Poems by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra
Canticle for My Son
Where Will the Next One Come from
This is about the green miraculous trees,
And old clocks on stone towers,
And playgrounds full of light
And dark blue uniforms.
At eight I’m a Boy Scout and make a tent
By stretching a bedsheet over parallel bars
And a fire by burning rose bushes,
I know half a dozen knots and drink
Tea from enamel mugs.
I wear khaki drill shorts, note down
The number-plates of cars,
Make a perfect about-turn for the first time.
In September I collect my cousins’ books
And find out the dates of the six Mughals
To secretly write the history of India.
I see Napoleon crossing the Alps
On a white horse.
My first watch is a fat and silver Omega
Grandfather won in a race fifty-nine years ago;
It never works and I’ve to
Push its hands every few minutes
To get a clearer picture of time.
Somewhere I’ve kept my autograph book,
The tincture of iodine in homeopathy bottles,
Bright postcards he sent from
Bad Ems, Germany.
At seven-thirty we are sent home
From the Cosmopolitan Club,
My father says, ‘No-bid,’
My mother forgets her hand
In a deck of cards.
I sit reading on the railing till midnight,
Above a worn sign
That advertises a dentist.
I go to sleep after I hear him
Is for much later.
Snore like the school bell:
I’m standing alone in a back alley
And a face I can never recollect is removing
The hubcaps from our dull brown Ford.
The first words I mumble are the names of roads,
Thornhill, Hastings, Lytton;
We live in a small cottage,
I grow up on a guava tree
Wondering where the servants vanish
After dinner, at the magic of the bearded tailor
Who can change the shape of my ancestors.
I bend down from the swaying bridge
And pick up the river
Which once tried to hide me:
The dance of torn skin