Untraveled Orbits

This poem won Third place in 2-Day Poem Contest 2021

Palm trees swish the edge of our hearing, too close
to the air for any real communion. Water lips our toes,
withdraws. Moored boats, like ancient spearheads,
stand vigil against the sea. I shine the light
from my phone on the sand, so we don’t trample
starfish. We are discussing ancestors,
how half-heard stories are all we have
to embank their lives against time and erasure.
You tell me of a wall in Kanyakumari
that may yet bear your grandfather’s art. I imagine
the Nirma dancing girl on that wall, arms sheer
against the sea wind, posters and slogans pasted
over her, waiting to be excavated by you.
The waves are more urgent now, they wrest
the sand under my feet. If I stand still long enough,
you will find a lacuna in the shape of me
sculpted with spume and torpid air.
You hum the Zee Horror Show theme
and scare yourself when my phone dies.
We notice there are no starfish to watch for,
as if they saw us coming in the distance
and whizzed undersea with the next receding wave.
A runny light melts the air around a hanging lantern,
mosquitoes and moths cloud its mustard pool.
We clutch hands, sidestep the wetness under it
that smells of brine and the buried past.
Before us, the dim light construes shapes in the dark:
the eyes of drying nets, the curve of upturned boats,
the nubivagant dreams of restless fronds. I tell you
of my grandfather decoding horoscopes
for horses and their jockeys, interpreting destiny
as a race someone is always fated to lose.
Waves and wind balter around us as if trying
to keep pace with each other.
We stumble our way to dryer ground;
there are lights in the distance like stars
pulling us into their untraveled orbits.