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Last Ride Before The Monsoon and other poems

Last Ride Before The Monsoon and other poems
Photo: Ashley Elena
Five poems excerpted from Terrarium by  Urvashi Bahuguna with permission from The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective

Last Ride Before The Monsoon

Mandovi Backwaters, Goa  

Spires appear between trees,  
then in a rush — whole churches 
white on the riverfront. 

When we return by moon, 
candles ablaze — a million ants 
scaling the cross. 

We count churches like daughters —
Santa Monica, Basilica Nossa Senhora do Monte, 
Aldona, Brittona: Our Lady of the Rock. 

Laterite bulwarks curl the boundaries like lace 
on a mantilla veil. Someone has placed champas
on water-washed parapets — yellow yolks facing sky. 

Civilization gives way to mangroves and terns atop 
wooden poles. In the shallow, the boat kicks up schools 
of fish in leaping arcs like the opening of folding fans. 

We watch the surface for the eyes 
of a gator, we lower our hands 
into lilting waves raised by the hull. 

In a sky ample with bats, the sun ebbs back 
into the river until it rests — 
a halting orb in a darkening pool. 

A procession of widows sweeps to river height at low tide 
to caution — it is time for the boats to go home. 
We turn the motor off and set adrift like a padma lotus. 

The sounds are duplicitous in their numbers, 
to tell the call of a Brahminy kite 
from an Indian cormorant, one must sift 

through skyborne cries for losses 
unnamed in almanacs. Listening 
to the weeping on the water, 

some piece of us is lost too. 
And for being unknown, it slips 
silver-tailed below the still boat.


Waiting For Movement


The laburnum is late 
with its lightening yolk. 

An abundance of mulberries 
stains bowls. 

A bird call, round & refined, 
emanates from the forest. 

This day holds its stillness
like breath. 

I set out to invent explanation —
for a rotting fruit to solve. 

The only event
is humidity. 

Somewhere, a heron
has been perching for hours,

waiting for the stillness
to give way,

for the surface to tremble
with a tadpole or insect to eat. 

Evening prayers at the mosque
travel over the light

leaving the tops 
of trees. 

At seven, the church bell radiates
through the houses in the village, 

pausing between each toll
to allow

breeze, and
a vehicle in the distance. 


Seeking a Well-Spoken Gallery Assistant


When I first moved to the city, I said
the word fragment with a wide-eyed aye.

My classmates cringed & corrected:
not fray like hem coming apart but fraa

like a small-town exhaled from the mouth.
I shake my head bird-like when grandmother

says bis-kut. What is kut, dadi? Its kit like
please leave the hill-talk in the hill-town.

When a visitor to the gallery asks: what is 
the half-finished bridge over the Kochi river

supposed to be, will I be able to say
Kalashnikov without tripping? When a crane 

frames the highway, will I be able to say 
Ferris wheel without someone wanting

to get off the ride? When I get the job

and go home my teeth polished like silver
my every word a penny I will hear: avois,

how fancy: fa like a fat prized hen, cy
like wash that damn mouth out with sea.


Bombay Trains and Bombay Boys



In this city, boys alight from trains like
birds – seamlessly from stillness to speed.
This is their inheritance: to be creatures 
of flight. They peddle earth
between friends and sell jasmine
in the ladies special at 7.07 pm. When
they are men, they will ride in the general
compartments and swing their bodies
from the sides. But for now, they are boys,
and they can sit with the women.


Packing

Mount Mary Steps, Bandra

The first day I moved into the apartment
on Church Steps, the flood came — without 

a mop I soaked up the water in rags, 
wrung it out in the sink & repeated.

You said I shouldn’t live this way. But I did.  

I have been working on an inventory
of phrases I did not use with you.

I study contours on my days off —
crescents fade where you stayed

for a moon cycle. I held the body
as it waned like you held my head

over the steaming kettle when I had 
the flu. I give away 

your clothes in a hurry. Somewhere in Bandra, 
there is a man hunched in your shirt. 

Not even from a distance 
could I mistake him for you.

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