Salabhánjika, inmate of my house,
You have hung for years over the kitchen sink,
Cut from some brochure about Indian art.
My wife, my niece, to fortify their vows
Against the insidious lures of meat and drink
Pinned you, voluptuous, by their diet chart.

My own response to your delightful frame,
Those generous breasts, the bold haunch, the full thighs,
And rapt face — did it seem to dream or brood?
— Has naturally been not quite the same:
Symbols of pienty to my masculine eyes,
Abundance and promise, grace and plenitude,

And mystery: India, from which you sprung,
Its arts, its past and its unnumbered gods
Was at that time to me almost unknown.
I saw you as a woman, enchanting, young,
And did not know by what improbable odds
My kitchen harboured your smile of ageless stone.

I used to think you, in my ignorance,
One of those lovers who endlessly embrace
At Konarak on its Temple of the Sun,
In every erotic posture known to man’s
Power to create supple and sensual grace;
At other times I saw you as a lone

Dancer at some maharajah’s court.
The nizam, with a connoisseur’s cool glance
Followed the fluid ecstasy of the nautch,
Appraising the pearl his boundless wealth had bought,
Ignoring the exquisite artistry of the dance
In contemplation of his coming debauch.

Mere fancies! Now I have visited your land,
Viewed you and your voluptuous sisterhood
And know you for a goddess of the trees.
Yours is no dancer’s pose. As the trees stand
True to the zenith and draw up their green blood,
The classic stance of Hindu dryades,

But older than all Hindu gods, as old
As the first worshippers on that continent,
You stand, straight torso, weight upon one foot,
The other drawn back and poising to withhold
Its touch, the arms uplifted, the knee bent …
The legend was: one kick against the root

Made the tree blossom from contact with the heel
Of any beautiful woman, but blossom more
Caressed by such a spirit of the wood,
Since all trees have a deep desire to feel
A woman’s touch and will give all their store
Of nectar, colour, fragrance if they should.

The legend charms me, I do not think it true;
And yet I long to put it to the test.
Now I am old and, in my season of fruit,
Shrivelled by drought, I too would turn to you,
If by contact with foot or lip or breast
My buds might burst or water drench my root.

Bring me, Salabhánjika, what your smile
Portends, that miracle of late blossoming.
But, till that moment comes which sets all free,
Pause, let me feel my new sap rise awhile;
Then, flood me with that providential spring,
Touch, tend and make me flower, I am that tree.

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