Sri Lal – ‘Gandhi Shrine’, ‘Ash of this Fire’

Gandhi Shrine

 

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

 

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.

 

 

Sri Lal is the author of Atma Bodha (O Books, 2012), a collection of Indian hymns in English translation. Her own writings have appeared in Fiction International, the New York QuarterlyEpiphanyDaedalusDescantBangalore ReviewBamboo Ridge, and others. She teaches literature and creative writing in the English Department at CUNY’s Borough of Manhattan Community College. Country of Residence: USA (New York, NY)