Poetry at Sangam



DREAM AT 12 by Sridala Swami

He is twelve
        and is to be executed by drowning.
He escapes.

Now he is sitting in front of me as if he has just come
out of a shower
but he is shivering.
I have no time to hold him
or release the grief that holds me.
I must hide him
from the full house that is
half-emptied of what it holds.

A cardboard wall, hardly enough.
It must suffice. For now.
The people know he is here
but they greet him as if he had never left
and never needed to.
I still do not know what he did.
Like every mother I say, “My son is innocent.”

How did they plan his execution?
Were they pirates? Would they make him walk
the plank? Did he walk off the edge
like a fool
with his head in the clouds?
I can believe this last

but I cannot believe in death by execution
execution by drowning.
It is not civilised. It is not how we live
where we live.
They weren’t men lined up, rifles pointed
at the boy who came up for air
and reached right for the clouds.

He flew. This is what occurs to me.
I still dream of flight
as if the bowl of heaven is an illusion
just because I can see right through it.
I gave him wings but he used them to come home.
Twelve is too young to be thinking of nests,
too old for a son and his mother.

The refusal of a gift is also an execution.
He cannot be drowned
though he can no longer fly.
But he can dream of flight
and perhaps that is enough
to bring him out of the water
as if it were an inverted bowl
without substance.