Poetry at Sangam



OLD WOMEN by K. Satchidanandan

(Translated from the Malayalam by the poet)

Old women do not fly on magic wands
or make obscure prophecies
from ominous forests.
They just sit on vacant park benches
in the quiet evenings
calling doves by their names
charming them with grains of maize.

Or, trembling like waves
they stand in endless queues in
government hospitals
or settle like sterile clouds
in post offices awaiting mail
from their sons abroad,
long ago dead.

They whisper like a drizzle
as they roam the streets
with a lost gaze as though
something they had thrown up
had never returned to earth.

They shiver like December nights
in their dreamless sleep
on shop verandahs.

There are swings still
in their half-blind eyes,
lilies and Christmases
in their failing memory.
There is one folktale
for each wrinkle on their skin.
Their drooping breasts
yet have milk enough to feed
three generations
who would never care for it.

All dawns pass
leaving them in the dark.
They do not fear death,
they died long ago.

Old women once
were continents.
They had deep woods in them,
lakes, mountains, volcanoes even,
even raging gulfs.
When the earth was in heat
they melted, shrank,
leaving only their maps.
You can fold them
and keep them handy :
who knows, they might help you find
your way home.