Jeet Thayil


How did we know to go, to obey?
How did we come to be refugees,

our household scattered, an eastward breeze
our guide? We were ghosts, not from the past

but from a future that would last
no longer than a season.

We hoped to be led by a star or by reason,
but were taken by circumstance, by its

furious, arbitrary dance, like poets
of a line defined by rhyme,
our stanzas shaped by chance and time.
The slanted lines and inverted minarets

of Arabic, on successive jets,
took us 8,000 miles from the city,

from the impossibility
of our lives. We were headed

home, but home wasn’t where we’d left it.
Here, nothing moves but wilts. The banyan

digs its fingers in for rain,
and finds the sun. Bird cries fill the sky.

Of them all, the koel it is whose song I
hear all night long, a coagulating widow’s

song that clogs the windows
and the ears. Like the unreliable,

the inconsolable koel
who makes her home where she finds it,

I make my home with you, in transit.
The continent drops away and reappears,

its slow, ash-choked rivers rehearse
a brilliant future from a time long gone,

and the koel rehearses her song,
You and you are here to stay.