Tiny Purple-Clad Child

Yesterday
I went to the sanctuary
Whither incense
And flowers
Sweetly perfumed the air.
They told me I’d find peace there.

Yesterday
I went to the forest
Whither I basked
In the fragrance
Of sunlight-warmed dew.
They told me I’d find beauty there.

Yesterday
I went to the pond
Whither I saw a string of ponies
Trotting homeward
Following the lead
Of a tiny purple-clad child.
They told me I’d find innocence there.

Today
I went to the sanctuary
Whither the air was heavy
With the smell of blasphemous sacrifice
That neither camphor nor jasmine
Could mask.
I found no peace there.

Today
I went to the forest
Whither the soil was saturated
With the lifeblood of an innocent
Defiled by non-human beasts
Who are running free.
I found no beauty there.

Today
I went to the edge of the pond
Whither the horses came to drink
But
I found no tiny purple-clad child there.
How could I?
I couldn’t.
She was dead.

(Asifa Banu, the child in the pictures, eight-years-old, was the victim of a brutal gang-rape and murder. This is her story: http://gulfnews.com/news/asia/india/asifa-bano-this-8-year-old-s-rape-and-murder-is-a-horror-story-beyond-sexual-violence-in-india-1.2204423

Rest in peace, Asifa. You didn’t deserve to die.)

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Okay

You spend nights
Leaving salt-trimmed wet stains
On gaily patterned pillowcases
When the house is dark
Because the shame of a pair of eyes
Seeing yours crying
Would be unbearable.
After all,
The things you cry about,
Aren’t moving enough
To be shared or heard.
You spend days
Carrying back-bending burdens
That indispose you to cheer
And tire every cell in your body,
Leaving you exhausted at sundown
But unable to find rest or sleep.
You dump your most dangerous feelings
Into a glass bottle
And cork it up.
You know that’s dangerous,
But you do it anyway
Because your heart is already
Criss-crossed with so many scars
That a few more
Wouldn’t really make
That much of a difference.
You walk around
With sorrow stinging your eyes
Like a hundred angry hornets,
But for the sake of appearances,
You’re absolutely fine,
You couldn’t get any better.
Those bags around your eyes?
You pass them off
As the consequences of a three-hour slumber.
But you’re still here…
Breathing—
You never dragged a blade along the inside of your wrist,
Heart beating—
You never fell asleep unnaturally in a filled bathtub,
Alive—
You never drowned your troubles in lethal cocktails.
You’re okay.

Brave the Night

My Sun has set on this place,

This place that once reminded me of home,

Leaving it stripped 

Of warm light,

Of heartening color.
Now that my beacon is gone,

I grope in the darkness of 

This serpents’ hunting ground,

This whispering ghosts’ lair.
No more does a flower raise its head here;

No more birdsong is heard amidst the boughs—

There’s naught to soothe my senses,

Naught to allay my fears,

Naught to give me a grain of hope. 
The cold surrounds me 

Like a band of menacers.

Its sting is merciless, painful…

And I fear its evil might. 
Maybe I can try running,

But I fear my path sports 

A litter of sharp, blood-hungry stones

And a scatter of brambles.
This night is too long

And too full of terrors. 

When do you intend returning,

My dearly beloved Sunshine?

These fiends will fly far 

At the sight of your splendor. 
Your coming is certain,

That much do I know.

I’ll see the flowers bloom,

I’ll hear the birds once more.

But ‘tween then and now,

I must brave the night alone.

Myrtle-Green Butterfly

One day, she realized that the

myrtle-green butterfly 

she was holding onto for dear life

belonged to the air.

She’d held onto it  

longer than was necessary.

Not wanting to hurt 

its myrtle wings

she had come to love,

not wanting to see it struggle

to break loose,

she set it free.

It was a butterfly unlike the 

counterparts of its species –

the dust of its wings never left

the ridges of her fingers. 

Thenceforth she sat

on the blue-gray cobblestones

flanked by withered patches 

of pink carnations

and strewn with dead leaves.

Dragonflies, aphids, grasshoppers

like mocking winged missiles 

would slowly approach and hastily retreat.

They’d whisper loudly,

Don’t get too close, it’s dangerous,

for the butterfly-catcher to hear.

Searching, sometimes for hours,

she watched slow-beating wings

draw from the bosoms of 

slow-dancing flowers,

but the pairs of wings she saw 

were either too gaudy as

a gypsy’s motley patch-dress,

or too unremarkably plain as

a scullery maid’s aged apron. 

At long last, one evening 

when the dusk was robbing 

the last colors of the day,

she spotted it – her myrtle-green butterfly –

hovering alone 

near the golden-hearted purple irises. 

With the caution of

a person crossing a field

sown with landmines,

the febrile franticness of

a lone soul crossing 

a fraying drawbridge,

she made her painstaking way thither. 

Like a sinner, going down 

on bended knees,

the butterfly-catcher whispered

her apology:

I’ve been waiting to see you

just to say

I’m sorry for catching you

the other day.

Though it wasn’t eternity,

I held onto you too long,

but then I let you go because 

it’s not where you belong. 

It made me so happy when I held you,

But happiness isn’t happiness

if the other’s not happy too. 

Myrtle-green butterfly, you were 

special to me,

but you were never mine for the keeping

so I set you free. 

One Day in Time 

Time will translate this weakness into strength;
One day even the scars will be faded like old ink on old parchment;

The mind’s eye will soon see only blurred memories,

Memories relieved of their intensity, their stimulus,

Memories robbed of their sting, their power to hurt.
The sun will conquer every lonely, dark night;

The storm will die, the sky will clear.

Pain will tire of rearing its head, its fangs will not pierce, will not kill;

It’s strangling hold will break, it will be defeated in its purpose.

Broken hearts will mend, broken people will be made whole.
One day in time, we will be set free. 

Destroyer 

For what, I ask, do you waste yourself 

Raining on a beautiful canvas while it’s drying?

Decanting your acid into my spring waters? 

Destroying what you haven’t created?
My happiness, does it counteract yours?

Does breaking bridges gratify your appetite for destruction?

(But all you can hope to achieve is a non-calamitous dent.) 
I’m a leaning tower that defies 

The gravity of your acrimoniousness 

That persistently but futilely labors to 

Cause my fall, my breakage. 

But the integrity of my substance 

Exceeds the strength of your pull,

Keeping me from shattering,

Keeping you from triumphing. 
The hand that holds the knife is not

Guaranteed against being cut by its own blade. 

The arm that swings the hammer of destruction

Will itself debilitate, courtesy of its weight. 

Flame 

Sulfur mates sulfur.I transfer its child –

A blue-hearted golden leaf

Onto a black spine infixed

In a sacrificial white cylinder.
This blue-gold pendant 

Is the nocturnal man’s 

Misshapen anachronic sun –

The nighttime writer’s allegory –

His passion typified – 

Intense, burning, resistant 

To opposing suffusing winds.