Three Poems for Arundhathi

Tax Returns

It’s Friday and I’m late
with my tax returns.

From my window
I look out on freedom:
Its coughing trees
and chocking traffic.

Workmen are sealing the roof
of the gallery so that the landscapes
and still-lives, unlike the nudes,
do not evaporate.

Here are my personal details:
I am customised,
registered and signed up.
I declare
I am accurate and honest.
I am a wizard
of income and deductions

An ant crawls up my neck
like the details
of my capital gains.

I am cascading financial statements

I incur medical expenses.
I am the apparition
of the face a fascist saw
in a crowd on the platform
of the railway station where
I dined with the sullen daughter
of my mother’s wife.

Using a black pen I write in capitals:
I keep within the spaces.
I cross things out.
I use correction fluid.
I confound the scanners.

These are the facts:
I am riddled with mistakes.
I don’t know how
to make full disclosures.

Last night, though, I fucked a ghost
on the rain-soaked lawn
of the slippery hillside
that runs under the laundry,
the scullery, the pantry and the kitchen
of the dreaming colonial house
where the ants divide the dividends.


Here where the earth is hard
              and the sky is high
beware of lightning.
              When it thunders,
give up folklore
              and get indoors.
Cover the mirrors.
              Study the small print.
Don’t take a bath.
              Don’t shelter in the shower.

Run from the murderous trees.

Oh shivers, stay away from pylons:
They electrocute cows.

Make yourself smaller than smallest
If you can
              be as tiny
                          as a full-stop.
Don’t dive under the water:
That’s where lightning thrives.

Don’t be an exclamation mark!

the sky is supercharged.

Don’t take a bath.
Study climatology, if you must.

Don’t touch your face.
Unplug all your appliances.
Disconnect your heart.

Stay off the phone
              There’s an electric charge
In your hammer
              and anvil.
If lightning strikes
              your inner-ear will explode

What precisely do
              thunder and lightning know
about lightning
              and thunder
the weather asks?

That my mouth burns
              with your beauty
because I’ve been struck.

Of Freedom

The high white walls
rigged with death ask me:
what is freedom?

I stare at my feet
My shredded shoes sneeze.
Their dry tongues tease:
Freedom is the size of your body
and also the bloody tracks
on the clouds
left by the fleeing funeral hawk.

What is freedom?
The steel gates
wrapped in razors rattle.

The broken fingernails
of my calloused hands scribble
in the air in front of me:
Freedom is the measure of a human life
and also the fringed king-fisher
darting down toward the river
its blue-tipped wings
scattering the lingering light.

What is freedom?
The slick dogs
in manicured gardens bark.

My shrunken belly fumbles:
freedom is a four-square meal
and also the rusted croak
of the secretary bird
foraging the grasslands for lizards.

What is freedom?
The intercoms
crackling with static demand.

The sticks of my legs
knock against each other
beating out a bony reply:

Freedom is walking to the ends of the earth
and also the swooping flight
of the pearl-breasted swallow
wrapping hoops of air around your chest.

What is freedom, what?
The cunning cars
in the driveways

My shadow rises to face me :
It whispers:
freedom is a membrane
and also the smoky eagle-owl
perched on the posts of sunset
from where it hoots
out all the horrors of history.

What is freedom?
Freedom asks me.

I shrug my shoulders.
I flap my arms.

I press my face deep
into the swift mirror
of the morning
where the wind
the windows
chanting your name.

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