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Month: November 2020

Nightfall at Singhu Border

By the time you made it past 
all the checkpoints and texted

it was already dark.  A line 
of tractors, trucks and tents 

stretched down the highway 
for miles,

and a soft spoken man 
kept trying to explain,

We are not terrorists,  
we are here and will stay

so our families and friends
can live decent lives.

The photos you sent on Signal
disappeared before I slept,

but I saw the red flags, 
and circles of men sipping tea;

because it was cold,
there were many fires—

as I dreamt,
the fires grew brighter.
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Perhaps It’s Best

-Nine months after the Delhi Riots

In spite of the November cold,
   a cat went into heat

and wailed into the night, 
    like a sick child

or a faraway ambulance.
   I thought of you then,

and the stray you used to feed;
    I haven’t seen her in months.

Perhaps it’s best you’ve gone;
    you told me once how much

you miss the city’s sound and light,
    and yes, drying clothes still hang 

like strange bursts of bright fruit 
     on the rusty barricades 

that divide the loud road 
    in front of our flat—
  
but even the healthy among us
   are coughing these days,

and if they don’t like how you think,
    they’ll come lock you away.
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Worried Blues Pantoum

-Delhi 2020

Would you still love me, my friends,
if I lost my sense of smell?
Could we still touch from a distance?
What if I had a dry cough?

If I lost my sense of smell,
would I still crave idli-sambar?
What if I get a dry cough?
I don’t go outside; I’m afraid.

Would I still crave idli-sambar?
Would they put a big sign on my door?
I don’t go outside, I’m afraid
I might spread this virus to others.

Would they put a big sign on my door?
Would they jail me like Umar Khalid?
Could I spread this virus to others
like they spread hatred and lies?

If they jailed me like Umar Khalid,
could we still touch from a distance? 
In spite of their hatred and lies,
would you still love me, my friends?
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Let Us All Rest in the Company of Those Who Love Us

-for Varavara Rao 

It settled on me just before dawn
the day after I came to pay my respects—
heavy, like a thick wool blanket
on a not-quite cold night. 
It stayed until the scratch 
of a distant grass broom 
swept it from the room,
like a gentle cloud of dust.

I did not really know him, 
so I had no clear right to grieve,
but I knew what he meant to you, 
and when I saw him lying there
in the company of those who loved him,
I remembered an afternoon long ago
when I found my own grandfather 
lying still in his bed,  
and how my aunt and I sat with him—
and I was so sure I could see 
him breathing, but it was only me 
that was shaking.

This is not a poem about bail pleas
     or fascism.
Every word I write is against fascism.
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