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New Poems

New Poems from Usha’s Second Collection, Night Sky Between The Stars

Devadasi

  {after watching Beeban Kidron’s BBC 4 documentary}


Every prayer is a dance to you, every dance a prayer.


Wedded to God, a celestial bride, you mother

heaven’s children in your womb.  At three, they tie

red and white beads around your neck; your initiation

by divine mandate.  Given to the goddess, who

measures your fate in gold, your childhood giggles

its way into the sacred spring of adolescence.

Your bronze skin blooms in lotus shades

and time sculpts your tender form, pinning it

against starry nights.  Wanton shadows flank

your virginal laughter - watching, waiting, wanting.

 

Today, you dance for the silver deity, her bangled

hands granting you fertile rights of the land.  

Your ritual body purged of surging red dreams,  

your limbs burning in soft fire, your face flushed

with new secrets, you dance, doused in turmeric

and saffron; dark eyes flashing like lightning, dark

hair, flailing like storm clouds in the wind;  silver

anklets tinkling, stirring thunder in hearts of stone.

Walled by the festive lull, hungry eyes drink the flow

of your molten form.  The brass chalice on your head,

dressed in grieving layers of marigold, bears the waters

of wanton heritage, enacting rituals of cyclical creation.  


At thirteen, you are a living goddess enshrined

in a twilight world, twinkling with demonic spells.   

In a trance, you are carried away into bedtimes, ridden

with nightmares. You are a goddess, living in fear

of the night, of being slashed by razor blades, of being

reborn a devadasi, while your school friends chant

tables of twelve, play hopscotch, toss cowrie shells

and dream of  jasmine blooms; their childhood worlds,

perfumed with promises of radiant tomorrows.  



{The South Indian tradition of Devadasis (literally meaning slaves of God) initiates young girls into ritualised hierodulic prostitution.  Yellamma, the Goddess of Fertility, is the presiding deity of the devadasis.


Every prayer a dance, every dance a prayer: adapted from Sharmagne Leland - St. John’s poem, “I will dance for you.”}

Vaitarani


Spectral river, rising from myth-mountain,

streaming across the realms of sorrow  

in Yama’s dreary domain.  Death river,

dark phase of the moon, sun’s eclipse,

infernal mirage, God’s curse, hell’s

passage, grandmother’s cautionary tale.

The lost soul wanders in an underworld,

crisscrossed by chthonic streams.


Mortal sinners drown in the dismal deluge,

ghosts who cannot pass through time.  

Gnawed at by metal-beaked vultures,

intricately fashioned by Yama’s own

minions; snapped at by alligators, lethal

ghost traps, subtly transported from

the sacred Ganges on sanctified

subterranean craft, these doleful shades

bleed into the river, in fluorescent wisps

of indigo fume and haplessly drown

in swirling whirlpools of sin, faces twisted,

swimming through eternity, hanging on a

chord, anchored to some primeval force, never

to be redeemed.  Chant the hallowed name

of Dattatreya to illumine this dark hollow,

relentlessly echoing with sound and silence.


Do not shy away from the shrouded song

of the shadow river, where fire is ice,

and ice, fire.  Do not be distressed

by the acoustics of the abyss, the outer

darkness, which weeps, wails and gnashes

its teeth.  Do not be frightened of the cadences

of anger, tongues straining in anguish,

whirling storms and raucous groans.

Sublime river, Vaitarani, mother’s womb,

ferrying souls from one life to another.

Do not be afraid to swim in this river,

on yet another journey into glorious life.

Meditate in blissful silence in the space

that measures night and day.  Chart its

tempests, plot its tranquil waves, map

its spinning waters, unveil the hidden

secrets of eternity in this sacred hollow

that subtly hangs between life and death.

Girl Trees

          {To the women of Piplantari}


Today they are planting trees here, to celebrate

the birth of a baby girl, invoking mother-goddesses

lost in time.  Their spirited talk about a greener future


revives the still air; their veiled giggles, promises to

the tired earth mourning for green trees that once stood

and breathed.  Elsewhere, they drown baby girls


in milk, sell them in bazaars, pluck them out

of their mothers’ wombs, like fragile dreams.  

I touch the earth, her drying skin watered by tears.


I hear the whimpering of foetuses inside her throbbing

womb, overflowing with new seed yearning to be born.

I hear stories pulsing in her lapis-blue veins.


I hear leafy whispers, rustlings, auguries of the birth

of a dark woman, saviour of the world.  I hear cries

of unborn girls, with wombs as large as the universe.


Meanwhile, in the festive hamlet, rainbow saris flower  

amidst the myriad saplings they carry for the little girl,

a miniature mother goddess chuckling in her cradle.


Today, the village common is a pulsating forest

of women, laughing, singing, dancing.  Mother Earth

reborn, every girl becomes a tree, every tree a girl.



{In Piplantari, Rajasthan, local women plant 111 trees in the village common, each time

a baby girl is born.}


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