At the Jamuna
She cannot be killed, but is tortured into supplication
Her veins course with poison from the murk that pours in
To the pilgrims migrating in caravans across the Winter sky, she is a rivulet of tar
They do not stop here any longer though there is nowhere else they belong;
I met a stork at the black bank one Monsoon, when things look up
He was holding his nose and standing on tip-toe
I have grown callus, I said, on my feet and around my heart.
Neither this nor that
Sometimes I wish I was the girl
upset though she is, looking away,
her lover coaxing her to meet his eyes.
Or the Buddhist monk in beige from
Tibet of the order of those who
speak with squirrels.
The boys in dainty skullcaps jostling
along the streets in floating embroidered
kurtas, I wish I was one of them.
I could have been a cop
playing games on my phone, a loaded
kalashnikov across my shoulder.
And I envy the fat girl who laughs
constantly, undisputed queen of
the friendliest men everywhere she goes.
I am not a woman
for being too much man
I am too devout a pagan.
I am not a Sufi poet
nor rain cloud lit
by setting sun.
Not the child on a swing
kicking the moon shapeless
at every rise.
I am not the daily wager suspended
from a crane half a mile
above the hard earth.
My most precious belonging was
a song I once wrote to a lover
who never wrote back.
My cup is half, I drink some
sprinkle some for the drunken
crows and let the rest ferment.
My instrument is a whistle but the birds
tell me it’s in too methodical a vein
for the refrain I want to sing.
Twilight stretches with the call.
Part wind, part unearthly calm.
The muezzin may be a wolf.
I’m alone in a galaxy of people.
After death there is weightlessness.
Or maybe a summer aandhi, silt.
Sonali has master’s degrees in creative writing (poetry) from City University, Hong Kong and in linguistics from Delhi University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Pink Pages, Eastlit, Ashvamegh and elsewhere. She also writes fiction and essays. She is currently reading the short novels of John Steinbeck and listening to Katy Perry, Pakistani folk music and Joseph Haydn.