Two Poems

The End of November: The Birds That Didn't Learn How to Fly, Thornton Dial, Quilt, wire, fabric, and enamel on canvas on wood, 2007 | Image Courtesy: Metropolitan Museum of Arts

National Bird

They’re pretty, they say, their feathers
Iridescent as the borders
Of a Kanjeevaram saree

And fit to adorn the head
Of a crown prince, the costume
Of a medieval heroine or shaped

Into fans hawked by the dozen
At every village fair and market
Or into a gold throne studded

With diamonds; but in truth
They’re vain and stupid,
Greedy and birdbrained, their

Flesh gamy, inedible, their
Bellies stuffed with the digested
Venom of snakes—our allies

Who stripped clean the plague
Of god-fearing thieves and rampant
Rodents that denuded

Our millet and paddy fields,
Pepper groves and our patches
Of turnip, horseradish and okra;

But those pests, they’re untouchable,
Holier than even the cobra.
They even fly a little.


I’m an openair facility not
Just for birds and mongrels
But for vagrants and peasants
In whose honour I’ve been
Set up, all chiselled stone
And iron in the soul,
My arm in a forward salute,
My boots grounded, in
My left hand an unbroken
Flag of freedom.

Once I was worshipped,
Groomed and garlanded.
Rousing speeches lit 
Up my stony heart.
Now monkeys chatter
On my arm, scratch their
Puzzled heads and feed
On banana peels flung
From flashing new cars.

Today grassroots
Grow rank at my feet.
Today I’m washed down
By passing showers.

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