Book excerpt: Frazil by Menka Shivdasani



Bass Notes

“How come your hair is so silky?”
the black musician asked, and she,
half-asleep, said Hong Kong was full of gloss
and sometimes the place got into your hair.

He was a professional, and they were playing
games with each other, fine-tuned notes
on silken skin. “The trouble,” he said,
“is you’re too sensitive,” and drew
music from the guitar strings on her head.

It was when he got to the bass
that something changed.
Later, he asked, anxious: “Did you,
Baby, did you?” for, at a crucial moment,
there were silences he didn’t expect.

“I always come quietly,” she told him
not adding: “I always go quietly too.”


The Clinging Vine

Put her in cold storage:
let the grey metallic doors
shut upon her. She will
taste good when the time is right.

Toss her into boiling water,
so red and soft, till the skin
splits and the juices ooze.
De-seed her; gently
roast the flesh.

A bit of garlic
is always good, roughly
minced, spluttering
in hot oil. For perfect partners,
try some ginger shreds.

Lastly, put her into the shiny processor.
Choose the blade with care
to ensure the texture’s right.
Chunky bits are perfect for the salads,
but pureeing makes her smoother
Down the throat.

Appetiser, main course,
take your pick.
Let dessert wait.

One year of marking paragraphs
and time, deleting words,
adding commas, rewriting
the homeopathy and gardening columns.
One year of fungus
sprouting from ears, eyes,
tongue, one year
of feeling like mouldy bread,
full of holes.

Good to collect
monthly four-figure pay,
buy a new pair of jeans,
hide the fungus
growing on the thigh.

Till you feel like a bit of copy
yourself – cleaned, pruned,
computer-processed in black and white,
tucked away on the inside pages
of a world you never made.

Turn to the original.
Some sub-editor there
marked it ‘STET’.


Are You There?

I’m looking for a god.
Not the stone kind –
I found that too hard.
Wooden ones
caught fire
and paper ones
tore too easily.
Metal gods, I found,
got rusted, and god
is supposed to be brilliant.

I have a sneaking suspicion
god died of indigestion.
The raw rice they kept giving him
must have proved too much.


Pest Control

He swooped through the window
of the moving train, flying cockroach
straight onto my lap. I brushed him off
with the nail file in my hand.

Then there was the centipede,
a hundred legs that got him nowhere.
He arrived during one of my many jaunts
through the forest of the mind.

Back home, the lizard was waiting,
cold, motionless, his back against the wall,
the grey-green of his eyes a question mark –
not question mark, perhaps, but rather, statement.
I did not stay long enough to find out what.

Some others too, I think, crept
in and out. There were the ants,
lots of them, who turned red and bit
when I tried to crush them;
some cockroaches, the kind who creep,
but do not creep away;
mosquitoes, of course, who sucked,
and left me marks.

And I – I stood there unmoving,
like a can of pesticide,
full of poison,
all of it inside me.



Menka Shivdasani has three previous collections of poetry: Nirvana at Ten Rupees, Stet and Safe House. She has edited an anthology of women’s writing, If the Roof Leaks, Let it Leak, for Sound and Picture Archives for Research on Women (SPARROW) and two anthologies of contemporary Indian poetry for the American e-zine


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