Skip to content

Plucking sunsets from the water

Five poems by Ranjit Hoskote



Plucking sunsets from the water


the horned sovereign 

      half stamps half slides across

                                 the beach


                                 to dig claw rake


What washes up

                          is drilled shale lost static parsed from gulf to strait

                          plastic whorls in whose wake gagged dolphins trail

                          scarred humpback whales whose shadows

                          will drift unmoored up thawing glaciers 


What washes up

                          is news of the cracked ice


across which a shivering fox is making her way

from Svalbard to Nunavut

                                          leaving her pawprints on frozen currents 

to a shore stippled with burst nebulae

    a shore

               that on a compass dizzy with wind-scattered directions

she can and can’t call home





Ask yourself how

       you’d breathe through swaddling skins of light

and reach for the faint reeds waving above

       when what you’d really like

is to swim upstream


                  to where the cave still pulses

      with lines you’d sketched

and yes if you must know

                 the patient rocks were crushed

in a mudslide


and something has been moved

       something no longer

than a strip of raw silk or a croton leaf

                   no wider than the gap in a shutter

through which


                        you saw the vine snake

green-whipping across the steps

the hawk swooping down on the chicken coop

                the grooves in red earth glistening

jewel-quick with early rain


through which you heard Varaha say:

What is it Earth

                shall I lift you

from the roaring waters

              on my tusks?


Could you breathe if they trapped us

                                  in a net of myths?





The key body part can be downloaded on demand

tear the banner

       darn the shroud


Try making a man Ghalib says out loud

let him walk blindfold on a gunpowder track

     that snakes through a crowd


One last suture to get this buttonholed skin in shape

try making a man of the speaking ape





You mend what’s snagged

        fix what’s gone out of true:

the bulging knuckle the scuffed runaway shoe

      that hides a spur the cracked femur

                       the twisted knee


Stoic, you repair us for combat

          we go out again and again

at the emperor’s pleasure

    but in the end the arena

takes no prisoners


We walk out holding our heads high

                in our stiff raised hands

your sutures

                    an embroidery

                         of carbon dust




for Ranbir Kaleka


The fire spreads from mouth to cup

                           eye to spoor it’s tracking

ear to storm that’s drumming through cloud reefs

          rumour glistens and drips

from leaf to leaf


Behind the surveyor a peacock dances

                  on an orange tree

its branches withering in the gale

he hears it whistle and whir and grits his teeth

      his eyes remain trained


on a golden deer that prances

        from one burning forest to the next

it’s forgotten the voice that said

      Don’t set foot in the third forest

it cannot escape the flaming musk it carries

Ranjit Hoskote is a poet, cultural theorist and curator. His collections of poems include Vanishing Acts: New & Selected Poems 1985-2005 (2006), Central Time (2014), and Jonahwhale (2018). His translation of the fourteenth-century Kashmiri mystic Lal Ded’s vaakhs has appeared as I, Lalla: The Poems of Lal Ded(2011). He is the editor of Dom Moraes: Selected Poems, the first annotated critical edition of a major Anglophone Indian poet’s work.