When you and I were about to break
there was no question of a fight
over who would take the cups
and who, the saucers.
You spilled over with steam,
meniscus rippling with the slightest
touch; I, supine on the floor,
licked the milk once meant
for you. Both of us
were china at that point.
One of us had been to China too,
known the meaning of porcelain freedoms,
sniffed red guards. One of us
had known the sound of an alien tongue,
harsh and guttural as it came
from smiling mouths.
Our smiles were circular, yours and mine,
yours from the top of the tea
and mine below – two halves joined
together on separate rims. When we blew
at each other, the crockery
stayed firm, and who but you
and I would know the liquid moved?
No, there was no fight
over chipped white glass.
The pieces lay upon the kitchen floor.
And I – I've moved to tea parties
in other living rooms, balancing
alien porcelain on a frigid palm.
HOW TO KILL A RAT
The task is almost impossible.
Beheading comes easy these days,
but not with rats. A swish of tail
behind the dining table; it's gone.
You know it's still there in the morning
when the creamy layer of setting curd
is nibbled through. The lid fell with a clang
at night, but no one heard.
So you try the peaceful methods.
A piece of cheese, you've been told,
will do the trick; lace it with love
and a drop or two from a poison tube.
You watch it gather mold,
then throw it out.
A piece of rat cake, then,
colour of coal,
brittle as your heart.
You hide a piece in every nook,
believe your space is safe.
You've built this world around you,
Mumbai to Mosul,
Kabul to Kashmir,
Peshawar to Paris...
all the world is your home,
but there are rats.
Your sofa becomes an enemy bunker,
nibbled through at the bottom
with holes for escape – safe harbour
from your broom and dying will.
If you get one, nine more
will be born in the trenches.
Sometimes, as you watch TV,
or read your holy book,
you wonder about killing
and your own beliefs.
No, it isn't easy to kill a rat,
but what does it take
to live instead
with the enemy
beneath your skin?
Menka Shivdasani is the author of three poetry collections, Nirvana at Ten Rupees, Stet and Safe House. She has edited an anthology of women’s writing in India and two online Anthologies of Contemporary Indian Poetry for Big Bridge online, and is also co-translator of an anthology of Sindhi Partition poetry. In 1986, she played a key role in founding Poetry Circle in Bombay (now Mumbai). *Tea Party first appeared in Stet.