(for Shuddhabrata Sengupta)

The hours stop in my veins.
Evening falls, a spotted tissue
draped across dayglo streets.

The clocks go on marking
the time in another city

where the trains still run,
taking people home.

Over my shoulder, I see my country vanish
in a long unfurling of cornflower-blue sky.
My limbs are clear as glass.

The wind grazes my shoulders,
the animal buried in my voice
wakes up and growls.

Where I am is a boat without a pilot,
sculling through cold water.

Start again. There is no safety in numbers.
The sixty-four saints stand paralysed
in the authorised version of the legend.
No footnote explains the hunting songs
or the red skein curling downhill
in place of the river.

Script thrown away, I’m on my own.
The detectives will find me
when a rainbow prints itself
on the litmus sky at noon.
I clear my throat,
the movie stops.

The hours have stopped in my veins
but late-night travellers still rush past me,
through me, to reach the midnight express.
My country’s been swallowed
by a sky darkening to cloud and sleep.

The sixty-four saints have formed a caucus
of havoc birds, the rainbow is a stanza
they refuse to sing. Close to the tympanum
On every clock-face,
the hour hand and the minute hand
go on mating.

Wakeful, all eye, the havoc birds read
the scroll of earth unfolding,
every fleck a signal:
prey, home, danger,

From a great height, each bird watches
its shadow falling
to its death.

I vanish, again, in the darkroom.
A lamp exposes
my heirloom bones.

On a park bench,
a gardener finds a surplice,
drooping, ravelled at the seams:

my skin, abandoned in flight.

Artwork by Yamini Purohit

Published with permission from Ranjit Hoskote.

This selection is curated by Rohini Kejriwal. She also curates The Alipore Post, a daily newsletter stemming from a love of​ art, poetry, music, and all things beautiful.