Usha Akella

The rosary of latitudes

If I told you, I have been shown cities
like a procession of bejeweled elephants
of ponderous gait,
and the earth took  their load.

And the latitudes passed under my feet like
skipping ropes under a young girl’s quick step.

If I told you, in one city,
I sat on the steps of a great plaza,
and watched humanity as if for the very last time,
and knew it was the very last time.

In many cities I stood in long lines
for Darshan, my devotion
was the eye that looked
at the stone for awakening,
I make this confession…

I was taken on a ferry ride to see tiny islands afloat
on water like spilled mustard seeds, if I told you,
on one such island… on one such island,
I knew I was more alone than any of them.

In another, where a river is a silent vein in the skin
of a lake, a poet tried hard to light the unlit wicks of my eyes,
they only gave out the smoke of incense at funeral rites.

In one town, high in a mountain plastered with porcelain plates,
Such places exist! In such a town, where anything could happen,
I walked with a poet and we walked as two sides of a ravine with
no connecting bridge.        

In one city, I thought I lost love,
the streets of that city became the lines of a Ghazal
mourning repeatedly, in that city again, I learnt I lost nothing,
I found myself at the borders of that city when I left it.

In one city, I saw monuments of loveliness
rise from my imagination
and hover in the twilight like rose tinted pearls,
I walked through the pages of the Arabian nights,
The things I saw in that land
filled my pockets with dreams to hand out,
yet this city was not a magic lamp to rub and
wish for the beloved,
it merely twirled in its dervish robes
lost on its own axis.

In one city, I walked hoping to see him somewhere,
and then I looked in another city,
and another, and another, I returned empty handed,
There were cities that would not meet my gaze,
not one of them told me to stop looking,
not one of them says it yearns for me.

If I told you of the lovers searching,
and the lovers thinking they have found,
and the lovers making by,
and the lovers deluded,
and the lovers sullen and silent,
and the lovers like
the soundless strings of violins,
in these cities… and I safe in the fortress of my skin.

If I tell you I have been sinless and heavy hearted for it.
If I told you, all the latitudes
are the unread lines of my love letter…

El Día de Muertos

I meander into big things

like an empty coke bottle

in a church, ignoramus,

I entered Mexico City

on the Day of the dead,

In the great plaza Zócalo,

an altar is an ofrenda, the dead descend

and strike poses on it,

Marigolds are cempazúchitl,

pan de muerto provides sustenance,

to the visiting ones in our midst,

and here she is he is

leering sauntering loitering

with nonchalance and irreverence

for life, black is discarded and

she is all colors gritty teethy

bald bold so sure in a suit

ballroom dress, by a red limousine

skulls skulls skulls

ablaze with color

the riot of holi, mariachi

death’s a rock star today

Elvis smoking a cigarette such a fop

frills lace feathers flounce and bounce

lace shawls shenanigans,

the city’s going up in smoke anyway

cheer the hell happening on earth

both realms are one—the dead know.

Usha Akella

Usha Akella's fourth book of poetry, " The Rosary of Latitudes" was released in July 2015. She is the festival director of MATWAALA, the first sole South Asian Diaspora Festival in the USA held in Austin, Texas in August 2015.

She has been invited to many international poetry festivals and is the founder of the Poetry Caravan.