Shiv K. Kumar




Not all of us spoke the same language—
some cowered under the sun's threats
and the dwindling supplies,
others felt amused
at the enforced equalities.
The bystanders took us for a Persian
mosaic of some insidious design.

Sometimes the urge to feign
was paramount. I pretended ataxia
to lag behind and visualize
more sharply the road's last, devious curve.

The trees on either side
would have given us a guard of honour
had our leader not defiled them
with blasphemies.

Then suddenly someone announced
that the easiest way to hit
the destination was to
march crabwise.

We were out to span the sky's amplitude—
this journey was merely to stimulate the blood.
The women mumbled, 'Rest would be haven—
I was the only one to caution
that the gods had trapped us
into belief.


Here I live in a garbage can.
The pile grows bigger each week
with the broken homes
splintered all around.
A black cat chases a shadow
down the passageway:
its whiskers presage another snowstorm.

The white of the negro maid's eyeballs
is the only clean thing here,
besides, of course, the quart gallon carton of milk
squatting at my door.
They wouldn't believe it here
that Ganges water can work miracles:
in spite of the cartloads
of dead men's ashes and bones—
daily offerings to the river.

I open each morning my neighbour's Times,
whisked away from his door
before he stirs.
Gloved hands leave no fingerprints.
And a brisk review of all our yesterdays is no sin.

En route to perdition
I sometimes stop at Grand Central to piss.
Where else can one ease one's nerves
when the bladder fills up
like a child's balloon?
In the Gents, each in his stall,
we stand reduced to the thing itself.
Questions catapult in the air:
'Are you a Puerto Rican?
A Jamaican? A Red Indian?'

I look for the feathers on my skull,
a band around my forehead.
And mumble, 'No, a brown Indian,
from the land of Gandhi.'
The stranger briskly zips his soul
and vanishes past the shoeblack,
who turns to shine a lanky New Yorker
swaddled in the high chair like Lincoln.
Incidentally, there are no beggars at Grand Central.
Only eyes, eyes, eyes,
staring at lamp-posts.

Back in my den after dusk
I bandaid the day's bruises.
Outside the window perches the grey sky,
an ominous bird wrapped in nuclear fog.

At night the Voices of America
break in upon my tenuous frequency,
intoning the same fact three times,
till the sediment grips the Hudson's soul.
But my soul is still my own.
For, every Sunday morning, I descend
into purgatory,
the basement where three laundromats
gulp down nickels,
to wash all our sins.
But the brown of my skin defies
all bleachers.
How long will this eclipse last?