A River

In Madurai, city of temples and poets,
who sang of cities and temples,
every summer a river dries to a trickle in the sand,
baring the sand ribs,
straw and women’s hair clogging
the watergates at the rusty bars
under the bridges with patches of repair
all over them the wet stones glistening
like sleepy crocodiles,
the dry ones shaven water-buffaloes
lounging in the sun The poets
only sang of the floods.

He was there for a day when
they had the floods.
People everywhere talked of
the inches rising,
of the precise number of cobbled steps
run over by the water,
rising on the bathing places,
and the way it carried off
three village houses,
one pregnant woman and a couple of cows
named Gopi and Brinda as usual.

The new poets still quoted
the old poets,
but no one spoke in verse of
the pregnant woman drowned,
with perhaps twins in her,
kicking at blank walls even before birth.

He said:
the river has water enough
to be poetic
about only once a year
and then
it carries away
in the first half-hour
three village houses,
a couple of cows
named Gopi and Brinda
and one pregnant woman
expecting identical twins
with no moles on their bodies,
with different coloured diapers
to tell them apart.

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