Lost Things

  1. These losses come with the life you lead

 

A favourite novel drenched in the rain as you run

for the bus, a headtorch, your beloved simulacrum of the sun

fallen in deep water in a far-off dark cave

The friend whose number you still have,

White-haired mourners gathered outside a funeral home,

Hours with uniformed officers who read you wrong

Grass and clay soil under young feet—

 

Known losses with a wholesome grief

 

These losses come with the life you lead.

 

  1. Then there’s what you experience, but cannot keep:

Voice of the spinach man, vēddi folded at knees

rivalling fishmongers’ calls on dusty streets

Black specks of ants invading white sugar

and fresh coconut grated by your grandmother

Lemon-icing-filled biscuits

in squashy yellow packets

hanging from walls of ramshackle shacks

where you walk in broken sandals

to spend your uncle’s rupees.

 

Old books with old book smell, devoured by cousins

who compete for words with crawling rāmapānam.

 

One day you’ll lose that word too,

And where you said Rāma’s arrow, only know silverfish.

 

  1. What was lost before it was ever told

 

Other books are long gone, negligible war victims:

 

stories won in school competitions

that your mother and her sisters loved,

read, and reread with passion

 

and magazine serials your grandfather cut and bound

abandoned in would-be-short-term retreat

We leave differently when we might return.

(Compare, the pāddā caretaking the temple grounds

 

who, smiling, says, ‘I crawled here

with naught but my ID card in my pocket’

because when there is nothing more to lose

we cannot hope to return).

 

These bindings were cut by family knives

so you can live with these losses

not be lost with other lives

Thus in all the stories your aunts hold

are arrow-holes missing of what

was lost before they were ever told.

 

Like: that on your parents’ wedding day

were bloody bodies and curfews

When half a lifetime later you watch the news

there are still bloody bodies but yours

 

is not among them. And it will

always be a secret shame that

you escaped your birthright.

 

  1. Losses you are ashamed to bear

 

You escaped your birthright for a world where you can

choose to adventure in darkness because you always have light

          (but you depend on simulacra here. In bleak

          places the sun and your bones are weak).

You escapees can await old age

and mourn what’s lost with dignity.

Let friends move on, not grieve them

disappeared or dead in cages.

You can argue hours with a uniformed man

        And not close the hurricane lamp,

        though you have no power, to

        huddle in dark night-time fearing intrusion

        from crocodile soldiers in green uniforms

        beneath whose ground-thundering guns

        you have no power.

 

  1. Escape is a loss, too

and the gods you’ve never believed in.

Now, their temples in forced excavation

your anger is a different devotion.

You, here, unbelieving in Muruga—

equally as in Christ, because also lost

is the belief there are saviours

—can still believe these gods are yours.

To be yours, they needn’t be believed in.

 

Equality, peace, and justice,

are what you believed and lost faith in.

 

  1. What you gained

 

Yours is a different devotion; to live is not a sin

 

What is your loss (ants or words or cousins or gods)

is your parents’ willing trade. That to live, you be lost

in your birthplace, that their homeland be lost to you,

and yet in payment you feel the losses they knew.

 

This is your parents’ willing trade.

But to live—live free—is no sin. The sin

is that such exchanges must be made.

What are you looking for?