After the story

RANJIT HOSKOTE

 

i. m. Chandra Hoskote (1934-2015)

 

From the anthill came the voice

 

Two white birds perched on a branch,

one killed by a hunterís arrow.

The first poem written in its blood:

the mourning sageís sudden curse

falls on the hunterís ear as verse.

 

From the anthill came the voice

 

Prisoner on the island of his suspicions,

alone under his white silk canopy,

he murmurs the chants that his ageing priests

heap on the fire sacrifice. Then from nowhere,

two boysí voices, high flutes above the drone.

Dropped masks, startled faces. The boys sing

 

From the anthill came the voice ††††††

†††††††††††††††††††

of the golden deer in the forest, the princess

carried off by the demon chief, the war, the siege,

the giant red monkey cartwheeling across the sky

and burning the island fortress. When the war ends,

the prince fixes his wifeís fourteen-year wait

with a cold stare and an ordeal by fire.

The fire plays honest witness.

††††††††††††††††††††††††

From the anthill came the voice††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††

 

But the prince cannot bridge

a distance greater than the stormy sea.

Doubt again for him, again exile for her,

love twisted and beaten on a washermanís stone.

At last she will have had enough of his tests:

she will ask the furrowed earth to swallow her.

He stands up shaking, his eyes opened wide

as his children sing to the king his own story.

Footnotes:

* Excerpted with permission from Jonah-whale by Ranjit Hoskote. Penguin/Hamish Hamilton, 2018.