So often, this sort of thing will happen.
A man will meet a woman and find his voice
is deeper than a well in the sort of village the
Central Ground Water Board has notified ‘dark’, where
you aren’t allowed to dig tube-wells any more, and you need
to be registered with the district authorities
to get a new hand-pump outside the kitchen, and where
you itch all over, after a bath.
Or, a woman will meet a man and will find that her eyes
are flood-prone: low-lying swamps, the sort into which
the rubbish of decades of suburban non-planning has been tossed,
making them look hard when actually, you could just sink
into them. Especially when it rains.
Often, a man will meet a woman and find that his gut
is a sort of womb: a space in which something grows
from seed to obsession, where his roots curl into the certainty of failure.
An instinctive sort of space that swells and contracts and
even bursts. Like a second, misplaced heart.
Or, a woman will meet a man and will find
her arms are collapsible, like a set of folding chairs
creaking in the sort of balcony that gets swept once
a week by a servant who has turned into a domestic cry
for help: a servant with fifty layers of lard dimpling
her elbows and a lumpy belly, who stares off into space
leaving the chairs out in the rain, rusting.
Often, a man will meet a woman and find
a mountain on his back: a dusty hump at the base of his neck,
floating low like brown fog, and things are uphill
or downhill from here on. But there is no stopping
from here on.
Or, a woman will meet a man and find the distance from
highway to home triples overnight, and that some nights
are three times as long as others: when bad news
has crawled back all the way from the city center, riding
between sheets of the morning paper, which arrived two hours after
he left the house, six rotis wrapped in the torn aanchal of her oldest saree.
The sort of night that cannot bear to end.
So often, this sort of thing happens, that a man and a woman find
a word buried behind the balls of their eyes, and they dig all around.
They will speak of fish, the price of things, the temperature outside.
They will bite into the word held as a cube of ice in their throats.
They have seen mountains fold up in despair, but they swear
they will beat another year out of this one: hauling home a cutting wind
or boiling river, or a flower. They will kidnap oasis noons to string a sagging cot.
They will not say it, but they will sit, dumb. Defiant of what may come.
(C) Annie Zaidi
This poem was chosen for the first prize at this year's Prakriti poetry contest. Money and reassurance. What more does a writer want?