This is not an invitation
to breathe the air
— of another century.
Neither stale, nor musty,
I imagine dust that has never

seen rain. That patch of scrubland
dry as the month of June, withered
and withering, taking on the air of
‘I really don’t care’ what becomes
of me, or my paltry resident. Hideous

animal. Only for this insane death-
life. Whose dream were you?
Has it been hidden? The place
from which you bled for nothing
more than fancy and false pride.

Whose hand slayed you?
Whose hand brought you back,
wicked necromancer of the old
days? That posture too chosen
for its weird abrupt interruption

—sad mimesis of a hunt conducted
now in abandoned places. (How may
a box contain such excesses?) A slight
baring, strange unshifting eye,
heavy, delicate paw. Stalking history

through the corridors, waiting as times
or masters change, as paint peels,
and marble darkens. At the edge
of this, will you spring to life?
You will empty of emptiness.

Dust can turn to lead, heavy
against your fur (your edges
already crumbling). The glass fret
with fault lines—no earthquakes
here, but slow, silent undoings.

Though more alive than the dead
behind you. Coaxed by dry grass,
petty camouflage, to remain seen.
If that constitutes living. This is how
we learned to box life. Such care

has been taken to forget, yet
you rear in our imaginings, wild
nightmare, stretched across the
darkness of a century. Lost
guardian, you trail thick blood

into our homes and streets. Even then
our gazes never meet. Across the rooms,
in close quarters, they slide and sidle,
wayward in hot embarrassment,
and dull rage. What have they done

to shape-shifters? To those whose
breath must mist in rain. This is how
we learned to wrestle the world
into a box. To set the clasps tight.
And point light.

Empires are a taxidermist’s dream.

 

This poem appeared as part of “Origins”, a photography organised by the British Council, Delhi in October 2015.

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