Kali’s Shadow

to R.

I saw her on a river-bed.
The current brimmed on the dry sand.
The summer water rose to air
immense, all-lightening, everywhere.
Her laughter bathed me. I could bear
the drought no longer in my days.
I stayed no longer on dry land.

The air was full of words unsaid.
For months a shimmering silence grew.
Down the hard road of an angry city
I walked at odds. A body’s form
clattered ahead. A dream behind,
a thoughtless unavailing mind
loitered elsewhere. A river-bed
dry in summer, where there perched
a playful goddess on a flat stone –
her smile seemed born of the very ground,
as the sun filled the field around.

Too hard I fought it. Something within
threw itself down the loud harsh streets,
a piece of litter, a sordid life.
I searched, not knowing for what I searched,
but only knew – it was no wife.
I met head-on the colourless gritty
taste of the air. Once in a suburb’s
empty expanse, a god of the sky
twitched the air-wires, and a dust-storm
blinded the lanes – and as I fled,
a power within me raced toward it,
laughed and leapt up high to board it,
gathered up in its own craze.

But you came on summer’s river,
circling round me on all sides,
till my mind addressed my body:
“Go and find her.” And she found me,
and that smile was all around me,
and a song I heard besides.
Light and love like the sun’s breath,
and sounding too, and often stronger,
a note of darkness and of death.

And that is why I married you,
for Kali’s shadow. A world-song
of grief and glory, always strong,
a song in which the sun rejoices,
a song that’s sung in demons’ voices,
a song in wedlock of pure rhyme,
a song in the stumbling way of Time,
a song of deep night and dawn’s youth,
a song of knowledge and of truth.

We went to the high land
and viewed a far hill
at night. And a question
that haunts me still
you asked of the dark air
at the myriad lights burning
on the far slope,
where all we could see
was a flickering rope
of habitation:
“Why?” I was silent,
but knew without knowing
of a tremor in space
of the birth of a race
of a race and its going
and saw without seeing
the fire of its story
the news of a race
for all its blindness
of bravery and kindness.
One word on the air
left us close for ever.
Since then I have heard
in a soft word
more news of its being
more news of our being
more news of my being
the terror and the glory
here on this island.

That same night a monstrous quarrel
burst from nothing into space.
In the high land great boulders clashed.
Brains were dashed out. In a mad hubbub’s
eternity we were condemned
each to the other’s frozen eye.
Stars splintered. Shiva – was it all
of your doing, a demonstration?
Long afterward, when we had warmed
to the mild sun on our lowland home,
a new world out of chaos come,
the never-talked-of battle gone,
I saw it as a visitation.

The summer water rose.
For long and longer
the sun bathed our home,
as a child grew stronger.
And now I look back on
the sweet summer water,
the air that brought song to
your daughter, my daughter.
And all took heart
at the krishnachura tree
with its laughter of leaves
by our balcony.
Creation was of us,
and each year carried
a richer core,
when we two married.

Later we travelled,
we two alone,
to a distant country,
where on a dark night
we came to be known
by the unknown.
Again in the high land
a visitation:
no god, no goddess,
another creation.
We climbed a far hill.
In the dark sky
a bar of light
thinly rode high,
then down, then down –
too quick to be feared,
too soon for surprise,
above us, then on us,
then up: and sooner
than one could imagine
it disappeared
in the topmost skies.

Back to the human way. Back to Time.
Time the Destroyer through the god Shiva.
Back to the human way. Back to Space.
After uprooting, space for a budding.
Our wedlock is over but we are wed
for good, for bad, for love, for always.
Our rhyme is gone but our verse holds true.
A line of light climbed down and bathed us
and climbed away. A privilege
beyond all telling, a recognition
of two stray humans on a hill.

I have been blessed in you. Kali’s shadow
cuts through your life. Goddess of darkness
who fights the demons that threaten the world,
goddess of knowledge with skulls round her neck,
goddess of light on a flat stone
in a river-bed when a current rose
that told me of life, that told me of laughter –
in parting now after twenty years
I am not apart, I am never apart.
I am bound to you in a wedding of freedom.

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