You, tuning your tambura,
pause to tell me
how long ago, at home
your grandfather would rouse you
to learn the night-time ragas, while your sister
slept, and the water-buffalo
stirred, chewed its cud, and slept, the stars
fading, your voice
finding the colors of night:
Hillola, sung at midnight,
"a fawn-like woman moving slowly";
Kausika, "perfumed with saffron", and Lalita
"rising from her bed to greet the dawn".
Above the drone of his tambura
your grandfather made you sing them
again and again. If not sung well, he told you,
ragas and their raginis suffer
like injured men and women.
You learned to live by rhythms
more intricate than blood and breath mark out. But time
caught up with you. Your sister
married for love. Your husband chose you
whose name means beautiful, for music.
Yet when you rise at night
it is to calm a child, or set
the lentils soaking.
But sometimes you take down
your grandfather's tambura from the shelf
and tune the jangled strings. The polished gourd-shape
still gleams, the ivory vine
still twines unbroken round the neck.
Then, kneeling barefoot on the floor,
veiled by your hair,
you summon up those august presences