The Old Woman of the City, Keeper of its Soul

“Elgin Talkies” / Copyright © 2020 Vinayak Varma

She was last seen in the abandoned house on St. Mark’s Road,
Floating above the broken syringes and beer bottles,
Lotus-legged and arms outstretched,
Radiating a swirling white light,
Scaring the shit out of stoner trespassers and bandicoots.

They say it was this fear of her inside it,
And not the fists of the goons outside,
That knocked the old house down.
Some know enough to know better
Than to know what they know to be true.

The City has moulted
Since the old house was broken,
Since that nasty, smelly witch —
With her judging eyes and shimmery hair —
Was last seen floating in it.

We’ve traded that rotted, storied skin
For this glorious armour of steel and glass.
And good riddance, boss. God only knows
What terrible dark magic those sags and wrinkles held.
Good fucking riddance.

(First published in Black Horse Review, November 2019)

Dragons

Were you the nit who decided
that north is up, south is down,
west is left, and east is right?
Are you the hack who rhymed
“West” with “the best”,
and not “pest” or “infest”?
Is yours the East
that’s a mythical beast,
or, at the very least,
a weird sensory feast?
And are those things lining your soles
a pair of tiny magnetic poles?

In Space, every which way
is this-way-that-way.
Ignore all imaginary arrows,
only go by what your eyes can see,
travel far enough in a straight line,
and all norths become souths,
and all easts turn west.
Directions are meaningless
for excellent reasons
when you’re a cosmic turtle:
world-burdens are lightest
when down is also up.

In my unoriented map of India,
Kanyakumari is its crown,
while Kashmir is its spiky,
furry, prehensile tail.
Dravidanadu is the head and chest,
and MP, its queasy belly.
Gujarat and Assam
are its outstretched hands
(or perhaps the hems of its frock),
Bengal is a saucy hip,
Kerala, a bloodied lip,
and the NCR is on its knees.

“Quit messing around,” you sass.
“You can’t turn this country on its ass!”
“Shall I put the Centre here,” I ask,
“in the middle, next to its…
uh… daily business?
This makes both strategic
and semantic sense, yes?”
“No, you urban naxal,
the Centre always sits on top.
Nations can’t be ruled
from below the belt!
Brains can’t be stored in one’s legs!”

Because you’re such a mussel
(shellfish, mass of nerves,
snack-in-a-vessel)
and not an octopus
(eight twisty limbs
and nine twisty brains),
my omnidirectional atlas remains closed
to you and your crusty kind.
You may return once you’ve grown
an extra heart or two,
and ink sacs with the power
to blot out every latitude.

Vinayak Varma, 2020