A rainbow film glistens on the water
standing in a pool dark as engine oil
at the mouth of the street.
At nightfall anorexic cows,
their ribs carved in relief
on the dirty marble of their hides,
gather to graze on the edge of the garbage heap
that grows along the wall of a small unusable park.
Their lips nibble at tufts of grass
that seem to sprout inside their mouths,
at banana peels black and limp as strips of leather.
Mosquitoes hum in clouds
in the dim blue-white glow of streetlights.
The whole house smells
from the bottom up, but different smells
pervade the stairs and landings,
the bathrooms, the bedrooms, the kitchen.
There’s no point leaving the windows
wide open all morning:
even a gusty wind sweeping through the flat
won’t disperse these odors.
Indoors, damp patches on the walls,
plaster flaking off in chunks,
a single crack running through the cement
like a crooked river.
Every trace of leaks leaves behind a map
the shape and size of a continent,
dankness thrives in towels, shoes, pillows,
hankering to flower as a mold—
as though this were a final phase of decay,
unmitigated by the fact
of pain or neglect or age,
that nothing now can curb or deflect.
Chattisgarh, near Bilaspur
Clouds drift low above the monsoon town:
loose wads of wool, not yet spun to yarn,
swirling slowly in the wind. The sky drips
all day, all night, bringing down a foot of rain:
red mud in puddles; pools of saffron water;
sludge squelching underfoot: a foot of rain.
A liquid sheet, mirroring the sky,
is stretched across the paddy fields squared off
by banks of matted clay: blue, green, ocher
smeared with gray. Uneven squares, trapeziums,
sewn like patches on a checkered cloth:
the paddy, standing in a foot of water, velvet green.
So many butterflies swarming in the brush:
orange, purple, white, electric-blue,
their yellows bright as ripened mustard fields.
Brown, furry caterpillars; fat centipedes,
black and amber. A newborn calf, wobbling in the grass:
coat white as wool, eyes like glistening marbles.
Young rice plants, emerald filaments,
calf-deep in ruddy water. Rows of men and women,
bent over, moving through the fields in rhythm,
like combs through hair. Fingers grasp
the saplings, scoop them out, tie them up
in bundles, in tandem. Far in the distance,
a single tractor, plumed with diesel fumes,
turns up the soil in mechanical clods. But here
all the work is done by hand: bare bodies,
bare heads, bare hands. Trees blur into the sky,
their hues washed like watercolors: the earth,
fresh, full of life, swells and sways beneath them.
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