Sujata Bhatt


The young widow
thinks she should have burned on
her husband’s funeral pyre.
She could not, for her mother-in-law
insisted she raise the only son
of her only son.
The young widow sits outside
in the garden overlooking a large pond.
Out of the way, still untouchable, she suckles
her three-week-old son
and thinks she could live
for those hungry lips; live to let him grow
bigger than herself. Her dreams lie
lazily swishing their tails
in her mind like buffaloes
dozing, some with only nostrils showing
in a muddy pond.

Tails switch
to keep fat flies away,
and horns, as long as a man’s hand, or longer
keep the boys, and their pranks away.
It is to the old farmer’s tallest son
they give their warm yellowish milk.
He alone approaches: dark-skinned and naked
except for a white turban, a white loincloth.
He joins them in the pond,
greets each one with love:
“my beauty”, “my pet” -
slaps water on their broad flanks
splashes more water on their dusty backs.
Ears get scratched, necks rubbed,
drowsy faces are splashed awake.
Now he prods them out of the mud
out of the water, begging loudly
“Come my beauty, come my pet, let us go!’
And the pond shrinks back
as the wide black buffaloes rise.

The young widow 
walks from tree to tree,
newly opened leaves brush damp sweet smells
across her face. The infant’s mouth sleeps
against her breast. Dreams stuck
inside her chest twitch
as she watches the buffaloes pass
too close to her house, up the steep road
to the dairy. The loud loving voice
of the farmer’s son holds them steady
without the bite of any stick or whip.