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Grey Sparrow Journal

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
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Close-up of a twig of the Alphonso mango tree carrying flowers and immature fruit, Deogad (or Devgad), Maharashtra, India

The Mango Tree



I


The villagers tell time

by the angle of the mango tree’s

shadow across the square.

 

Its roots web like arteries under the village.

 

 

II

 

The elders argue politics, land

feuds and progress under

the mossy canopy. Mango slivers

from ice buckets disappear

under drooping moustaches,

peels sucked white and clean.

 

The men work the fields.

 

 

III

 

Nearby, over mud-clay walls,

the women gossip, squalling

burdens clutched to hips.

Fresh-rinsed dupattas flutter

in the breeze—crimson, orange, blue!

They breathe deep of the air, redolent

with the incense of mango chutneys,

 

fruit-flesh bubbling on brick stoves.

 


IV

 

Impatient with writing slates,

sling-shotting comrades, we stare

longingly at the succulent fruit

bending the branches.

 

The teacher and the bees drone on.



V

 

Every summer the tree grows one,

juicy, unblemished mango—

perfectly pulp-fattened.

How to sneak up and pin our name-slips,

on that king of fruits? The race

to get the golden trophy.

 

Sometimes, the crows get to it first.

 

 

VI

 

Still, sticky evenings,

we’d corner Old Nani-Ma

on sun-toasted charpoys

till she spun dreams of sorcerers and

djinns, whose souls can be wrung

 

out of parrots sitting in mango trees.

 

Zakia Khwaja


 

Earth, Epileptic

 

The dogs sense the temblor first.

Animals always do.

They howl through the streets:

Alerting, yowling blues.

The birds fluster-flap to the skies next and

then the earth judders, epileptic.

 

Fine-china cracks, zigzag

across the mosaic floor and spider

up the walls. We stand leg-splayed

in doors, doing sailor-balancing acts. Buildings sink

on themselves, collapse. Somewhere, a body

count begins as people fall through gaps.

 

Bodies turn up in the debris:

Few alive, none whole, all jigsaw-pieced.

Where is the relief for survivors combing

through the rubble for families that never

leave the cold, crushing concrete?

 

Do they go through life gripping the stray shoe, the broken doll?

 

Zakia Khwaja

 

 

 

My Grandmother’s Geese

 

My grandmother would inspect

the undersides of our shoes if she imagined

a footprint in the podina patch: Only her precious

long-beaked geese could uproot the paneeri.

 

That too was our fault.

 

The vicious fowls would arrow-straighten their necks

parallel to the ground and chase us off the lawn.

 

My cousin’s thighs barely escaped their snaps.

 

Two policemen, the chowkidar and the gardener raked

the streets for three geese till nightfall. Guileless, we wondered

who had left the gate open. My grandmother never knew

 

a sweeper’s family ate roast that day.

 

Zakia Khwaja