The Wardobe’s Best Dressed: Bird of the Indian Subcontinent by Subhashini Kaligotla



You see advantage in this recent gazing in your direction.
Nothing could be closer to falsehood. Since collection

the faithful is vital to your traffic, perform
an easy feat. Why don’t you?

Not one of your phony miracles. Not a stay
against memory not a nostrum for blindness.

No, a simple thing for one so used to ruining.
Learn, simply, to talk back.

At least consider my shame. Stop showing by not showing.


I wouldn’t be flattered if I were you. There’s no one here,
and these nights—cataracts, which pillars of tallow

couldn’t melt or warm—show no relent, atomizing
into filaments that outline the bridge. So I turn to you, and call…

No answer. Not even the dispatch of an echo.
Lord, how poor you are. How indifferent

to bulletins transmitted daily from this place.


Is this how you picked up your other acolytes?
Starve an animal and he will obey: learn your tricks,

jump through rings of fire, prance and, if you whistle,
pirouette on hind legs in a fluff pink tutu.


Talk is cheap, lord, and yours has grown cheapers by the hour.

Bargain basement. A flea market vending other people’s junk.

But I won’t let you keep me on souvenirs and garage sale glories.

I want to know. What have you done for me lately?

Send me a sign, a compass, a silver Corvette, anything,

Lord, even an unreadable, inscrutable boy will do. I need you.


I took the bus from town. Traveled all day
in the heat without so much as an ice chip
for comfort. Then another two hours

to climb the hill. This is how you test devotion.
The nice black dress I put on for you
might as well be made of dust. And the other

desperate souls? Morons. Pushing and shoving
like cattle, as if this was some kind of cheap
fair or carnival. And you? You only listened

to the cripple—dragged her up here by a friend,
wobbly on his knees, crying at the tip of his lungs
(Who does he think he’s fooling?), intruding

on the rest of us praying quietly: Look at me,
look at me, me, me, me, as if shouting
your pain means you suffer more. Father

in heave, save me. Make me whole. Cure
my afflictions.


Since I detect no pattern in the tea leaves, the jumble
of stars, the ash heap—

no clairvoyant I, no rain dancer, epileptic griot,
decipherer of entrails
and smoke rings, not even blinks and twitches
and hand signals, gestures of mood and ambition—

so what could I make of your miserliness,
your abundance?


At first content with contact, you now demand devotion—
the kind that comes with penance, ignorance even.


Build me a house, you said, fill it with oil lamps and keep them burning.
Let the flowers be fresh and fragrant, pile the sweetmeats high
on silver platters, ring the bells and burn the camphor. Weave me

silks and muslins, fashion me girdles and armbands, powder the vermillion,
paste the sandal and gather the cassia, compose eulogies, lord
you said, tune the instruments, beat the drums, caparison the beasts

of burden, polish the brass. Send in the dancing girls, invite the priests,
light the sacred fires, pour the ghee and let the singing begin, call me
you said, beautiful wandering, call me blue-black, call me handsme

lord of the mountains, call me almond, call me thief, call me heart,
call me honey, call me lover. Call me. Call me lord.

This selection comes from Bird of the Indian Subcontinent, available from the (Great) Indian Poetry Collective. Order your copy here. Our curator for October is Tausha Fouts.

Subhashini Kaligotla is a poet and architectural historian of medieval India. A graduate of Columbia University’s MFA program in Creative Writing and a Kundiman poetry fellow, she has published in such journals as The Caravan, diode, LUMINA, New England Review, and The Literary Review. Anthology appearances include collections of Indian and diaspora poetry, most notably Penguin India’s 60 Indian Poets and The Bloodaxe Book of Contemporary Indian Poets. Kaligotla is Assistant Professor of South Asian Art at Yale University.

Tasha Fouts is the 2018-2019 SAFTA Writer in Residence at Firefly Farms.  She received her MFA from Bowling Green State University.  Her work has appeared in Salt Hill, Bateau, Glass, Birds Piled Loosely, and Small Portions.  She is a co-founder and an editor at Packingtown Review and hosts the podcast Getting Drunk with Writers.

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