inside a room a man is coughing
as he languidly strokes his chest
somewhere outside two people are
sobbing without a sound

in a silent park a man sits
holding his knees close
along the whole street
and all over the city
there are people
who’ve lost their jobs

ants are astounded when they see
endless lines of people walking
when the next announcement comes
they’ll walk in endless lines in the opposite direction

a doctor removes her coat
and washes her hands
she washes them again
she stares at her fingers
she washes them again

cellphone towers in a city go up in flames
in another city a man feeds
an unfamiliar pigeon on the sit-out
it brought news of someone
who is still alive

some old men are standing
in front of a closed supermarket
a gust of wind
looks all around
among the empty shelves
and rushes past them

a crowd of corpses
is waiting near a large pit
they are hastily dumped inside
the men board the vehicle
a corpse left out grumbles
a man looks back from the vehicle
it enters his eyes

leaving Chennai

on the exit routes from the city
frantic roads are overflowing with vehicles
they have been denied permission
I am not in any of them
nor do I wish to board
any of them
hanging from the city’s bone
all I want now
is some magic
if someone turns me
into sparkling salt
I’ll mingle once again in the Bay of Bengal
touching Santhome and going ashore
I’ll climb the feet of the firestar sun
standing somewhere
with a vacant stare
on the deserted distressed beach
and settle on them
in the salt of May intermingling
with the salt of the bone
I means at this moment
you he she they those
and all the rest that’s here

the city a few months later

a seventy-year-old woman
who was never allowed to leave home
visits a park in the centre of town
she sits on a broken wooden bench
basking in the warmth of the morning sun
around the park
residents of the neighbourhood
walk at a brisk pace
they are careful
to leave a six-foot gap
they avoid looking at one another
the woman gazes up
sees a few familiar crows
hovering overhead
to them she complains
for some days now
her daughter-in-law leaves her half-starved
she says
the daughter-in-law
doesn’t go to her office these days
“my son is an idiot”
she mutters
as she keeps talking
the crows descend swiftly
on the ground
they stare at her hands
which hold nothing
she is still complaining
they are in a hurry
a crow climbs onto a cheek
and pecks at it
it is joined soon by another
her two hands as they try
to drive them away are ripped
by two other crows
the walkers in the park are still walking
each keeping a distance
of six feet from the others
six feet away
the crows are preparing
to eat their meal

nothing imagined is excessive

corpses buried like orphans in the graveyard
rise and come running in throngs
towards the towns they once knew

elephants look up at
drones that monitor
the temperature of bodies
a herd crosses
the city’s arterial road

a bloated moon
with a funeral bier hanging from its neck
looks left and right

two men emerge
from a cave
coarse hair all over the body
they must find fire for the day

“nothing imagined is excessive”
a rose garden that has
never known disease
breaks into song
swaying its head
a butterfly intent on its duty
sucks and drains the nectar
as gods were once to humans
so are butterflies to roses

standing in the abyss

the words have risen
to the back of my throat
“save and protect me”
I swallow them whole
the day is filled with smoke
the world is filled with smoke
nothing is clearly visible
all hands falter
staying in timeless time is
standing in the abyss
here darkness is nothing distinct
and when I cry out for protection
my voice will not be mine
inside the abyss
what I seek to be protected from
is that which protects me and
which asks for protection
that is not me


really I don’t need anything now
just a brief slumber would do
if possible a dream as I sleep
in the dream I visit
a restaurant along with some friends
a restaurant where we are regulars
we drink a bit as usual
we laugh a lot as usual
we come out at midnight as usual
while waiting for a Uber
my friend fondly punches
another friend in his fat belly
he breaks into a giggle
then we disperse and head out
pay attention
my lovers didn’t appear in this dream
even the friends who did were
not close to me
but this dream
will do for now
a short rope
to climb from
the bottommost rung
of this abyss to the next
and seen from there
a ray of light
even if it’s only a dream
no other way out

there’s some sky that’s light blue even now

under that sky
two brisk young women
walk together baskets in hand
grazing each other and chatting
they enter a shop
they buy loaves of bread that
emanate the day’s fragrance
they buy bottles of milk
they buy vegetables
grazing each other and chatting
they walk back
from that sky
the sun stares unblinking
at both women
with no thought of moving away
from there it resolves that
today somehow
it should keep its eyes shut
while passing through other skies

someone please tell me

I am walking
inside this room
for some days now
the door has become a wall
is there a house beyond this room
is there a city outside
are there temples and beaches
in the city
do waves still rise in the sea
I don’t know
in these few days ordinarily
a few thousand people
would have died
accident murder cancer heart attack
what happened to all of them
what happened to the corpses
the pace of my walking has increased
inside this room
I fly from one step
to another
I drop down
like a moth
I strive to be dead
I need to know right now
what will happen to my corpse

something has changed

I can’t pick up the coffee cup
tremors of the mind infect the body
tremors of the town infect the mind
the whole world is trembling
a few crows are cawing together
no they are wailing a lament
this is an ordinary morning
this gang of crows
visits daily
it’s their usual cawing
nothing has changed
nothing has changed
when you have to say this twice
you already know
something has changed

“I can’t turn in the essay before the due date”

my father is in the ICU at a hospital
my mother is Covid positive she is
lying down in the next room
my kitten died does the virus infect cats
I don’t have a computer so how can I write
a fight at home my father has broken my mother’s nose
five bodies arrived in our street today
I live in Queens with the noise of
ambulance sirens at all hours
I don’t know what to write is it okay
if I turn in a paragraph
I am scared
Hanuman came in my dream he will protect us all
Jesus appeared in my dream he looked sad
I expect you will give me an “A” for the essay
no matter how you find it
take care
I don’t miss your class not at all
my parents are asking me to join a college near our house
folks in our country didn’t send a plane they have abandoned us
I am living in a friend’s house they give me food
there was just one packet of cereal in the supermarket
are they going to shut down the supermarket
the sun is hot my puppy is playing outside
why should I write the essay

gentlemen! ladies!

the virus has mingled in the air they say
the air however was polluted long ago
the virus has mingled in the water they say
rarely ever was the water pure
everyone is rebuking China
I rebuke along with them
America’s public healthcare is
a dismal failure they scream
I scream along with them
bereft of individuality
my tongue is stolen now and again
by the countries of the world
I suspect
the virus might have mingled in my blood
it must have also infected the sparrow
that flew in and perched
in my sit-out this morning
strangely on seeing me
the sparrow did not fly away
it came hopping towards me
my suspicion was confirmed
if the virus had infected the sparrow
I have no doubt
the virus would infect the sky
it would infect the stars
believe in god or not
there is no option before us

Perundevi is a leading contemporary Tamil poet who has published eight collections of her poetry over the past two decades. She has edited Reading Ashokamitran, an anthology of critical essays in Tamil on the writer’s work. Earlier this year she also published Udal-Porul-Paal, a collection of her essays on sexual violence and social practice in the Indian/Tamil milieus. She is Associate Professor of Religious Studies in Siena College, upstate New York, with many academic publications to her credit. She divides her time between Albany, NY and Chennai.

N Kalyan Raman is a translator of contemporary Tamil poetry and fiction. He lives in Chennai.