I remember seeing owls in a dark
chamber at the zoo in Singapore.
There were stumps of trees inside the glass cages,
some bulbs resembling the moon.
Did they buy the simulation?
Like we bought them behind the glass cages with a ticket?
Did we assume they don't deserve the day,
don't need their sleep,
Wide-eyed for years
inside that zoo,
in that perpetual, awakened state,
they finally began to understand
what we did,
what we stole.
Our chemists are stocked up with sleeping pills —
are we able to buy,
just as convinced,
that simulated sleep?
Those of us who sleep lonely
have an automatic condition, scientists say —
of frequent micro-awakenings through the night.
It is a state of anticipating
danger in the midst of sleep,
for we know deep within
that we are not looked out for,
nor held safely
in the arms of
another of our kind :
a befitting price
wise owls wide awake,
caged long enough
to earn this curse.
The Burning Violin
Combustion is the law of the universe.
There is a recognisable burning sound when
my third finger simply does
not get the G-note right on its first go.
A greater fire somewhere in a slum across the country,
I hear, where the spark of a short circuit has had
a family with their tenement
burnt for the second time,
They sit by kerosene lamps surrounded by the music of fireflies.
Tiger cubs have lost their mothers
at the fire of an aesthetist’s fetish,
a poacher with a burning stomach.
All the forests of all our lands have begun burning.
The charred faces of koala bears
is the picture of a burning resentment
against our excesses.
The ground beneath the penguins’ feet melt.
The soles of a labourer’s feet and fingers.
That body beside my grandmother’s pyre.
A housewife’s woe.
A fireman’s singed hair.
My body without your touch boils to a relentless fever,
a volcano erupting within me.
The ignition of an engine can take you miles and into your lover’s arms.
Eyes burn. Throats. Love letters. Photographs.
Red hot embers of coal give us light.
Our sun will extinguish to death one day.
On that last dawn on the planet, every moment
will be burning.
The science of the breath within you.
A Dark Hotel, On Loan
An uncle of mine,
not by blood,
but a friend of my parents and to my mother’s family —
a photographer once upon a time,
whose fingers created a magic-realism
burning my heart each time I saw
the picture album with
captured moments of my elder sister
as a baby — playing in the arms
of my parents, aunts, uncles, grandmother —
as if she truly belonged.
The first love, and
the first child are awaited,
and they belong —
the ones that follow, hang on
a frail thread laced with inherited disquiet.
This uncle has been recently heard of
inside his auctioned hotel
for two days after they locked it up
He was two days late to send
the six crores amount
numerous harrowing phone calls
with his debtors
to save the concrete
of his dreams from being sold off
to the highest, alien bidder.
He was two days late.
For the next two days and two nights,
his heart’s labouring chambers, its
swanky banquet halls
deluxe suites, lobby, ballroom and
after they cut off the
building’s electricity and water supply
to draw the rat out.
The heart is a rat, I know this
like my uncle did, trying to escape
the ways of catch-cage-or-poison.
If only, they left us
alone in those comfort corridors
after paying the amount we can afford.
Some of us don’t need to grope
the walls and furniture in the dark
to find our way in this hotel —
our feet are familiar
with this loaned ground
only too well.
Pallavi Patel is a resident in the mountain ranges of the Himalayas in India. She has studied English Literature as well as Literary Art at university. Apart from writing, sculpting with clay is also her artistic practice. She has taught English language and literature to middle, high school and undergraduate students in Mumbai. She is currently employed as a sculptor at Dharamkot Studio, near Dharamshala. The subjects that she is passionate about writing are narratives on family, patriarchy, hyper-nationalism, consequences of capitalism, abuse upon the non-human world, human alienation and loneliness. She is also working on a novel.