The singer turns into the nayika,
Time crossing over into time;
Laments at the coming of the season,
Every season. The only constant?
Her lover, ever faithless, ever luckless,
Is absent. The only constant?
Her friend, the one she calls sakhi,
Is the one who listens still.
Perhaps she mirrors your yearning.
Perhaps her own lover does not return.
Perhaps he & he are friends, childhood
Stretching behind them, working together,
Talking of the women who talk of them.
Or perhaps one is faithful and will return.
Perhaps one will die.
Or perhaps in your pain, your focus
On creating the vastness of his absence,
You do not see that your partner stands
Before you. She who gently touches
Your perfumed hair, that you coil and
Adorn, in anticipation of that other one’s
Return. Do you see the love and the pain
In her eyes as one of your own making?
Does your heart not shatter at sunset?
Does she not gather you for another night?
In the courts you are only a gemstone.
The regent is well pleased to take credit
For your quavering notes.
Whose girl are you?
But not all kings are so solicitous.
One tilts his head when you break
Open the raga in service of your two
Mistresses, Words and the Singing of Words.
Tears slide from his closed eyes onto his cheeks.
All he is is an ear, all you are is a voice.
All that is raised by your invocation is true, and good.
But such kings are rare. The one I’m thinking about?
Well, he had to call himself sakhi too, to understand it.
But this is not to defend kings, even certain kings.
This is not that kind of poem.
The one I’m thinking about? He loved music,
And he loved the sound of his own voice.
He loved art, and he loved the protagonist,
Which was obviously himself. And he loved
Women, hundreds of them. He loved them
Passionately, some for a season or two, some
For many years. He loved women but not in a
Way that made women prosper. He loved women,
And he loved the look of his hands, enclosing theirs.
Let’s come back to you.
Your real name, and then your true one.
The family you came from,
The family you went to.
What did you take with you?
The seasons, perhaps.
A few lovers.
A few regents.
Words and air in your throat.
The pitiless sunsets.