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Gandhi Shrine and Other Poems

by Sri Lal
(New York, USA)

Gandhi Shrine
By Sri Lal

I follow this path in dreams.
end up at the shrine

again. The light is streaked
with gold. I am alone

or I am with my father.
What does it matter—

standing at a worn stone altar.
I don’t know

what makes this place holy.
I wonder for years

where I am in this dream,
where I belong.

My father leaves home,
we become strangers,

and the dream repeats.
I seek answers

in the chatter
of a blue-winged myna.

I understand
less than I did as a child

learning the alphabet
to the sound of a hand-drum

swimming in the Mullayar
River with no thought in mind.

If I forget to seek the shrine,
I still walk the path

my mind,
a thicket of butterfly wings.

Beyond the dappled shade
of a banana tree

I find ashes.
I find holy disobedience.

This is the truth of a nation
liberated by salt

and homespun dhotis.
Bapu's shrine is within me.

I do not resist the silence.
I forget what is lost.

The pearl light of dawn
begins to rise.


Ash of This Fire
By Sri Lal

My mother walks with certainty
straight to the mark

like an arrow
like the part of her hair,

the sun rising upon her brow,
she who holds the lost children of

an entire fishing village
upon her breast.

My mother is sandalwood,
my mother is fire rite,

my mother is drumbeat,
my mother is kumkum—

vermilion dawn and blood sundown.
Some say my mother drinks the blood of goats.

Behind closed doors, my mother
wears a garland of skulls.

In the throes of her ravenous dance, my mother
stomps hard upon her Lord’s bare ribs.

I am the ash of their fire in this
goshala turned temple

where hibiscus petal burns
and coconut shell goes up in smoke.

Who Could Ask?
By Sri Lal

When this lotus stem
body falls,

the heady bloom gone
to seed in the sunlit lake,

I will still be,
because you are.

I live in your earth
and water, your fire

air. I am akasha.
I am the breath of light.

My face is your reflection
on a quiet water.

Only when I doubt—
Am I one with you?

are we both lost.

who would think
to ask such a question?


By Sri Lal

A man asked me to
cuckold my Lord

for bangles
for flowers
for wine
for laughter.

A man said
no one would know

if I returned to the temple
damp as the earth in flood.

No one—
The low tones of a flute

rise long across the river.
Lal unties her hair,

lets ribbons fall
loose against her neck,

soles pounding hard,
a drumbeat upon the earth

windswept and wild

in the arms of her Lord
no one can see.


Star Flowers
By Sri Lal

Each day,
the sky is beautiful.

Blue air everywhere,
as if the sea were floating

overhead, not bound between
this long shore of coconut palm

and a far horizon.
Why can’t I touch

the ocean sky I breathe?
Why can’t I reach

your hand in this wild garden
of fragile rose and melon bed

beyond the open-air temple?
I come to you aching with loss,

empty of virtue,
loose hair dressed with star flowers.

You wear the sun pendant.
In your gaze, Beloved

I am delicate and whole,
my limbs alive with light.


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