Varanasi Ablaze

where death goes, 

varanasi trails with her eyes closed. 

her swinging hips, bells on her lips, 

a bow-legged creature 

garlanded in the scent of coal ashes. 

ganga laps at her toes, the frothy tides

coated in the charred remains of what was. 

but 

where death goes, 

varanasi follows in footstep. 

her dusky hair, and marigold air, 

she sings the silence of beaten breasts 

and white fabric. 

Maya plays flutes from wet branches, 

soothing and soft but so terribly out of tune. 

because 

where death goes, 

varanasi is dragged, breathless. 

the sages grow quiet, the widows riot, 

her anklets pounding against the scorched earth. 

she is pulled by the roots of her hair, 

old wives finding their tongues. 

a wail? a snicker? the pyre awaits, 

death wants it to be proper, god forbid, 

it’s such an auspicious match. 

where death goes, 

varanasi is taken, seven rounds, 

her heart pounds,

her mouth forming the ghost of a scream. 

seven rounds, and varanasi is flung, 

don’t look away now,

engulfed by the flames of her own city, 

varanasi forgets all and begins to dance.

Kanchan Naik

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