Pangolin & Other Poems

by Usha Kishore


From the murkiest alleys of childhood,
he comes back in whiffs of folklore,
masquerading as mean embryo-ghost,
disgruntled little spirit, filling rain-washed
courtyards with lisped curses at nightfall:
Munjhone, Munjhone, Munjhone!
Be damned all! Be damned all!

You see him disguised as a golden ball;
his intricate scales, handiwork of pure devilry.
He breaks into glittering smithereens,
piercing your thoughts and follows you
home in wild nightmares, to haunt
you for stealing his flaxen shreds.

You see him often on foggy nights,
in paddy fields, where guardian fires
are lit, roasting slugs, snails and crabs
with his twisted hands, shelling them
with unholy craving, eating them
with relish to satiate his half-living,
half-dead being. His ghastly aureate
face, a spectral sporic self, yearning for
its mother; his eyes hard as diamonds,
spinning their hypnotic web; the hideous
horror of his head challenging fate;
an unformed soul in limbo, possessing
you like a clinging limpet.

Eenampechi, pangolin, Yama’s own
minion, in which black hour, do you
transmorph yourself from insect eater
into embryo monster? It is eerie
and dark in a child’s night-brain.
Which stygian corner do you frequent?

Poets Note on Pangolin:

Yama: God of Death in Indian myth

The poem is based on an old South Indian (Kerala) folklore that the golden pangolins are spirits of aborted embryos. A legend that I had frightfully grown up with.


The Peacocks in the Frame

Inspired by Sandhya Arvind’s Madhubani painting, Gopis and Krsna

Some stir the air with wingèd winds,
others alight blithely on aqua matte grass
and study the sky with upraised faces.
Their feathers, heaven’s vault –
a mélange of dawn pink and midnight blue.
In your world of woven silk,
their star-flecked eyes
dream of new constellations
emerging from cosmic eggs.

When fireflies hidden in the bushes,
burn in twilight song and the dark god
serenades his celestial lovers
with flute strains of evening raga,
the amorous calls of peacocks echo
across your illusory landscape, like
splendour falling on the castle walls
that breathe in platinum blue.

At nightfall, when the tree bursts
into bloom and the frozen teal river
in the foreground turns real,
lightning streaks blind the air
and the peacocks in the frame dance
under the monsoon clouds, dodging
the wind, dodging rain, dodging the gods.

Poets Note:

RagaIn Indian music, Raga is a term for a set of musical notes that create a melody and a mood.

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