Poetry: Sri Lal

Brief Thread

 

This life, a brief thread

to string moments

 

like pearls or trinkets.

With a last breath,

 

we can count

nothing as our own.

 

Why measure now

the weight of loss, gain,

 

praise, or blame—

no more than rice

 

to be nibbled at by rats.

The south wind is strong today.

 

The departure of any love

is to be expected. Still,

 

the sudden flight of the kokila

shakes the fronds

 

of the amla tree,

her fruit bitter when ripe.

***

 

 

At Market

 

Sandals kicking up

the red dust of the road,

 

I walk with the cows, then

cut through the street market

 

on the way to the shrine.

My satchel is empty of neem blossom.

 

I have little to offer, but

these daylit hours are brief.

 

Why stop to haggle at market?

This hunger won’t be sated

 

by sweets or trinkets.

I pass up rasgulla and laddu,

 

brocades, bangles, and earrings,

antique junk jewels,

 

wooden puzzles I cannot solve—

At odd hours

 

I cannot help but want

what is not mine,

 

what will not last.

Some days, my will to stay true

 

is like milk—

watered down, dilute.

 

Still, I vow to bargain for nothing here.

I want no less than what is real.

***

 

 

Iron Age

 

No one plays fair

in this iron age, didi whispers

 

after dark. A woman

as bronze murti is divine,

 

still trammeled by convention

in the flesh—

 

the widow cast out,

the girl child sold to sate desire.

 

So, liberation comes fast,

hard as the monsoon.

 

When will I be released

from bondage?

 

I am not the weak sex

men take me for.

 

Still, I bleed with insult.

How do I tell one

 

ravenous with lust—

My purpose here

 

is not

to satisfy that ache?

***

 

 

Live Simply

 

Live by your word,

and let others live by theirs,

 

amba says. After all,

who stands up to define

 

a measure of truth,

as if it were long grains of rice?

 

Some try to describe it.

Others hear it spoken of,

 

but none of us truly

understands this truth—

 

this soul, beyond dung fire,

ghee, and strewn rose petals;

 

this soul, beyond sea scroll,

wine, and broken bread;

 

this soul, beyond sacred ash

and the light of any charted star;

 

this soul, awake

beyond birth and death.

 

This soul is all that.

So, the amazed say nothing.

***

 

 

Woodrose

 

Some saffron hour

before the day dies long,

 

let me gather woodrose

fallen to the earth.

 

Our spice garden grows wild.

I remember

 

the light of your face,

beyond fire and sun,

 

beyond the sweet full moon.

A song rises, like sap or soma.

A song wells up inside of me,

not unlike tears—

 

A thousand words for light

roll from my nescient tongue.

 

I have no lies left to tell.

This moment of no time,

 

you are as deep inside of me

as the next tender breath.

***

Sri Lal’s writings have appeared in Fiction International, the New York Quarterly, Epiphany, Daedalus, Descant, Bangalore Review, Bombay Review, Bamboo Ridge, Chicago Quarterly Review, Indian Quarterly, and others. Her poetry has also been anthologized in Before the Dawn (Rogue Scholars Press, 2019), collected spoken word from Nuyorican Poets Café. She teaches literature and creative writing in the English Department at CUNY’s Borough of Manhattan Community College.


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