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Tishani Doshi’s poetic response to the lockdown

  • Published at 04:08 pm April 21st, 2020
Tishani Doshi's Poetry
Image: Bigstock

In these poems, the bleak image of our current times is counterpoised by the rhythm of music and dance

 

Contagion

 

 

When it is forbidden to touch, I will lean out of the window

and throw you a pillow. Light during plague-time can be so sullen.

Look at the girl who walks the deserted streets, chewing on stalks

of cabbage. She has been sent to find charlock. Returning, she may fall

off a bridge or be bitten by a dog. She knows it’s important to have fun

while you can. There’s always a nun who mixes ash with food

to destroy the taste of anything good. Even soldiers who heave

their flea-ridden boots across carpets of hyacinth understand,

mountains can be barriers for only so long.

Let’s return to the open window—the girl below.

Doesn’t she believe she’s modern, that whatever this ague is,

it can’t touch her? There are red crosses on doors, altars

on thoroughfares. The physician wears a wax cloth

over his mouth. Here begins  wait      can we say it?

Pestis. Shhhh. Shut the door. Everyone alive, get on your knees

and pray. Can you hear? There’s a sound of shoes clattering

above. The girl and her sister are dancing. They hold

each other’s waists and lean into the corrupt air,

which is like the pillow I threw you—soft receptacle of love.

They don’t hear our appeals for care, Girls, remember to wash

your hands. Nor that other voice, Traitors, what have you done?

They dance. They keep dancing.

  

 

 

Together

 

 

You can be born by a river but will die at the foot

of a mountain. Your left hand murders a chicken,

your right prays for its safe passage. Duality shows you

the gaps. When I think of together, I don’t think

of Advaita or Hegel, but of music in a room,

everyone tapping their feet to the same tune.

My mother in a dance hall in Wales, mouthing Love Me Do

with The Beatles before they went big. How I can see her through

a froth of beehives and charmeuse even though I don’t know her yet.

How there are times when your body and you are friends, not this mad

chasing one another along the shore, and the people you’ve lost show up

complaining about passports and broken necks. You can sit for hours,

and it’s like sitting in a language together. There’s no point asking them

to wait or come back because these moments are already vanishing

like the countryside. It doesn’t mean you won’t ever go out foraging alone

or mistakenly rush past yourself in a slur of department store windows,

but living is a thing we do together. The neighbor who loans

you a tranquilizer, the person on the ladder above

who throws you a hydrangea. Bands split up

when what you want is for them to stay bound.

Just as love will always insist it’s the first time,

everything that passed before was just bad

juju or a rebound. I want the world in my bed, for us

to tumble forward as though we’d each given birth. Not heir,

not orchard, just a thing in our arms that depends on us,

so we can shout above the wind, be bop doo wop.

For the sound that returns to take us

to the brink of nuclear harmony.



Tishani Doshi is an award-winning poet, novelist and dancer based in Chennai. Her first book of poetry, Countries of the Body (2006), won a Forward Prize for Best First Collection. Her debut novel, The Pleasure Seekers (2010), was shortlisted for the Hindu Best Fiction Award and has been translated into several languages. Doshi’s most recent books are Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods (2017), shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Poetry Award, and a novel, Small Days and Nights (2019), shortlisted for the Tata Best Fiction Award and a New York Times Bestsellers Editor’s Choice. She is currently Visiting Professor of Practice, Literature and Creative Writing at New York University, Abu Dhabi.

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