Stunning poems from A. Anupama who also translates classic Tamil love poems (in Numéro Cinq: here and here): you can see the traditional Tamil markers (the lotus, Shiva, the hibiscus blossom, the poem to a lover). But A. Anupama has welded the old to the new, the new being an American vernacular, an easy, confident humour, and a lovely way with line breaks and rhyme (internal and slant rhymes). There is a surprise, a turn in every line. And, oh my goodness, the parrot — the parrot that disappears into the hibiscus in the first poem (the flower ends up in Minakshi’s hair) returns in a later poem to croak the words of Shiva: “Will destroy you all, all, all, all…” over its sleeping mistress. These are the poems of a mature, cosmopolitan poet, a poet who can mix genres and traditions and, instead of a muddle, create poems of surpassing impact and beauty.
A red hibiscus flower in a tall hedge
attracted me with its color
and its long bright stamen,
extended in a sort of greeting.
I didn’t notice until I got closer
the green parrot sitting directly above it.
I stopped still, for fear of startling the bird.
It looked at me with one eye, then hopped
deftly into the flower,
where it disappeared.
I was startled.
I stood in front of the hedge
examining the branches behind the flower.
The parrot was gone, maybe flown out
from the back of the hedge, or disappeared
into higher branches, I reasoned.
Since it seemed to be done
with the flower, I picked the bloom
and put it in my hair behind my ear.
When a man and a woman are very much in love with each other, and, not thinking of any pain or hurt, embrace each other as if they were entering into each other’s bodies either while the woman is sitting on the lap of the man, or in front of him, or on a bed, then it is called an embrace like a ‘mixture of milk and water.’
–from The Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana, tr. by Sir Richard Burton
Minakshi Meets Her Shiva
When her third breast disappeared, her blouse sagged in the middle.
It had been specially tailored for her with that extra point and fold.
It lay empty, and she covered it with the drape of her sari,
pulling it higher on her chest, as though with modesty, her downturned eyes
implying chaste shyness were just her observation of her newly balanced chest.
He looked up from his ascetic practice and saw her, with her chin pointing down.
He looked down, tilting his head with the crescent moon toward her, and felt
the eye in the center of his forehead fill.
Not with tears, with milk.
It overflowed, and an ocean
of milk was made
I see small islands in oceans of clouds.
Kilauea is over there, some Rockies,
and the sphere turns. Old tectonics.
In several hours I see Kailasa
and the archipelago of Himalayas.
Let me down, I want to say.
Why am I exiled here, I ask instead.
I sit down again on the lotus seat,
letting the petals slowly close again.
The tears run down my face
and into the cup of the flower.
Some nectar spills out in a little trickle
running down the stem.
Why was I suddenly brave?
A Poem and Its Translation, Line by Line
The river is frozen today.
It doesn’t shimmer the way it did that day,
the end of the warm summer
when daybreak leapt on the ripples,
which this morning are limited to the creek,
water still running from under the streets.
Under, the water flows under the ice
and runs toward the sea.
The sea receives it, the warm under-water.
A still gleam of sunlight here,
but sunlight there shimmers still
on the never still, always churning ocean.
I am cold.
I miss you.
We were making our own warmth.
You saw my nipples for the first time.
We didn’t restrain ourselves.
We are still running from ourselves.
Our feelings are not frozen.
We will die too soon.
Something vast receives us.
I still love you.
It is a shining memory, our lovemaking.
After Moon Salutations, Outdoors
SPACE looking at stars and
SPACE SPACE in front of them, fireflies
occasionally a bat
SPACE across the clouds’ dark shapes
SPACE SPACE and the blue that is leaving.
The sky will be dark
SPACE soon and the moon
SPACE SPACE will have a blue halo.
I don’t close my eyes.
Bugs pass close
SPACE I can hear
SPACE SPACE and hear the droning of their families and families
in the trees.
SPACE The bell rings
SPACE SPACE more stars.
She is sitting on a shelf in their bedroom
watching him with one eye.
Her head is turned
so her hooked beak shows its powerful profile.
“Kill you,” it squawks.
“Destroy you,” it croaks.
“Destroy, destroy you,” and Shiva looks up
from where he lies in bed.
The sheets just cover his shoulder
and he looks around the morning room,
remembering where he placed his keys
the night before and checking to make sure
the damn bird hasn’t moved them.
The parrot turns her head too
and then stretches out her neck,
letting the feathers on her back
restack themselves more neatly.
Her mistress is still asleep and
hasn’t moved, and she’s waiting
for the morning smile, calling her to her hand.
Shiva has closed his eyes, put his head back down,
and the parrot cries out now,
“Will destroy you all, all, all, all,”
while bobbing its head.
Shiva turns and opens all his eyes
and the bird vanishes into
dust, a light white ash coating the shelf
where the colorful feathers had gleamed before.
His glare closed again,
Shiva puts his head back down in the cool pillow
turning his face now to his wife.
Minakshi still sleeps
her face calm as a mango
He caresses her hair
and a new smile cradles her lips.
As her dream leaves her,
her eyes open and her hand rises
from under the sheets
to the air above their bed.
A whir of feathers beats a breeze on their faces
as the parrot alights on her middle finger.
— A. Anupama
A. Anupama is a U.S.-born, Indian-American poet and translator whose work has appeared in several literary publications, including The Bitter Oleander, Monkeybicycle, The Alembic, Numéro Cinq and decomP magazinE. She received her MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2012. She currently lives and writes in the Hudson River valley of New York, where she blogs about poetic inspiration at seranam.com.