Monday, December 21, 2009

glass cassowary

In early October, I visited the Government Museum in Chennai. I'd been looking at archeological artifacts and then came to the building with animal bones and taxidermy. I walked into the room with Foreign Animals written over the door and almost fell over when I saw this cassowary in a glass case. I was so shocked that even though I had bought a ticket for my camera as well I simply couldn't photograph the bird. In my last week in Chennai I went back specifically to do so. I had trouble getting it to work and then this image appeared before my eyes. It was as if the natural world were inviting the cassowary back into its arms.

glass cassowary dp301

where they land is all important

in the government museum in Chennai
a bird in a glass case

no ordinary bird this
it’s in the room marked

beside it a tapir
a cockatoo

all on its own
a cassowary in a glass case

encased in glass
a territory hardly big enough
to turn around in

let alone disperse seed
hold up the rainforest

nothing to eat
no shade
no where to go

bring back the birds
bring home their bones
the feathers
their poor stuffed carcasses

allow this bird to rot
in the humus of the forest

I stumble out backwards
something caught in my throat

This is how a live cassowary looks: a father and his chick.

Monday, December 14, 2009


For months I have watched women drawing kolam. On my last day in Chennai they sprouted from every gateway, they were small and quick, elaborate and delicate, ambitious and wonderful. I have seen multi-coloured ones but on this day they were all white - with one tiny visible exception.

kolam dp300

where they are drawn and when
is all important

early morning is auspicious
it sets the shape of the day

I watch as a watered driveway
scrubbed clean
has a few points of white grain sprinkled

the woman works quickly
she knows her design for the day
runs the powdered grain
from point to point

it is a mandala
a yantra
a sign

so that the forces of the universe
align themselves

with her intentions

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


This photo of S. Sowmya, a Carnatic singer, was taken at the Prajnya Concert on 27 Nov as part of the 16-Day Campaign Against Gender Violence. She and the other four musicians played fantastic music among which was at least one raga. I'm no expert in this area but I recognised this list of notes which appeared on screen at some point.

raga dp285

Sa Ti Ga Ma Pa Da Na Sa

the snake coils around the song tail in mouth the end in the beginning
one coil is a necklace of pearl tears and beaded breath dew settling
into the river running wild the long hair of her head like spiralled water
beside the river a deer stands listens for the illusion of one hand clapping
sniffs at the lotus in a still corner her four feet dancing in a tremble of petals
from her dance comes the drum roll the rattle of creation music from inside
crystallised into sickled moonstone in her head circling in time to the planet’s
breath the snake slithers scaly skin from earth to sky spine to crown