Monday 22 January 2024

Four Poems by Deepa Onkar




Translucent beads slip off

a wire, like raindrops, roll in dust.

Gold-tipped flowers scatter –

they’re chipped: clasps gone, the chain

floats free


Scent of time, hints of petrichor

Shards of vanity glint between

sunken jade pools. I scrabble amidst

pieces of sandstone desert, bereft:

an earring is missing its twin – 

this too, looks like brokenness.


I lift a fragment from a heap

of shimmering things: what could it be?

Fear, greed, envy – anger perhaps,

or ennui. Let me plant it in this seed-bed

of humility, hold it to the sun.

Will it blossom into laughter, joy, peace?





Doodles punctuate these pages of fiction –

a bird stilled, mid-flight: fine-boned wings

strain against white air. A butterfly edges by

a sentence: my heroine – let’s call her S,

has been cooking a feast. Here is a cluster

of geometric stars – like a broken grille –

here a delicate snowflake


Words fail me. I drift: out the open window,

a red hibiscus nods. Coconut trees lean

into sunlight. Something about the way the wind

teases the fronds: I’m back to S. She ambles

into the countryside, I write, gathering flowers.

There’s no predicting what happens next –

the pen hovers, stalls, draws a hesitant line

in the margin. The plot begins to thicken: S finds

a spaceship, jumps in, spirals into other universes


The journey’s end’s in sight – but a stroke

sneaks out of the nib, and then the next.

I’m surprised by the thing taking shape:

fleshy fruit, thick lobed and furry, delicious

to draw – compelling, strange: beauty

so utterly necessary





At dusk, things are aloft – scraps of paper, dust, parakeets: small green arrows, scattering.

Swallows hurtle towards the earth, flit up into the gold-tinted sky. Bats trace unhurried

horizontal circles, then go off at speedy tangents. Dialects of flight speak a truth: so much

flourishes in the universe above human busyness. I’ve begun to inhabit a liminal space

between it, and the road: oblivious to the traffic, the roar of cars and buses. Some days

back, a pair of Drongos  landed on a wire – today they are chasing flies in wide open

trajectories. I look at them without interpretation. Space expands. A trace of a question is

following me:  do they miss the flower-scented woods? A car blares a horn, there’s the

squeal of breaks, a loud cry: bird or child? A choke pulls at my throat, the body shudders


Something stretches like skin, webbed, between arms and torso; like bark between

branches. These buildings before me are not trees. They climb towards the sky turning a

deep blue – like paper dipped in ink – they seek a clouded sun. Has the smoke finally edged

out every winged thing? Yet, wonder persists. And far off, mere specks, glinting,

unflappable Egrets fly in steely V’s. I know not where they go, but such is instinct: they’ll be

back tomorrow. The paths of black butterflies flutter too quick. I begin to understand the  

silence of trees, the way it blends with the cricket’s call. The hiss of the wind. The eternal

murmur of stones


Something tells me to look up the street lamp towering above small trees: small and wind-

ruffled the woodpecker seems bewildered, cocks her pileated head this way and that. Is she

afraid? Lost?  The questions fall like drops of rain. A crowd is gathering to watch me watch

the bird. And when the tip of the metal branch begins to glow she swoops upwards and is

gone. The sky is clear, I have no answers





Leaves underfoot, moist, scent

of flowers I cannot name.

The headlights of a passing car pick

a path through trees, low mist

of foliage. Something squelches

in memory – an anxiety: finish

the poem waiting on the desk.

A slow throb begins somewhere

near the heart, unfurls through

limbs and trunk. Feet slide,

the lights swerve off. Darkness,

but let me persist – at the end

of this thicket I’ll see the stars,

walk on steadier ground.

The wind will give me words.



Deepa Onkar lives in Chennai, India. She has degrees in Mathematics and English Literature from the Universities of Madras and Hyderabad. She was a teacher at Krishnamurti schools and a journalist with The Hindu, an Indian national daily. Her poems and articles have appeared in The Lake, The Bombay Literary Magazine, Sonic Boom, The Indian Cultural Forum, The Hindu, Punch Magazine, Borderless, and others. 




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