Creation Abcderian

As each day passes we grow less certain about the universe.
Bewildered by black holes and big bangs, our textbooks confuse
childbirth with cosmic eggs, skim over the functions of reproduction.
Darwin was wrong, they claim, not just about his theory of biological
evolution, but about everything. We are descendants of sages!
From Primordial Man’s mouth, arms, thighs, feet we sprang.
God is an organisational genius. Even our Minister of Education,
holistic scholar and yogi, believes our forefathers never stated
in writing or on their dictaphones that they ever saw an ape
jolted into being a man. It never happened.
Know, of course, our people were daubing their wrists with
lotus perfume while elsewhere others were chiselling rocks. Still,
Mary’s immaculate hijab notwithstanding, most women I know
need to get on all fours to accept beans into their navels,
or lay eggs in a petri dish to set the marigolds abloom in spring.
Perhaps we’re like the pyramids of Giza and must remain enigmatic
quandaries. Never mind DNA. Yesterday, I was stalked by a cheeky
rhesus macaque through gardens of tamarind in the Theosophical
Society. Whenever I stopped to look back at him, he’d stop
too and turn quizzically. When I ran, he ran faster,
until I couldn’t tell who was who any more, the gap between us closed.
Valmiki and Virgil, sages both, wrote of transformations in the forest.
We’re all pushing for reinvention like caterpillars chewing through
xenia, unaware of the rudimentary wings tucked into our bodies.
You and I may never be butterflies, but we recognise each other,
zoomorphic ancestor. We bow and reach for that invisible thing that beats.

After a Shooting in a Maternity Clinic in Kabul

No one forgets there’s a war going on,
but there are moments you could be forgiven
for believing the city is still an orchard,
a place where you could make a thing grow.
There is always a pile of rubble from which
some desperate person struggles to rise,
while another person wraps a shawl
around their shoulders and roasts
marshmallows over a fire.
This is not that.
This is not bomb dropping from sky,
human shield, hostages in a stream, child
picking up a toy that explodes in her hands –
although there’s always that – hope is a booby trap.
This is the house you were brought to after crossing
a river, leaving the mountains and burned fields
behind. A place of safety where you
could be alone with your own
startling power.
Not Why were you out? And why
wasn’t your face covered? And who told you
to climb into that rickshaw?
But Here, prepare
for this most ordinary thing, a birth
. And this is not
to ask what it means never to see someone again,
but to ask what it means not to make it past
the first checkpoint of your mother’s gates.
Never mind all the wild places
outside –
the mud-brick villages, the valleys and harvests
and glasses of green tea. Or even to say, I am here
to claim the child of Suraya
, because you know
this to be impossible. Even if you could bring a man
to recover your sister’s corpse and the newborn,
where do you go from here? You still have
to consider the bodies, the bullet-ridden
walls, still have to find the small
window of this house and take
in the panorama.
See – it is raining outside and men weep
for their wives, and perhaps the entire world
is an orchard that has detonated its crimson fruits,
its pomegranates and poppies and tart mulberries
to wash these floors red, and those of us who stand
outside this house know that nothing will flourish
here again. Like crowds who gather
for an execution, we can only ask,
what does it mean to be born
in a graveyard, to enter
the world, saying,
Oh thief, oh life.

October Fugue

The year is laying down its leaves
like an oil spill along the coast of Kamchatka.
A sweep of toxic yellow, dead seals, starfish –
a whole darkening orchard. Persimmon, quince.
This morning I fell over while trying to straighten
the curtains. Perhaps I saw reflections of trees
in the windows and got confused, the way birds
often do. Perhaps I wanted to understand
what it means to slam into buildings of glass
and fall from the sky in large numbers.
This is the roof of the world. Out there,
flares of a burning taiga. Didn’t they promise
respite from the air strikes? Who promised
a life, golden? Take this pillow from under
my head. We’re running out of provisions.
How far can we flee with headscarves
and slippers? In all this mist it’s easy to forget
how a season of dying can still be flamboyant.
We risk breaking our necks but we should
make a go of it. Shouldn’t it be now?

Excerpted with permission from A God At the Door, Tishani Doshi, HarperCollins India.