On a long Quarantined Night

Late into the night
you didn’t return

as promised;
I longed for the sound

of your footfalls
on the creaking stairs

of our house
by the raging brook

and in the early
hours of the dawn

dreamt of a lush

new born
lying next to me,

your present
at the dead end

of my long
quarantined night.

–Yuyutsu Sharma

I hold my breath

I hold my breath
stop my heart in a fraction

of an astral pause
and bend to the ground

to hear it
coming from afar.


in the groggy chambers

of my body
for weeks and months,

in the sunya of my sorrows

and noxious prophesies
of an impending doom,

in the early hours
of the dawn hearing

feverish tapping
of Grandma’s twisted cane

hobbling down
the hallway

into the toilet
that seems miles away

a mini earthquake
spiraling upwards,

wrecking her nerves
shuddering her fragile frame,

and Grandpa rousing
from an apocalyptic vision

of some million cremations,

a spiky ball of phlegm rattling
in his shriveling windpipe ,

an erratic rasping
of a watery lungs

drowning every minute
in the far off hospitals

of the beloved cities
of my travels.


Bergamo, Milan,
boroughs of New York City,

parks of The Bronx
streets of Corona, Elmhurst

and Jackson Heights,
a fever racing along

the banks of River Seine
tossed over the patios of Cordoba,

dragging a blood-drenched line
of corpses up the slopes

of Andalusia’s olive fields
and along the Thames,

shores of Mumbai
and riverbeds of our Yamuna

desert cities of Jodhpur,
Tonk and Bhilwara.

An angry anthem of seagulls
and swallows trapped in the splintered sirens

of exhausted ambulances
scurrying along the wailing squares

that ominous pigeons
and blood thirsty phantoms

of the pandemic
have repossessed.


I hold my heart tight
put my long quivering ears

to the ground
to listen to a piercing bolero of joy

in the sudden silence
of earth’s astral moves

as humanity goes
hiding in the hellholes of Boccaccio’s

human comedy
shedding a sea of tears

large enough for
a million Buddhas to bathe in

and rise remorseless.


I hush myself up,
learn to forget my count of corpses

in the sudden blooming
of rhododendrons, poinsettias and blue mimosas

and from my Himalayan rooftop
spot a virgin vision of snow ranges

hidden for decades
beneath dusty branches

of malignant tree that
I watered most

of my early childhood.



I hear it,
a shrill whistle cry

of a lammergeyer,
the bone breaker,

in the peak hour
of this early spring,

a festive trilling
and the squawking of invisible angels

a rhapsody
of squint-eyed ravens,

spiny babblers
white-crested laughing thrushes,

warblers and
blood-beaked green parrots

along with a shrill
chorus of hyenas and jackals

returning home
after a hiatus of a lifetime

to bathe
in the sparkling waters

of glacier-fed rivers
beyond barricades

of the locked down
nations of the world.

The Migrant Metaphor

From my rooftop
I fear for their lives

these feral things
lying asleep for hours

as if turned into
a lump of sullen meat

crushed under
some gorilla tyres

of a wayward truck
or a supply vehicle.


smelly blurs

under empty flyovers
or vacant zebra crossings

warming their
damp lives

on the asphalt
of freshly pitched roads

for smooth
stately visits of dignitaries.

Exhausted after
restlessly sniffing for crumbs

dropped by
some wayward charity,

I see them
slumber into

a resigned voyage
to the netherworld

motionless with
the drooping inertia

not a limb moving
or an alert ear

to reassure life

unafraid of
surveillance trucks

or some emergency
ambulances hooting though

the fiendish silence
of highways that

might just crush
them into a squashed

little mound
of dead meat

their innocent,

stone soup
faith in the humanity

of this century’s
most eloquent


–Yuyutsu Sharma

I sleep alone

I sleep alone in my room
a rod of brutish pain piercing

through my headpiece.

I sleep alone in the dark
not knowing how to deal with

this sudden upsurge
of an impending gloom,

a feel of being trapped
in the hands of a ruthless despot

racing over
the fields of humanity’s joy.

Three days I sleep alone
wondering if it will ever go away.

I wrap my head in a woolen scarf,
drink hot turmeric water, chew basil leaves,

recite my secret mantras that
illustrious monkey grammarian

bestowed on our ancestors.

I summon up the healing touches
of ash-smeared Naga Sadhus,

wear amulets possessing
dynamos of mysterious cures,

three-mouthed rudrakshras,
taweez with breaths of Peer Babas trapped in them.

I sprinkle water from the muddled bottles
stored in the family shrine decades after

my mother brought them
from the banks of the Ganges.

I lie down like a giant lizard curled up
in my thorny scales of a frantic throbbing

and on the third night open my eyes
and see him standing above my bedpost —

his white cotton turban shining,
his tall towering frame filling the long dalan

with the effulgence of his presence.

I present my head to him ,
“Here, Bauji, touch it, in the centre, see, see!”

so he can tousle it
and blow the sheaths of his healing breaths

from his wise lungs on it
like he did in my boyhood,

“Don’t you see it,
a tiny bump on the top, there, there!”

“It’s nothing,” he says, running his fat fingers
over my head, and announces, “You are fine, Ramji,

perhaps you hit your head
against a low ceiling somewhere.”

“You are okay,”
he pats my head again

bends to smell its olive odor
and disappears in the dark of my quarantined night.

I open my eyes, my nostrils releasing
unsullied air from the forests of rhododendrons.

Yes, yes, I speculate — Didn’t I hit my head
against the low ceiling of the attic the other day

as I went up to get old books
to read during the Lockdown?

In a second, my headpiece shoots
through the roof into the blue sky,

twirls into a parrot-green mountain,
the monsoon clouds butting against it,

brushing against its foliage with glee.

For hours, I bounced
like an orb of light in the silence

of snow glaciers
and next day woke to wander

around alpine
base-camps of delight.

–Yuyutsu Sharma

Tears, Blood and Milk

By the river edge
Sita gives birth to a baby

and waits under a tin-shed
for some thoughtful NGO

from the locked down city
to arrive, a meager prayer

from her sullen skies.
Days pass by,

her drinking water bowl
turns its color

and starts looking
like a spout of blood.


From the bridge,
he sees his child stuck

in an intricate
jumble of cables,

a tiny toy thing
with a tail dangling,

an unbending erect
stone thing in the shrine

he used to steal
his food from every day.


On the fifth
step of the stairs

to my floral rooftop
I sense a faint trace of it,

a fetid stench
of decaying flesh

a recall of a frantic rush
of the feeble creatures

as they fled
their rickety abodes

drugged from a poison
named hunger.


Where would they have
sought refuge, ahead of vanishing

into the cracks of humanity
before hunger’s hammer

came squashing
their feverish bodies

without a whimper
or a wail?


Where, I wonder,
would they have gone?

In the attics
beneath my stairs

on alters of recent riots
littered with charred bodies,

gashed garments,
knives, bullets, icons of annihilation,

flags, films, bottles,
fingernails, crosses,

crescents, tridents
and hefty books of faith

where the Lord himself
shape shifts to sleep with

the alleged enemy’s
innocent wife?

Where I wonder
would they have gone?

In the garages bulging
from the bags of my travels around

the globe researching
agendas of contempt crusading

across continents
knee-deep in the blood of the innocent

in the castles constructed
from the boorish bricks of human skulls?


I grope the wounded
fields of my world,

feral lives have
taken over the squares

that I once
called my own:

monkeys, bats, owls,
eagles, coyotes, vultures

and other species
seeking fresher visions of doom.

I see them scurrying over
the fields of my sleep

racing over the bridge
with their ravenous feet

running over the power cables
stretched over the emptied cities.
I see them moving
over their ariel routes

for crumbs of compassion.

One of the younger ones
tears himself away from the fold

climbs atop an electricity pole,
places his confident paws

on a live wire joint
and falls over to get

stuck in a jumble of wires.

Ravens instantly
gather overhead, raising an uproar,

nervous street dogs
circle around the pole in a lethal fury

sparks fly off
eclipsing my vision, cracking my eye glasses,

a blight of white light
white as your silvery beard,

whiter than your daily pranks
and lies you dole out every day,

whiter than the shame
of a million suns skimming

her blood that
curdles into a pool of tears

instead of milk
that could have descended

in her breasts
as she sat by the river Yamuna

miles away from her home,
rolling her baby in her agitated hands,

an object too heavy to hold
a weight heavier than the mass

of whole earth,
her tears flooded waterfalls

washing the fetid stench
of your snout stuck in Middle Ages,

singing a serf’s cry—

Podo, my baby, do not cry
Podo, my baby, hush up, or die.

–Yuyutsu Sharma

Running out of Ink

Running out of ink
like my karma to pen down

my grief as death rages
in the dank vaults of the world

and poison is sprinkled
with glee on my people

trapped in dog cages, beaten,
broken like stones in enclosed spaces

of hatred, abused and maimed
as their children cry out,

gasping for breath,
their journeys to reach distant homes

thwarted, mocked at,
their efforts to survive declared

uncouth and unconstitutional
by well-fed anchors sitting

on plush sofas
in the studios of current anarchy.

His giant potter’s wheel plops out
piles of corpses, rightful relics of a wrath.

In my dream last night
I saw a blue Mediterranean shore crop up

in my backyard, a sudden sight
of joy at this grim hour.

From my rooftop
I see crystal waves crashing against mossy walls

of my ancestral house in Punjab
where once wheat fields stretched

to the rim of summer songs
of wailing hoopoes.

Life multiplies here in my village,
even nails of the corpses flung into

the bottomless water wells
a decade before my birth

grow nonstop along with their black
shiny hair, eyelashes and long lush beards.

“Their women were so beautiful,
kohl-eyed, fair and sharp featured, houris,”

my grandma once
confided in my childhood,

“Death,” she said, “is a discarded broom
of gloom, a misshapen, pygmy slur.”

The Queen mother in her tales cried so much
when the father of my hero, the king, brought in another wife

that she lost her eyesight
from crying all the time.

And Grandpa whispered the anecdotes
of his darker times when the British ruled.

The floods swamped the entire district,
everyone waded knee-deep in the muddy waters

and corpses of the animals
came floating to our doors, instead of singing saints.

On the seventh day, he slept
in the main baithak of our house,

uttering prayers as the waters kept rising
ready to cross over our threshold

and the thunder roared
overhead all night long.

In the early hours of the dawn
he dreamt the waters rushing back

to the colossal mouth of blue-throated god,
and life resuming its normal pace.

He woke out of his creaking cot
moved out of the house to step on the ground

dry as the bones
of our ancestral spirits.

–Yuyutsu Sharma

Who saw it coming?

Who saw it coming
after a weary count of wounds

on reckless rail tracks
as sleep wrestled their feverish limbs

into an early morning sleep?

Who saw it coming
after a careful count of burnt bread

in the dark hollows
of their spent up knapsacks

on the full eclipse of a bleak night?

Who saw it coming
after miles of walking barefoot

on the flaming tongue
of the forbidden routes

laced with splintered stones
sharp enough to drill a hole

in your Krishna’s nimble sole?

Who saw it coming
severing motley threads

of their flailing breaths
under the blind stare of a merciless sun?

Who saw it coming
their meager stocks — charred chapatis,

pouches of moldy rice
sattu of seven cereals,

an ounce
of moth-eaten beaten rice

rotting onions, green chilies,
a pod or two of garlic,

and tiny pudias of sweat-soaked salt
to survive their fearful crusade?

Who saw it coming
grinding wheels of solid steel

chomping their bony frames
scattering chunks of their mutilated flesh

brittle as branches of a dead tree
their priceless gatheris hollering

million metaphors
of self, salt and salvation?

Who saw it coming
their lives splintered into multiple pieces

under the threadbare shrouds
woven from spiteful yarns of your designs

darker than the blind night of their lives
darker than the face of the burnt bread

that they had carried
to come alive out of the snare of your public lies?

Who saw it coming
tracks littered with food soaked

in their warm blood unleashed
by your churlish chants and mega-announcements?

Who saw it coming
worn-out flip-flops on the sullen tracks

staring helpless at the stunned stars
of their aggrieved souls authorizing

a final descent
into the hellholes of their ultimate sleep?

Who saw it coming?

You saw it coming,
and you, you did nothing about it.

–Yuyutsu Sharma

Yaksha Questions*

What’s heavier than earth?


     The weight of sleep

        on your shoulders

           as you walk alone

              in the night.



What’s sharper than wind?

       The edges of splintered stones

          on the railroad tracks

             tearing through your flip-flops

                on a blind night



What’s holier than the Lord?

     faces of your children

        asleep on your shoulders

           quaking from the throes

               of carrying your beloved load

    nonstop on the highway

       under a growling surveillance

           of a ruthless sun




What’s hotter than fire?

      tears streaming out of

         your parents’ eyes

            as they wait on a bare cot

               under a leafless tree

    on the edge

       of a barren field




What’s saltier than the Sea?

     Your drowning in the ocean

        of your sweat stinging

           wounds scraped by

              soft-nailed supervisors

                 of a twisted regime

      all over your famished frame




What’s arrogance?

The ability to see nothing  

      not even a baby slithering

         through an orphaned womb

            on the blazing roadside spot

               of our national highway



What’s the news?

     Your bones being ground

        like sugar canes

           in the grinding machine

 of an indifferent polity




         Who cares for people not breathing?

The one who cooks you alive

      in the cauldron of a simmering day

         with a misshapen ladle

            sculpted out of moldy

               flesh of the sacred books

                  dripping larvae of hatred




         And who’s the traitor?

The one who leaves you alone

      to die on the highway

         and goes to rejoice

            in the shelter of his own belly

               and festering pits of greed below





*In the epic, The Mahabharata,  Yudhishter, the Righteous one, had to answer Yama, the God of Death, disguised as Yakha to bring his dead brothers back to life.

–Yuyutsu Sharma



By the flooded river
wasp-yellow and blunt
bulldozers razing
crusty edges
of the green paddy fields
have dreams
of a mighty dragon
wielding its glistening fangs
sharp enough to shred
the patron rain-serpents
of the valley into stones of oblivion.

Beyond the shanty town
choked from the indestructible dust
of the new century,
the mountains one more time
seem young all over again,
alluvial and parrot-green,
only enduring memory
in the minds of the visiting clouds
instead of fire seeds they once
clenched in their fluffy fists,
a faint fête
from the itinerary of wayward eons
where flowers once bloomed
in their perfumed armpits.

Rest is just flash fiction;
a junkyard of shamed regimes,
a stink tinged with reeking thoughts
rushing into the hippo heart
of the ugly city with the speed
of a buffalo bull
carrying its ultimate rider
into the streets
of a sick, wheezing realm.

–Yuyutsu Sharma


Recipient of fellowships and grants from The Rockefeller Foundation, Ireland Literature Exchange, Trubar Foundation, Slovenia, The Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature and The Foundation for the Production and Translation of Dutch Literature, Yuyutsu Sharma is a world renowned Himalayan poet and translator. He has published ten poetry collections including, The Second Buddha Walk, A Blizzard in my Bones: New York Poems and Annapurna Poems. Half the year, he travels and reads all over the world and conducts Creative Writing Workshops at various universities in North America and Europe but goes trekking in the Himalayas when back home. Currently, Yuyutsu Sharma edits, Pratik: A Quarterly Magazine of Contemporary Writing.

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