“Rotten Grief” by Tishani Doshi

Tishani Doshi


This morning I misread Tantrism for Tourism and it’s been downhill 
ever since. Elephants are dying in the Okavango Delta and no one 
knows why. A man I love crumples into himself on a railway 
platform away from home. My sister calls to tell me about 
her aged cat, who keeps collapsing, then rising to roam
the house in wobbly confusion. It is all falling, falling.
A poet on the internet talks about a Jewish legend,
where we are given tears in compensation for
death. I would cry about the perfectness of it
except I’m incapable. My ophthalmologist   
has made a diagnosis of dry eye so I
must buy my tears in a pharmacy.
I think of what this is doing to
all the rotten grief inside me—
unable to create salt bathing
pools to fire up my wounds,
this body powered by 
breath, dragging its
legs through 
the vast 
that have 
lost their will to 
transform me. All 
the unknowing we 
must accept and fold
like silk pocket-hankies
pressed against our chests. 
The theory of spanda in 
Tantra advises you to live 
within the heart. I’m a tourist 
here, so bear with me, but imagine 
a universe vibrated into being. All things 
made and unmade by a host of small movements, 
my favourite being matsyodari —throb of fish when 
out of water. Just the word throb, you understand, hints 
at longing, but also distress, and suddenly, language opens. 
All the etymologies I used to think were useless in the arena 
of bereavement are echoing over the great plains of beige carpet, 
saying, We interrupt your weeping to tell you the world is real, rejoice!
The elephants in the Okavango are keeling over like ships. No one 
can say why. A die-off sounds worryingly like a bake-off but 
without the final prize. At night I squeeze drops into my
eyes, whispering the magic words, Replenish, ducts, 
replenish. If you play elephants the voices of their
dead, they’ll go mad for days, searching for 
their beloveds. To fall is never an action 
in slow motion. The snap of elastic 
in your pants, going going gone
Belief caving in like a bridge. 
My heart, your heart, the 
elephants’—here’s a 
crazy thought—
what if they’re
dying of

from Rattle #73, Fall 2021
Tribute to Indian Poets


Tishani Doshi (from the conversation in this issue): “There’s something marvelous about the conciseness and smallness of poems. I love that they are small and yet very big, and that you can spend time with one poem and it can expand so much in you. There’s something about the distillation of the form that is allowed to say things in a way that we can’t do with other arts. There’s something mysterious about it. Nobody is able to define exactly what a poem is; nobody’s able to say what makes a poem good or not—these are still questions that are out for debate, and, in a way, I think they’re meaningless. If a poem touches you or moves you, it has the possibility of transformation, and I’m really interested in that. Of course, novels can do that, and dance is capable of those transformative moments, but a poem for me also reaches back to a tradition of orality, the spoken word, of putting something into existence just by speaking it, by naming it. There’s something ancient in that. There’s something powerful about incantation. I’m less interested in breaking down a poem than in the sense of a poem just washing over you and changing you somehow.” (web)

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