The Stretcher-Bearers

On a battlefield in South Africa, Gandhi read
Into the blood blotches on the stretcher cloth
The shape of a country that didn’t exist yet.
The future, it was once believed, could be divined from the patterns
Of winged black glyphs, tea leaves in a governor’s cup,
The entrails of a slaughter steaming on the stone.
I always run my fingers over the lost script of my dreams
Trying to decipher a warning.
There will be a plague. There will be bodies
Blinking, paralysed, stuck to barbed wire
Like gnats speckling the shimmery web between death and citizenship.
There will be a flag made from the soaked cloth of a stretcher
And the flagpole will tick toward noon like an hour hand at last
Giving us shade in this tree-stripped land, half golf course, half cemetery,
Where chainsaws dictate the price of silence.

Amit Majmudar’s latest novels are Heroes the Colour of Dust (Puffin India, 2022) and The Map and the Scissors (HarperCollins India, June 2022).

Featured image: Pariplab Chakraborty