Poetry / June 2012 (Issue 17)

The Gypsy Woman of the Cooum

by Rumjhum Biswas

Skin so slicked down black
she could have sprung from the depths
of the Cooum
that, what was once river,
now uncoils like a snake grown sluggish
after gorging on the city's offal.

She walks the streets at dawn singing
her leaf rustling song. Her eyes inked out
from pots of dead night, blink
away invisible spider's webs festooning
lamp posts and trees.
Her moist medusa-head of hair hisses at the sun.
And there is a twist of indecipherable metal
at her ankle, the right one with the toes
splayed out as if to kiss the road. And then
there are her hips
grasping the freshly laid day.

They say that she is a thief
of many things. They say that the stick in her hand
has a magnetic head meant to lift clean
our magpie-collection of watches and baubles.
They say she takes babies from their cradles
and blows spells into them, so they turn out crooked
in their hearts or in their hands and legs.

When she stops to eat, her belly-button opens
up like a carnivorous flower.
The nipples of her generous breasts peep
from her blouse like twin frogs in a dark well. And when
she is drunk she lugs invisible totems after her.
She swings invisible amulets and charms.
When she mutters, her night eyes
take on the colours of a day broken
into a thousand histories.

When she walks
by our street, the dogs are unsettled and shy.
The crows crouch and bob
their heads, beady eyes winking.
But the cats hold their tails high.
For once the cats walk free.

Note: The Cooum is a refuse choked river that flows through Chennai.
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