A Collection by Akhil Katyal

After Maidan Garhi

everyone grows thorns
to protect themselves.

Under your feet
the stones
are no longer stones
but foothills

land is
unintended cricket fields
then dust
then leopard pugmarks.

This is the desert
signing you in

through kikar’s checkpost.

They call it the devil tree
they call it the mad one
Vilaayti Kikar

it asks you for water.

The British brought it from Mexico
to Delhi in the 1920s,
making a mistake the size of kings.

It choked all trees around it,
it stole their water.

I walk cautiously in its dust
mindful of geckos,

find a tree
the size of my mistakes
leave your memory
on a low branch.

A slow wind
lifts the dust on its arms.

As I return
groundwater recedes

and then further.

Night Sounds At Safdarjung Tomb

The rasp of the jhingurs scraping
their forewings behind the hibiscus.
The floating arguments of the mynas

returning to their nests. The prowling
echoes of the skelter bats. The headlit
horns whetted by a red signal outside.

The alert clicks of a camera in the small
hands of a curly-haired novice. His chalein
to a friend when they’re done. The shuffle

of their feet on old gravel. The footsteps
of the short guard minding the stanchions,
keeping a stray couple from the night.

A parrot’s drop, light as a kerchief, in the hauz,
the sandstone of the tomb suddenly rippled.
The quiet press of a band of pigeons on the

dome drawn by an expert Abyssinian hand.
The guards discussing their change of duties.
The anomalous graze of a landing on a nearby

air-strip. Under the rococo sky, the disturbed
sleep of the Wazir-ul-Mamlak-e-Hindustan.
On my shoulder, the thin crush of your whisper.

How Rivers Cross Their Cities

Near a church in Karrada,
the Tigris takes such a sharp turn
as if it doesn’t want to
leave Baghdad.

The Lyari in Karachi
(on the other hand) can’t be
bothered to stay.

Through Delhi,
Yamuna is a moral lesson
clear as day: life is tough,
first a trough, then a crest,
then a trough.

The Chenab,
knowing better, walks on stilts,
keeps a one-arm distance from Jhang.

The Ganga
covers Patna like a quilt.

The Gomti baby bumps
through Lucknow.

And when it’s about to leave,
for a last look at Chennai,
the Adyar turns.

As the Ravi
cold-presses the cheek
of Lahore that burns.

Akhil Katyal

Akhil Katyal grew up in Bareilly and Lucknow and currently lives in New Delhi. In 2016, he was an International Writing Fellow at the University of Iowa. His first book of poems, Night Charge Extra, was shortlisted for the Muse India Satish Verma National Award, 2015. He has translated Ravish Kumar’s book of Hindi love stories, Ishq Mein Shahar Hona, as A City Happens in Love (Speaking Tiger, 2018). He teaches Creative Writing at Ambedkar University Delhi. How Many Countries Does the Indus Cross is his second book of poems.