by Sharanya Manivannan
After six years, I stop my autorickshaw – I can no longer deny the Cooum.
I go down to where the devout shake sacred leaves at the Kali by the Cooum.
Across the bridge, a man lying on the pavement touches the cheek of the
woman in his arms. And its tide stirs in the current in his thigh, the Cooum.
Even at this hour, a knot of crafters braid baskets and chairs on its banks.
How intertwined they are – the stench and the stories that underlie the Cooum.
And small children play in the rushes, and families who eat by firelight, and those
who hang their sorrows on laundry lines and, all summer, drip-dry the Cooum.
I have wandered coasts, praised the sea, yet this is where the ash of my life, long
burnt, has come to be dispersed, into the city’s black eye, the Cooum.
Here is where it all accrues. This river a catchment of the bled, the discarded.
I have torn open my mouth in song and in vomit and let it dye the Cooum.
And from the depth of that deluge, my soul emerged a glass-stringed kite,
tethered in undergrowth, yearning for release but unable to defy the Cooum.
How can you not feel it, churning beneath the roads, a despair drought-delirious?
You retreat, but even on terraces open to the sky, do you not spy the Cooum?
And in the bitter poisons that run like blood from hearts bisected with dams –
everywhere in this pockmarked city, the sour faces that imply the Cooum.
It’s true I have breathed it in, it’s true I have dripped it on my tongue. But
Sharanya, what can you say to those who ask – madwoman, why the Cooum?
Sharanya Manivannan was born in Madras in 1985. Her first book of poems was Witchcraft (2008); she is currently working on a novel and two manuscripts of poetry. Her fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in Drunken Boat, Superstition Review, Killing The Buddha, Full of Crow, and elsewhere. Sharanya can be found online at www.sharanyamanivannan.com.