ANU MAHADEV is a left-brained engineer turned right-brained poet based in the Greater New York region. She is a recent graduate of the MFA in Poetry program from Drew University, and she has different sobriquets depending on the day – a hopeless romantic, a brooding hermit, a social connector, but always and forever a poet first. Domestic abuse, women’s rights and education, and mental health disorders are topics particularly close to her heart. In addition to which, she has a soft corner for the underdog, the immigrant, the minority, and often writes about those who don’t fit in, their experiences and relationships. She is part time editor for the Woman inc. Online and Jaggery Lit online.
Clear skies of summer!
My goodbyes don’t come easy
Cruel month, April
Plants come to this house
Latticed glass windows,
cut with blinds
cut by light
and I by the summer sun
Watch a ruined vegetable patch
Overrun with weeds, parched earth
A lone banana stem long gone,
tomato creepers, green chilies,
a gigantic squash, eggplants ,
a veritable salad mix on the ground
Peppered with bits of herbs – basil,
thyme, cilantro, a chef’s sauté pan
in the making, tossed high with pollen
Magic in the air, until someone forgets
to water them one day – nothing grows except poison ivy on the walls
I have nothing to give
photograph in b/w
sepia toned acacia tree, two
little girls standing—
one, bigger, smiling, two
dolls in her hand
one,smaller, wailing, one
doll, clay-baked mud
matching dresses, hairbands,
shoes, one happy
— she’s not an only child
anymore, she won’t
share though, the other
screams for mom
separated soon after birth,
reunited as sisters
strangers in the womb
hands, trying to understand
how a family behaves
the definition of love, where
it comes from
portico’s wind-surrendered song
lattices of trellis, fickle fireflies
jasmine creepers, stonewashed
pillars, a lazy lawn chair or two —
she collects these into her little
brown bag, chock-full of maps,
floor plans for a non-existent
life, a stranger, a stranger once more.
Ash (as seen by the urn)
from her bones
scrape out the last
of a life left behind
brass pot, warm, too much
to hold a person, a mind —
immersed in a river, a sea
hands welcome, join us
of non-existence, freedom
Now in the trunk
of an ’07 Honda Accord, bouncing
I’ve run out of salt —
earth’s pores, geyser steam
no matter what I eat
I run on empty
So I’ll call you tomorrow
I’ll call you tomorrow
when I’m the ubiquitous aunt,
a familiar pockmarked face now forgotten,
now wandering about random weddings,
iPad in hand, to avoid being photographed
From the depths of the ocean
where light can’t get through
I’ll call you tomorrow from
a bathyscaphe muffled with the voices
of my critics, my self-pity that chides me
my own brain that berates me
for not conforming to the mould
her pencil writes —
of styli, quills
scratched sound waves
between the lines
scattered word fragments
soft chipped graphite
empty notebooks wait
in silence, ruffled pages
reams of white
soon to be covered in print
broken only by these faint
noises, muffled roar
traffic, teapot, dryer
her tapping toe rings
against the chair
the pencil writes —
of such things
when her thoughts
cannot sing her song.
she spins, careless merry-go-round
— carousel, shifts her fortunes
from cheetah to camel, ruffles her skirt
careful not to let her legs show
ogling eyes, wolves eye her, reptiles
slither, strip her into rubble
“i don’t belong, i don’t belong”
her thoughts run away, but never
leave the scene, she cuts herself
out of every memory, every event,
promises that one day she will
reverse time, she will belong
to the music store, the place she
once felt at home, watches the
gramophone record spin, traces
her scars, the betrayal of her larynx,
her useless genes, “you’ll just need to
practice more or you’ll never be as good
as your sister” when did living become
a contest, a proof of skill, talent, luck
“since Darwin said so” her thoughts
run away once more, circle of life,
she won’t let her daughter be caught
in its cobwebs, its sticky super glue.
Strings of jasmine, paused
Entwined, enshrined, in their tomb
Pearls from her thin wrists
refuge in libations
lone candle on a sconce
stretch, scoop out insides
halo flickers, threatens
to envelope her
black box of the dark
olive shades of the walls,
tolerates light —like a plant
absorbs the infrared waves
of the spectrum
a stupor only she can sense
watches her goblet run dry
wishes for its contents
to be refilled perhaps
mood synonymous with
a sombre color palette
she only destroys the old
removes the debris from the room
lumps her listlessness
in the reservoir of blood
in the guise of veiled insults
childhood gift, bestowed
—literature, language, love
gift of expression
defenseless woman — womb
opened, emptied of all grief.
blue child of farewells, too
quick, too soon, medical
terms, certificates signed,
faint peeling tan walls,
sigh — they are used to
screams, primitive, down
to the very basics of life,
procreation. wind howls
through her, all vestiges
scooped out. who wants grand
plans, ultimately all she wants
— a set of walls and deadbolts,
to keep strangers out, but
all the doors to her house stand ajar.
victim of a mass robbery,
arson, leaving nothing behind
but urns of ashes, a mound
of earth, six feet under.
Each day I am a wine transformed
From grape to vineyard to barrel to glass
I slosh in someone’s sinful hands
Unsure of virtues, the truth unfolds
Desire’s own fragment, fermented, shaped
I am the leaping fire you brewed
Blurry eyes — the vintage sunrise
I slip away into rosé
Honey, amber, ambrosia
I bring out the best in you
These hands once bold — wrinkled, old
Tremble as they conquer me
Then at last, when you decant the past
I am neither the start nor the end.
Laws of Poetry
If poetry is a law, then I am pretty much lawless, a free spirited rebel —
a mind of my own, no rules to adhere to. This is more like my thought process.
1. I shall not write sonnets or sestinas, do not try to confine me.
2. No political poetry, else I might get deported 🙂
3. Show, don’t tell. But don’t be obtuse. And don’t hide behind layers of confusion.
4. Don’t belabor the topic. If every poem leads to the same cliched ending, avoid it.
5. Be more concrete. Abstractions don’t work -period.
6. Please PLEASE keep the formatting intact. And the title. It is half the battle won.
7. Condense the poem to its core, as opposed to blathering on with propositions and conjunctions.
heard that light is scarce
dark sky serves up ring of moon
red dawn dances high
she signs off xoxo
like she breathes
hurls an insult
tic tac toe and exes
and ohs — it’s old stuff
a storyline intersects
with a brief impulse
her tuning fork is set
to the frequency of the hunted
the ermine emerges from a stoat
winter charade — over and out.
she crosses checkboxes for mistakes
plays guessing games
under the Southern Cross night sky
her typewriter only knows
how to write amalgams
fairy tales peppered with
a heavy dose of reality
Without the Wind,
No path to trace
No map to follow
Grounds, skies bleed
Aftermath — they
say the mother of all
Does it matter to
Afghanistan – non
nuclear or not?
Without the Wind
Screams of war
in silent hunts,
in landfills, debris
Wave of terror
Voices shake, cry
While power sits
around a table
pinpoints a place,
and a million cries
subside — a brief minute
of chilling horror
before the wind’s
Without the wind
Where would panic go?
Cherry blossom, faithful spring
Sake, feast under its bloom
Cloud messenger, come!
Shade of the Himalayas
Of the sea, of the earth
Tectonic plates in my
food. Dash of pink grit,
coarse hands finish the
dish. Lend some lush
sweet subtlety to an
otherwise normal day.
I sprinkle it on the top
— a history and geography
lesson rolled into one,
from the depths of the
It’s as if it says to me,
only one could exist —
the Indian subcontinent
or the Tethys. Take your
pick. I imagine it as a
soft blush, the art of
cooking, as glitzy as
makeup, a chemistry
of iron oxide and mouth,
the happy faces of my
dinner guests when I
top off with a grinder.
Moment of calm
tapers, fluid dark
Life’s bullet train
flashes by final
On the other side
— love remains on
A memory of something
with the desire for it
Across her palm,
Criss-crossed with graffiti,
Her stubborn stars, her telltale scars,
What acoustics betray, what strings cut
the promises of a tepid summer evening —
tapering jacaranda shadows, unsure candles
flickering to the gentle mistral?
What of knowing the heart’s pleasures, its
measured beats, rise and fall with each note,
this upheaval of youth, this rhythm of movement,
This is then, the reason why
the ivories are caressed
the instrument is polished
the muse is evoked
the music passed onto the hope,
the innocence of young fingers,
their eyes of stars.
It returns to me in shades of autumn leaves,
light intersecting voile, chiffon threads in longer
rays, earth’s axial tilt, as the equinox approaches.
North wind coruscates the lone window
of my room. Cornucopia of scarlet, bronze,
crimson, cyan replace chlorophyll with carotene,
nature’s colorful ciphers.
Hourglass tips, sand pours itself into a heap,
time changes, clock sets back. Fiery veined
leaves aglow. Frost covers this mauve-hued carpet.
Long days gone, trees slow down, their summer
chores done, it is now time to retire and rest.
Boy, man, testosterone,
So similar, so different
You — of the silly jokes, foolish
pranks, stupid ideas
So sure of yourself, dripping
with swagger factor
What was I worried about — you pulling
my braids till they hurt or stealing my scarves
or tugging my skirt or pelting stones on dogs?
The answer is e) all of the above
And no, that’s not how I know you like me
— I see through your hollow
core, you jaded casanova, overfed
Sincerity > Braggadocio in my world
Come, shrink into my pocket
Go back to Lilliput.
This is all a dream.
A platonic rewrite to erase
the vestiges of time.
Reversal of fortunes — monsoon wind
doesn’t happen too often here.
I can obsess, use my x-ray vision,
wash the parchment layers with pumice stone
till my hands run dry and red.
But the scripto-inferior is a tattletale.
It does not take too long to decipher the codices
— crossing the boundaries — forbidden fruit seldom does.
And yet, if I could transform it all,
the clock would stop when you said those words
that changed my life — that you couldn’t be just friends
with me anymore.
There is a ceasefire
along the fault lines of my broken body
This alienation, this prison
of blood and bone, as if bound in an alcazar
— exquisite entrapment, cannot save me
I’m eating everything in sight, eating away
at my brain cells,
until my clothes don’t fit anymore
until my mountain of bags and shoes mock me
I want to exist only
in the metaphysical sense, this form, its flaws
Wearing a diadem of branch, bramble, briarwood
to keep the robins out
Cité Mémoire – Vieux Port de Montréal
Caramelized chocolate buildings. Cobblestoned streets.
Wrought iron lamp-posts.
He walks along these, camera in hand, searches
for the perfect scalene angles of light.
People watching from verandahs, sloping roofs
of rain, vintage shop fronts.
He breathes this air, eats his readymade palak paneer,
settles down in his cosy AirBnB apartment.
She tracks the entire route to Canada using FlightAware.
He sends her pictures, one of himself, taken by a tourist.
That look he reserves only for the passionate pursuits in life
— photos, comics, ciphers, her.
How does one go from a long lost girlfriend to bad karma in one day?
She writes a thank you note to Apple, congratulating them
on the Find-a-phone feature — it ruins her life.
How does insecurity seep into bones — like a malignant cancer cell?
How does one finish something before it ever even starts?
The lamps are now lit, the appetizing aroma of food fills the evening air.
Tomorrow she will be a piece of trash. But tonight she revels knowing
that no one knows him like she does.
Pigtailed girl, your braids
in different colored ribbons — an April fool’s joke
gone sour. You aren’t color blind.
Uttrayan is around the corner. Boys will fly kites
with glass-crusted manja cutting their hands raw.
Sharp-eyed girl, oil your hair, tie it up!
Only loose girls let their hair go wild. And no shampoo –
only aritha and shikakai, okay?
The atmosphere is charged with testosterone fuel.
Girls in their delicate hats walk about innocently enough,
cheering the players on.
You cut your hair? Colored it?
What shade is this — Red blonde? I don’t care!
Go to your room, you are grounded! Repent!
Siesta time. The afternoon is dead. She walks up
to the terrace, gold flecks of sun in her hair.
The dupattas are clipped to the clothes-line.
His kites cut her ribbons loose. Untamed hair
blows about her face.
She lets them go. He lets them go.
Their eyes will forever be midnight blue skies.
The only gates she knows are the creaky, metallic ones
at home — haven’t been oiled in over a decade.
Except she isn’t the same person crossing the same gate twice.
HE speaks to her today, patiently, sitting across the bench.
To HER of all people.
Wondering who’s the person behind those straight A+ report cards.
He doesn’t know he is the first person to talk to her that day, or any day.
He is the first boy.
Virginal blood rushes to her head. Overflows into dark and cold nooks
Her mind races. The floodgates buried under wallflowers open,
the spillways don’t hold anything back. She tries hard to escape the gates,
cast down eyes, hidden smile, but they are suspicious.
She imagines a life ahead, looping arms with him, planning dates
with a superior air, loose hair, flowing skirts, summer wind.
But a casanova isn’t meant to be trapped. The gates laugh.
They are sadists, oddly satisfied when she runs out of his house,
everything incomplete. They celebrate when she leaves for the airport,
a girl for one last time, leaving his smirking face far behind.
She shuts them for good, painting copper rust over them, sealing them
into wallpapered rooms, hammering them shapeless.
But within, she is still that trapped girl, still waiting.
A forced sunrise
There is this place,
saved — a postcard, only obvious
when I go spelunking deeper inside
the dark heart, when the sun rises.
But sadly, I cannot fake a look of awe.
The earth, for all its sins, wakes up
to a new forgiving shade of lilac, lavender each day,
something I wish I could do.
Once we saw this spectacle together, you and I.
Now I see it first, and you — perhaps a morphed version
of it — later. It doesn’t remind me of you — not anymore,
I say, even as I write this poem.
My quill is in my wayward fingers, which don’t really
want to write this poem. But I have promised to.
So I imagine this non-existent sunrise in my life,
try to go back to one that really means something.
This keeps me up at night. When I wake up, it’s gone,
the director has wrapped up the scene, the set.
This is why counting sheep is never my forte.