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Jeet Thayil


Oyster-tongue, mangrove maw, the river's raw
sour breath, its moist air encumbered with mud,
mad with waiting, with grief, ready now to shed
upwards its uncoiling of earth's dry dirt-thirst,
ready to exhale the season's held-in vertigo,
so every fur and scurry must pause in a pose
of praises and prayer,
as the safe-sided contours of Kerala blur
to a dazed stillness before the chaos of wind;
in the small rain something fierce stirs
the river's grim, single-minded currents, furrowed
by history's keel, trawled by the spinning sleepers
fallen to its revolving arms - even the changeful
river knows this change will turn vast systems
awry - then the true rain begins: random power,
endowed with shower of bounty, whips wind,
shreds vine, cracks bark, mangosteen, jackfruit,
slaps the baby palm, uproots lemon and tapioca,
flattens the cowering tufts of pineapple, then douses
the world in torrents of self-cycled water, maddened
by sea-rhythm and pounding heartless thud
for unclocked hours, a constant torment of deluge
slow on the green land, the river, the annihilated air
—snakeholes flooded, monkey and woodpecker
mute, cats made fearful, cattle clustered—
the houses funnel a rush of worried water,
water plumes through its own wet world, fierce
in its dream of water, and water made flesh by water,
a perfect craze of water, the mother of water,
of water creatures born from the water in this line.


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