Uma Gowrishankar

Uma Gowrishankar lives in Chennai, South India. She writes, paints, practices yoga and maintains a terrace garden in the middle of a noisy and populated city. She blogs at umagowrishankar.wordpress.com.

The moon is pale as buttermilk, watered
down to feed me in school. Oil-stained walls
crumble as I stuff infinity in my mouth. One
stone a year fills my body, engorges pathways
I essay every day through fetid night soil.

There is sand on the bed, hands tremble
as I carve a wedge of dirt from the fingernail —
particles that compose soul leak from a hole
that remains unvisited like the brick house
at the peripheral colony in my home town.

Birds fill my mouth, stir air in the lungs,
levitate vapour of existence that I see hover
above heads of palm trees framed
by the window – a scrap of paper, letters
scrawled like ants they stamp under their feet.

In the dark space between words I hold a torch
for my mother to examine blue toenails,
black calluses, whorls that once mesmerised –
pathways she consulted to map a horoscope
now a poem unwriting itself on the paper.

The book is on the floor face down, arms
splayed, pages like clumps of hair tugged.
My spine broke, among other body parts
as I flung from the chair — I have known
nothing of anatomy, only of distant stars.


The title of the poem is borrowed from Rohith Vemula’s suicide note. The poem is a response to his tragic death.

You can read the full text of his suicide note in The Indian Express. For more about Rohith Vemula and his death, see the Wikipedia.

A lake breathes under the car park
evenly rising and sinking.

Dried reed silts limp, dead fish
flush into my dilated lungs.

She sat on the grass, legs dipped
in water. Pearls of desire

beaded as his fingers ran along
her back into the throat

of lily. Lust gushes out of the tap
into the sink in my kitchen

curdling the milk. The cream
trembles orgasmically in the glass.

Water oozes out of springs like
a secret hard to keep.

Particles of clay turn molten, car
floats as the lake reclaims itself

in my veins where corpuscles in
blood are displaced by algae.


Another poem prompted by the recent flooding in Chennai. See “Flood” and “Chronicle of Drowning.”

I should have killed the serpents
that roiled in the river. One escaped,
coiled under the warm stove,
its scales brittle and ready to crackle
into a spiral of fire like Vishnu’s disc.

The house is now drowned. Kitchen fire
doused in rain, hissed like the serpent
I failed to slay, watched it slither
into my dream – poison coloured my nails,
made bones frail till I broke like a twig.

The river washed me away as I divined
the sky, reading as I would my palm where
serpentine lines grooved by storm
mirrored the currents that looped
around, sucking me into dark reeds.


Another poem prompted by the recent flooding in Chennai. See “Flood.”

The water mark below my lips at the place
cleft disappears like a rumour.

I watched the water level rise above my heart
where a spring lies buried.

Then to my neck as the serpent stirred, scales
beehive of deep and long sighs.

I smelled earth, roots of the neem tree in clumps
of clay that snagged my voice.

Like a beaker the vocal chord filled, brimmed over
when a turtle choked the larynx.

As the noise subsided I heard the announcement
from the sky. The wind fell.

In the darkness among abandoned homes plumeria
rendered odourless.

Pale with terror pigeons under windowsills breathed
lung full with bones of the drowned.


In response to “Flooded” by Jean Morris. Chennai experienced unprecedented rain and flooding in December 2015, claiming many lives and rendering people homeless. The apartment block where I live was flooded. I had to move out and stay away from home for 17 days. I wrote poems during this period to cope with the suffering I saw around, to grapple with the distress of displacement, of being homeless.