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