Triumph VIII: Shakti
Our glare turns men to stone, to ash. We make
the flesh of butchered sons our husbands’ feast,
devour the warring Asuras, and slake
our thirst on their hot blood. There is no beast
we can’t command: we know them. So we dance
on skulls and swords, unstoppable, as wild
as supernovas, frightening as chance-
ruled life—but stories tell us that a child
will turn us soft. They paint us kneeling, claim
our pure hot strength as gentleness. Our art
—our fire-fed joy, our claws, our blood—they shame
for fear our dance will rip their world apart.
And that’s why men, my daughters, praise our calm
and swear true strength would never do them harm.
She carved me from a Bodhi root drunk
on the butter-white mother of floods
weaned me on jaggery
and ghee. I was early, impatient
to scream. My clothes too big. The wrong
doctor birthed me—the man, at her bed. She gave me
a tongue of shards rolled together
in blood-gold honey. Her needle
grew blue-and-white flowers
on my too-big dress.
Listen: banyans strangle their hosts.
She painted me on fig leaf skeletons, heart-shaped
flesh rotted away to leave
that last filigree breath. Laughing girl in pigment
dried onto dead veins. She says
I bit my brother and cried, fey-cunning,
baneful. Breathless, I couldn’t stop talking. Words too big;
I too small for old-bottle eyes. They found shards
of rusty razor in my mouth.
Listen: I sickened. We always do. She’d hear
that wet rattle in my infant chest
with every shallow breath. She waits
for the daughter she made to twirl in blue dresses
and spit out the shards
and laugh, to forget
that great river, that first mother, before
water-words spill drunken from my glass-sharp tongue
and take root.
“Triumph VIII: Shakti” first appeared on their LiveJournal (2010) along with other poems in the Triumph series. “Epiphyte” first appeared in Jabberwocky (2011). Reprinted here with permission.
Photograph: Durga Puja, 1809 – Watercolour painting in Patna Style / Wikipedia