Poetry Wednesday: Chitra Divakaruni

from Chitra Divakaruni’s ravishing poetry collection Black Candle (Calyx Books, 1991)

Bengal Nights

When foxes sing out behind
the bamboo grove and cranes’ wings
whip the black air white,
the child stops her games
and fills a bucket at the pump
and washes. Water flows through
her hot fingers like moonlight,
leeching away the salt.
She plunges her face into it,
opening her mouth
to its cool, rusty taste.
On the verandah the aunt
cleans the lanterns, polishing
narrow chimney-glasses with a blue rag.
The child waits, breathing in
the kerosene smell. The aunt lights
the first lantern. The child sets out
to bring the grandfather home.

One lighted lantern into the night
swings great curved shadows on a path
red as the massy hibiscus on every side
where the child dreams green whiplash snakes
hanging like tendrils, their jewel eyes.
The claws of night lizards
skitter over rocks. Vapors rise
from the pocked phosphorus skin
of the mosquito swamp. Water insects
cry into the hearts of elephant-ears.
The child sets down the lantern,
its oval shell of light,
throws out her arm and whirls
around and around in the blue
breathless air. Her skirt
flares hibiscus-red to touch
the world. In the wheeling
sky, star-studded bats hang
motionless on great leather wings.

Black Candle was Chitra Divakaruni’s first book.

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