Your birthday tomorrow, I must go sari shopping.
Is it too late? Evening rain threatens. At the window,
a black crinkly line spreads upward, fills my view.
Black air, black sky – no, I can’t go. Then suddenly, blue again.
I leave the tiny flat where we live, the four of us;
in a post-rain coolness catch an empty bus. At a CP corner
two shops face each other. One is closing.
Amid reds, mustards, magentas, I look for the pastels you like,
saris draped over my lap. Cold. Is my mother alive? I think,
half-awake, calculate – is it May? No, it’s not,
and now I’m chilled through.


It can only end in tears, she said.
It can only end. A cry went through
me – of protest, of recognition.
Since then we have overflowed and ebbed
over and over, tears too have shed,
not always expected. This began
a valediction forbidding love
lest loss ensue, but in the writing
lost its way, and found its end in you.


“Little” I call you
Too much you hold me
Little I know you
Little you’ve told me.
Raising your eyes, you
Pour sadness through me
Sand seeping slowly
Hours to undo me.

Two worlds transparent
Slender their meeting
Cup running over
Reticence reaching.
Emptied to fullness
Endless this measure
Sleepless I write you
Invert a beginning.

Reading Elizabeth Bishop’s Letters

This book you gave me seventeen years ago
has travelled to her country now with me.
I take it down, read her startling words:
“I was the loneliest person who ever lived.”
Yet she was never without a lover.
Shelter she sought and a protecting mother,
found it far away when Lota offered
a home, a study, not a tenancy.
Like suits in Indian courts, this argument
took decades to be heard, with no conversing.
Did you mean me to read thus? Can poets
advocate? The points are moot. In the margins
of each other’s lives we are. Still the heart,
slow learner, hasn’t mastered that one art.

Love Like Hate Adore

a villanelle

You can take the lesbian out of India,
Strike matching letters, tally up the rest.
What remains will start to seem familiar.
Eros unveiled the features of accidia.
The happy ending turned into a quest.
Can you take the lesbian out of India?
Decanting hope and exorcising fear,
Distil the elements of east and west.
What remains will start to seem familiar.
Spell in reverse, add middle names, discover
A hidden player made the game a test.
You can take the lesbian out of India.
Hate cancels liking, adoration lingers,
Love cooks into a mishmash all the rest.
What remains will start to seem familiar.
Dorsetshire, Montana, West Virginia,
Country roads to migratory nests.
What you took away was the familiar.
The lesbian is still writing verse in India.

Excerpted with permission from The Broken Rainbow, Ruth Vanita, Copper Coin Publishing.