I’ve met the river before, but this is a new setting—
like meeting a parent in their office.
a river baptised for spitting its monsoonal gifts,
like calling a girl Khushi, to bait happiness.
The mountains that fight the grease of dust
when we look at it from Matigara,
they are here now, my reluctant shadow on them.
Even closeness casts shadows,
though we can’t see them.
For closeness brings blindness.
I’ve come here to watch the river’s slippers.
Its beauty I’ve known before,
like one knows sleep, without learning—
water cutting water, stream fighting stream,
as if water was an axe chopping its own body.
It’s in photos and the tremulous shape of stones—
the river’s fireworks, and its wigs of currents.
I’ve stopped here to learn how it leaves—
to leave without showing.
There are many I’ve known who leave
like rain does, when leaving the sky,
announcing it with thunder,
or like a book leaving an empty space on the shelf.
To leave quietly like a river is best—
to pack oneself like water,
in its polished transparency,
washing oneself away,
till there is nothing,
nothing at all,
not even light, chipped from one’s absence.
The white lace in your name—quicklime.
In your name its leaching, its bleaching,
licking loss, reaching trench, skin losing its sun.
In the smell of your air is exhumed history—
the wink of white dust, the eye’s hunt for salt.
I know I only imagine all this.
The train moves like a violin player’s arm.
From its window the village resembles a membrane—
time is cartilage, the air will grow into a shell.
The mines are like hats—they hide the town’s baldness.
Chunabhatti, Chunabhatti—a porter gets on the train.
Wrinkled shadows are moving like knife,
the wagons have the loneliness of feathers.
Dates crawl like water in my number-kneaded head:
1934, an earthquake, 1968, a landslide,
the town was injured, it almost lost its spine.
When I look back from the train later,
Chunabhatti’s swallowed fifty years.
Noon has fattened it, made it athletic.
My teardrops have hardened like litchi-peel.
Brittle, they break, as if my fingers were a hammer.