Manohar Shettymanu_thmb


The Hyenas

My asthmatic child coughs—her throat
Is emery paper. Her tiny
Hands are wet
Petals in my hand. Hyenas cackle
From the Governor’s banquet grounds.

Eyes glint as a fencer’s
Mask, I stare them down. I whisper,
They’ve gone, dearest child, sleep;
They laugh with the Governor’s gang
Of  kingmakers, fatcats, gold-toting ogres.

She sleeps, her temples damp.
To the carrion call the drooling
Packs converge: amidst red

Laughter, claws tear
At gizzard, sweating pigling,
Roe, soft brain, and lamb.



Outside, they were flashing streamers.
But straying indoors like wavering lanterns
Into widening shadows thrown by excited
Nets of caps and blazers, we caged them
In grass-crammed bottles, the tops
Punctured for air, and watched them
Stare like luminous dials.

I had imagined burning crystals
Or tips of emerald embers,
But found a softer substance—
Soon dimming—the insects, worried
By coarse hands, the walls of glass
Baffling their tiny wings,
Wilted to lifeless specks.

I had felt nothing then,
Only a small pang for the loss
Of a schoolboy’s ornament. But now,
Travelling my daily groove
In the hunt for food and habitat,
I remember their trapped blank lights.


The Rat

For ever on red alert, it discovered
Fresh dugouts in the flat and left
Its imprint everywhere: bitten
Lentil jars, the holes like smears,
Even the soap as if scraped
By a grater and the ruts in fruit
Raked through; the furtive rustle
In the attic and in the shoe-rack
Something breathing.

Even the wooden trap it ate through.
The jagged escape route
I swore at in disbelief, but felt
Curiously relieved; not for me
The pangs of the executioner
Of a methodical frenzied prisoner
Sawing through the night.

Then, the alluring odour of poison
Dabbed on crust and meat
Concealed craftily, it sniffed past
Imperiously; and again that twinge
Of relief as when the neighbour’s cat,
Flung into the hunt, pawed, spat
At the cupboard, then sidled out,
Tail curled haughtily.

Only once did I bang the bin,
Rattle the chairs, make a show.
It hid through the din and nosed
Out in the silence.
But one night the noises ceased.
And every night since then. Suddenly.
As if it had risen
From some dark underworld
To conduct a grave test
And had left, satisfied
I’d emerged second best.



Bathed so long in this rich ring of light
I can now discern a recurring face
In those scudding hordes. I watch his
Worried brow, the perpetual briefcase
Weary with age, as he vanishes past
Too pressed for time to appreciate
My groomed slender frame, my glass blue eyes
Gleaming all day from my elevated place.

Sometimes, under the harsh neon light, a woman
Stops before my transparent cage, transfigured till
Closing time by my silks and earrings.
I would like to erase that longing
In her eyes—ornaments can be replaced;
But a vacant darkness swarms
Within me too, and I cannot go beyond
This fixed, fond smile.


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