Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

Traffic Signals

Traffic Signals

Sukrita Paul Kumar

Do I see a flicker
   of life in that corpse,
a shiver in his hand,
   a quiver on his lip,
a twitch on his nose?

Does the eye tremble,
   savouring the taste of
zafrani biryani in a dream?
   Is that corpse real?
Laid amid incense and

camphor on cold cement,
   divider of a wide road,
the ghost of the man
   dressed in smoke peers
from above the body,

from the vacant sockets
   of his little boy,
his arm extended,
   palm limp and loud,
as his tongue slides words,

hushed: “Kafan, sahib,
   money for the shroud, Babuji.”
I roll the window down,
   foot pressing hard
on the brakes.

The car’s movement
   punctuated with death,  
black ants crawling on the boy,
   ants that do not sting
but are pinpricks on the spine.

I drop my questions,
   doubts crack up. I look
death directly into its eyes.
   The boy with limp palm—
a genius in mimesis.

Each night
   the corpse rises for biryani,
each day
   the boy is buried deeper
into his anthill.


Sukrita Paul Kumar was born in Kenya and currently lives in Delhi. She was a fellow at the Iowa International Writing Program, Cambridge Seminars, and at Shimla’s Indian Institute of Advanced Study. Her poetry books include Without Margins, Folds of Silence, and two bilingual collections. A number of Sukrita’s poems have emerged from her experience of working with homeless people, Tsunami victims, and street children.

Sukrita Paul Kumar