My hair does not gleam. Under the sun it
glares crow-black, no sunbeams spangled
among its wiry wildness. And my laugh,
hoarse, cawing, does not drip with honeyed
sweetness: my beady eyes hide no stars,
but that does not mean I lack the sharpness
to tear you apart for reducing me to some
fairytale ideal. I will write my own odes
to my dirt-brown cheeks, to my callused feet,
to my skin scarred with taught self-loathing:
I tell my own tale, of a girl not celestial
but able to soar wide and far nonetheless.
AT OUR FEET
Millenniums ago, demons took
possession of the universe,
but sacred Vamana reclaimed
it from them in just two strides:
one for the heavens and one
for the red lands. With the base
of his right heel, he crushed
evil into the netherworlds.
For centuries, we remembered
his gift to us, remembered
the sacredness of feet while
we tilled and treasured Earth.
But now, litter hides holy ground,
grimy with history. Concrete
smothers barren soil buried
upon the past of fallen people.
The footprints of homeless dogs
echo through the nights when
they roam alleys already muddy
with time’s perpetual passage.
Then, the trash-ridden world
becomes the strays’ to scavenge:
they transform to kutha-rajas,
dog kings – demons of darkness.
Snake-smiling lips of politicians
leer from last year’s newspapers,
smearing sidewalks with exposés
of corruption, bribery, and greed.
On pavement, the homeless lie,
abandoned, clad in stained rags,
with alms-bowls by their feet far
from the land Vamana gave us.
~a prose poem~
In the Nilgiri hills of southwest India, the monsoon, after travelling the country’s length, lingers like a lover, painting the landscape green. Here I have drunk deep of dawn mist, savoring the light sifting through. The multi-colored whoosh of a hornbill’s helicopter wings has reverberated in my bones. Watching a squirrel surge into air, a bee-eater spiral over blue sky, a lizard extend into a parachute and disappear, I, too, have wanted to take flight.
Prone on a banyan tree root, I have stretched afternoons into evenings; held a staring contest with a Nilgiri langur; frightened a flock of minivets into scarlet confetti; dug forgotten seeds from the dirt. I have waited by a stream and counted time by falling leaves. I have sat, legs dangling over a cliff, and shouted into infinite hills. I have submerged myself in monsoon rain as if no boundaries existed between this wild world and me.
I have spent entire mornings running through tea fields edged in endless green. Through flocks of free parakeets laughing at the sheer nerve of the sun, past the lonely trudge of poncho’d tea workers, I trailed the edge of ground and sky. I have come face to face with a lone male gaur, the largest bison in the world, a thick wall of brown blocking the path. A forest species, and yet here it stood within the lines and squares of tea plantation. I watched, breathing hard, as it raised a questioning nose, examined the distance between us. When it turned and melted away, I waited, my legs still trembling, until I was certain of temporary safety. Then I ventured further, along the path where the verdant geometry of plantation yielded to wild. From the corner of my eye, I saw hawk-eagles disappearing into darkness and white-throated kingfishers streaking a momentary blue, heard woodpeckers whittling homes just out of sight.
In these rainforests I have known too a distant wild dog watching from where I could not touch. I have felt the air fill with the musk of elephant, its proximity looming with large-footed intensity. I have turned on a bear bounding away from where it approached, the ricocheted alarms of monkeys and deer elongating the moments afterwards.
When I descended to the other world—the one of cars and concrete—a bulbul sang as the sun sighed past the horizon. My bones rang with the bird’s fading sound, the rain rinsing me on my way.
About the author: Tanvi Dutta Gupta, 17 years old, has written poetry since childhood. In her freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior years, she received Silver Keys and Gold Keys from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards for poetry, in addition to six Gold Keys for prose. She has had poetry published in the Song of the San Joaquin, and has had poems awarded first place in the National League of American Pen Women's Soul-Making Contest, among other commendations. Two years ago, she won admission to Poetry Power, an institute in California dedicated to professional training in the art of poetry.