800 BCE in Udwada and other sites on the coast of Gujarat.
In Godhra, Gujarat, the Sabarmati Express caught fire in 2002, killing Hindu pilgrims causing some to suspect it was an act of violence by Muslims.

It took almost a decade to finish this poem and now it is in the Beloit Poetry Journal, which I respect so much.Thanks to Lee Sharkey and John Rosenwald, editors at the Beloit Journal for all their editorial guidance and support!

Please think about supporting this wonderful publication.

Poems by Alexander Booth, Temple Cone, John F. Deane, Gray Fincke, Alllison Funk, Elizabeth T. Gray, Jr., Kevin Heaton, Nate Marshall, Karen McPherson, Leeya Mehta, M. P. Ritger, Jamie Ross, and more. John Rosenwald reviews new books by Nicelle Davis, Brian Komei Dempster, and TJ Jarrett.

About 'The Abduction': In 1998, I was sitting in Queen Elizabeth Hall (close to the River Cherwell, at Oxford University), when I read the headlines in the Times of India about India's nuclear tests in the Pokhran desert. Some years later I visited this part of the Rajasthan desert and began to compose these lines.  

If you want to hear more about the poem, I will be uploading a short essay on the Beloit Poet's Forum in May and look forward to comments. Will keep you posted and share the link when it is out.