A Sestina for an Abandoned Farm Shrine

One day a man took a rock under the sun,
placed it in his farm and called it a temple.
The man must have been my grandfather’s father,
Balakrishnan. He wanted a place to pray
without a priest, to offer God what he had, his bare
farm yields. As my aunt recalls that day,

he cursed the rock, poured fresh toddy sapped at day,
on the rock, drank the rest, and pulled into the sun,
a hen from the shed. Then he took his machete, bare,
severed the head and blood spurted over the temple.
With a grin, he asked his children that day to pray
once a year, and it became a custom. My grandfather

later named the rock Bhairavan, and my father
after his forefathers, returns home on the day,
every year, at Panavalippil to pray,
pour fresh toddy and hen blood under the sun.
After the prayer, there is a feast at the temple.
The hen is cooked, its meat stripped with bare

hands, bathed in spices, till aroma spills in bare
bone marrows. But over the years, my father,
his ritual has grown desolate at the temple,
there is no feast, no gathering in the day,
these fields no longer ask for blessings, and the son
performs rites all alone; he remembers to pray.

The children have forsaken meat today, he prays,
and asks for mercy as he strips the hen, bare.
Bhairavan watches with hound’s eyes, the sun
etches on the fields the shadow of my father.
His solitary hymn ushers the mid-day
breeze along rustling coconut fronds. The temple—

a sanctuary for bird pilgrims, the temple—
an oasis for weeds. Begging for a rain he prays,
to wash the hen blood, now to his disgust, this day,
a desiccated stain petrifies purity on bare
stone. I wash the meat later, and father,
He rests in the porch shade under the sun.

(The daughters and sons of Balakrishnan this day,
frown upon bare farm relief, the great-grandfather’s
rock, a temple, his usual place to drink, where his children pray.)

Narendran Nair is a visual artist and writer based in Delhi.

Featured image: Prerak Mathur / Unsplash