Poetry / August 2009 (Issue 8)

Four Poems

by Rohith Sundararaman

How To Behave At A Traffic Signal

As your car strands itself
before a red light, prepare
your fingers. Flex them. Curl
one set around the knob
and keep rolling like you
were winding up a clock.
Palms will press against
the window. Some will tap
the glass as if they were patting
the back of a choking person,
gentle and insistent till they get
the answer of life. Others will
half-cup their fingers over either
eyebrows in such a manner
that the nails of both hands
touch each other, producing
a silent music to the slow blink
of their eyes. But do not move
your head. Keep staring straight
at the road like it would disappear
in a moment of distraction. Train
your ears to catch the throb
and thump of the music from the back
of the car. If other sounds intrude, breathe
deeply. Count till a hundred and feel
the steering wheel peel away
from your hands. When images of old
women hobble across the windscreen,
read safety instructions. Turn till you find
the page on how to secure the seatbelt
across your heart as you plow into an accident
of lives. Fasten those words and lurch away
from the light. Adjust your rearview mirror
and slowly roll down the windows till half.
Now feel the air hit you.

Visiting Hours

The sky is turgid-black, a sulk
before dawn. The platform is near
empty, its tiled surface layered
by a thin wafer of water. A man
in orange overalls works under
the hazy glow of neon lights, his
mop a slush forest of bristles
nudging water over the edge.
A child in a green parka squishes
his way towards his grandfather,
who is sitting on a marble bench.
A small black carry-bag rests on
his lap, his fingers wrapped limp
around the handle. The boy climbs
up to sit by his grandfather, his feet
hovering over the ground. He says
something to the grandfather, who
then slips an arm over the boy’s
shoulder. All the water has been
pushed over, and they lay waiting
between grooves of the rails. The man
removes his overall and scrunches it
under the armpit. The boy leans onto
his grandfather in his sleep, barely no-
ticing trembles that precedes the train.

Mountain Scenes

It is summer, the trees dirt-
brown flecked with green.
The mountain seems to go
nowhere, its swathe of trail
skin cracking into pebbles.
The slow incline to the top
is punctuated by sudden heaves
of dead gray rocks normally
seen as carefully wedged
upturned bowls, its content
guarded by hovering spit
of a frothy stream. But now,
they are parched reminders
of a secret self, a ledge for
prey and its kneeling cougar.
And as the sky burns up
the tree-line before turning
it ashen, trickles of blood puddle
to the beats of a sibilant night.

How We Found The Sparrow

My father reached out into
the crevice over our balcony,
a tremble running through

his flat-footed stool as the weight
of his self trickled down right knee
and under; his left leg inching airwards

like being drawn by strings. I squatted
next to the stool, the back of my neck
glued to the shoulders while my vision

followed his face – eyes crunched to nose
flare after lips sealed, all moving as if being
sucked into a vortex in middle. Then, they

squirt back like a wave scattered them
straight before a smile skirts around
the edges of his mouth, his hand retreating

from the dark cove above in form of a loose
fist which opens to show a boll of brown
cotton with two legs and mustard eyes, beaks

splitting to faint songs of a flock in the sky.

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