Elements of Composition

written by

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Composed as I am, like others,
  of elements on certain well-known lists,
father's seed and mother's egg

gathering earth, air, fire, mostly
  water, into a mulberry mass,
moulding calcium,

carbon, even gold, magnesium and such,
  into a chattering self tangled
in love and work,

scary dreams, capable of eyes that can see,
  only by moving constantly,
the constancy of things

like Stonehenge or cherry trees;

add uncle's eleven fingers
  making shadow-plays of rajas
and cats, hissing,

becoming fingers again, the look
  of panic on sister's face
an hour before

her wedding, a dated newspaper map,
  of a place one has never seen, maybe
no longer there

after the riots, downtown Nairobi,
  that a friend carried in his passport
as others would

a woman's picture in their wallets;

add the lepers of Madurai,
  male, female, married,
with children,

lion faces, crabs for claws,
  clotted on their shadows
under the stone-eyed

goddesses of dance, mere pillars,
  moving as nothing on earth
can move &mdash

I pass through them
  as they pass through me
taking and leaving

affections, seeds, skeletons,

millennia of fossil records
  of insects that do not last
a day,

body-prints of mayflies,
  a legend half-heard
in a train

of the half-man searching
  for an ever-fleeing
other half

through Muharram tigers,
  hyacinths in crocodile waters,
and the sweet

twisted lives of epileptic saints,

and even as I add
  I lose, decompose,
into my elements

into other names and forms,
  past, and passing, tenses
without time,

caterpillar on a leaf, eating,
  being eaten.

© A. K. Ramanujan