• Two Poems

    Manohar Shetty

    January 18, 2019

    The End of November: The Birds That Didn't Learn How to Fly, Thornton Dial, Quilt, wire, fabric, and enamel on canvas on wood, 2007 | Image Courtesy: Metropolitan Museum of Arts

    National Bird

    They’re pretty, they say, their feathers
    Iridescent as the borders
    Of a Kanjeevaram saree

    And fit to adorn the head
    Of a crown prince, the costume
    Of a medieval heroine or shaped

    Into fans hawked by the dozen
    At every village fair and market
    Or into a gold throne studded

    With diamonds; but in truth
    They’re vain and stupid,
    Greedy and birdbrained, their

    Flesh gamy, inedible, their
    Bellies stuffed with the digested
    Venom of snakes—our allies

    Who stripped clean the plague
    Of god-fearing thieves and rampant
    Rodents that denuded

    Our millet and paddy fields,
    Pepper groves and our patches
    Of turnip, horseradish and okra;

    But those pests, they’re untouchable,
    Holier than even the cobra.
    They even fly a little.


    I’m an openair facility not
    Just for birds and mongrels
    But for vagrants and peasants
    In whose honour I’ve been
    Set up, all chiselled stone
    And iron in the soul,
    My arm in a forward salute,
    My boots grounded, in
    My left hand an unbroken
    Flag of freedom.

    Once I was worshipped,
    Groomed and garlanded.
    Rousing speeches lit 
    Up my stony heart.
    Now monkeys chatter
    On my arm, scratch their
    Puzzled heads and feed
    On banana peels flung
    From flashing new cars.

    Today grassroots
    Grow rank at my feet.
    Today I’m washed down
    By passing showers.

    Read more:
    India 2019: The Great Leader’s Shadow
    India 2019: The Country We Want, the Country We Don’t Want​
    India 2019: Gestural Dialogue

    Manohar Shetty has published seven books of poetry, including Domestic Creatures and Living Room. His poems have appeared in Shenandoah, The Common, Chelsea, the Atlanta Review and The Baffler in the USA; and in The London Magazine, Poetry Review and Poetry Wales in the UK. His poems have also been widely anthologised. He lives in Goa.

    Poems © Manohar Shetty

    Donate to the Indian Writers' Forum, a public trust that belongs to all of us.