The Sculptor’s Guide To A Goddess and other poems

The Sculptor’s Guide To A Goddess and other poems

The Sculptor’s Guide To A Goddess 

She may have four arms or six
even eight, but only one pair of legs
and nothing between them 
except a gentle fold of cloth.
The palms may be raised in blessing
or hold weapons, brooms, crocodile teeth 
or a man’s head but never 
a bottle of moisturizing lotion,
a screwdriver, a cupcake, a microphone.
The wrists should bend delicately
frozen in ethereal dance
but if that might tire her out, choose from
one of the sixteen (bangled) mudras 
that suggest a tenure track to moksh

Let her smile or appear vacantly benign
or, to work in the dead crocodile 
she may glower and scowl
with flesh caught in her fingernails
but never must she appear 
to ponder the stock market
or Diophantine equations  
or bunions on her feet 
(she has been standing
ninety-one thousand two hundred and forty eight days)
with any one of the three or five 
heads atop her neck.

Her hair may be worn in tight knots
or cascade neatly over her shoulders
like an additional shawl; think of it
as her own built-in fleece
and though she may have lived 
three thousand years
in rain-blessed loamy lands
it cannot be grey or frizzy 
and no matter the fashions of your time
it’s never styled in layers 
with bangs. 

The breasts must be tasteful C-cups
okay, D-cups — live vicariously 
through your art — but not lactating 
or weighed down or pulled apart 
by gravity or feeding.
Sculpt her in nine yards of silk
sufficiently cinched at the navel 
to reveal a waist-to-hip ratio of .06 
and the absence of stretchmarks. 
A woman exquisitely beautiful 
and entirely sexless — chant mata 
under your breath the whole time. 

Blood, if you must
is permissible on faces and hands 
the respectable red of battle, valour, men   
some may even dribble down 
her flesh-eating teeth
but she has no use
for tampons or hot water bags
and even if she did bleed 
she would have to walk out
of the temple
that week.

A Woman Like You

A woman like you once took a bus to the furthest 
it would go, rationing her stolen savings into
rent, food and emergencies, though of course 
the whole thing was an emergency
but she needed to think it could get worse
reassuring her that it wasn’t so yet.

A woman like you once cut her hair the shortest
it could get without exposing the scalp
because he had used it to hold her in place 
to the beats of something from Bruno Mars 
and never again would her body hold her back
if she wanted to fly to the words.

A woman like you once decided that five daughters
was quite enough: five dowries, five feasts
five gold necklaces and all those earrings;
so when the next one broke through all the blood, 
before the nose could be cast in memory 
she lowered her into a tub of sweetened milk.

A woman like you once ate through the night
anything she could lay her hands on, but gracefully,
with fork and knife, taking each plate to the table
between binge-watching sitcoms of cities where 
invisible mouths laugh every few minutes and 
everyone only pretends to eat.

A woman like you once read a poem 
and the ink seemed to lift from the page 
floating, dangling before her eyes
and no matter what the words had said before 
now they only told her that she did not have to be them 
and in her release, they’d know theirs.

Assorted Advice Received on the Art of Woman

Soak peeled onions in water for at least ten minutes; the world will give you
enough other things to cry about anyway. Have children. Have boys. Hurry
along on the road sister, with a safety pin between thumb and forefinger, and
no, keys are too blunt and too bulky, and yes, the road because footpaths are
colonized by hawkers, beggars, prostitutes and bulbless streetlamps that look 
murdered at the base what with the paan stains that leak onto the cement. 
Laugh with your mouth covered. Devi, you are like temple — how you let 
anyone touch? The unhistoried can find themselves too. Keep cats if you want 
to learn to cope with the otherness of lovers. Higher, lift your legs higher, 
you’re a ballerina not a dog about to take a piss. Women who hate are far more 
interesting than women who love. Why you insist on jogging on the street,
shaking your thisandthat — what are treadmills for — and who you want to 
preen for all the time, huh? At least get the driver to take you to the park and 
then jog inside the park, arre what is so complicated-vomplicated — just call
him, sit in the car (with jacket on), get off, do your joggingandjiggling, call
him, back in the car, wear the jacket again and go back home. Simple. Most
creatures have roots, some have wings. If you must meet a friend on the street,
wait at a bus stop so you won’t look like you are soliciting. The morning will
come again. The night will come again. Your premonition is more accurate than
his proof. They’ll say dance like no one’s watching but someone’s always
watching. You haven’t yet started on the biodegradable sanitary napkins — who
will save the sea turtles? They’ll say the age of woman has come but do not
believe them until they stop saying it. If you hate his shirt so much, throw it
in the wash with the woolens. This neither begins nor ends with you, but don’t
pause too long; your granddaughters await. Speak slower at meetings. Don’t
use oil when the recipe says butter. Arre, if you’re so particular, you won’t get
anyone, what you think they’re lining up for your nakhras, and then what’s the
point of being Miss Perfect huh? Wear sarees. Nothing kills you faster than
loving too much, and nothing makes you more alive. Wear jeans. Even a
flower has its roots in manure. Wear lingerie. Don’t watch too many romcoms
thinking you’ll heal with laughter; sometimes it just makes you numb. Wear
nude make up. Your voice is the sharpest blade the world has known, don’t let
anyone tell you it’s high-pitched. Wear heels. One day you’ll look at the old
man in your bed and feel foolish about believing in true love, but it will pass, I
promise. Celebrate your birthdays, specially those in your fourth decade.
Know less to understand more. Have girls, chalo, at least one daughter for old-
age sake? Give, give, give until you turn inside out. Bleed.

The Skin Is A Prism

The skin is a prism through which light refracts
and breaks into seven poems, each one cruising
along different waves — some languid, some bouncing off
each other or intersecting at unexpected angles.
But once in a rare while a poem leaps off and makes 
its way to the darkest spot in the room 
the spot that people have sensed to avoid
though they do not know it. There, it pauses,
growing brighter and larger, expanding 
until it has touched the walls and filled the rim 
of your coffee cup. Then quite suddenly there is music 
in your ears and you don’t need to wear out your knees 
before sleep finds you, and you are embraced by a softness
you thought he had taken away as his half.

Where Do You Go

Where do you go, my love, 
In those angles where our limbs entwine
And I lose you to your kisses
That seek out another tongue.
Which navel, which mouth opens up to you 
So that you must shut out this room
With those determined creases of your eyelids 
And hoist your shoulders, straighten those elbows,
Lift your head, as if to break through the clouds 
And emerge amidst another heaven
With another rain.

Where do you taste the sweetness
On my parched, bitter lips
That part only to sigh, providing charge
To your sails as you cross the seas
The saline air fanning the salt of your sweat
Your breath warm and rising to her waves
Your hips lashing against moist curves
More real that my waist,
While her skin lends fragrance to the inert lilies 
On our bedsheet, on which you slump,
Shaken, wind-whipped, wide-eyed.

Where will I find her, my love
Which look on my face serves as a portal
To her door? Teach me how to tear open that skin
And step across, so I may offer to her
Those stars you once dropped in my lap
And say: Take them, as you have taken him
Take the laughter, the secrets, the spark of his fingertips
But take also the putrid moans
Of his nightmares that remember what is lost.
Take his emptiness of where I once slept. 
And hold me in a muddled embrace
As I hold you now, with his breath, your breath
On my face.  

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