The Bone Harp Sings Nine Moods

by Shweta Narayan

1. Mohanam

Surya's falling ruby melts into yellow
sapphire into radiant blue
       — pearl-streaked and bloody
with coral and cinnamon clouds

Two diamond points — Sukra
       against endless sky, and you
arms a garland
 skin on skin

2. Arabhi

Hands warm on my hips
skin one layer of silk apart
words warm in my ear —
       Come away.

3. Shanmukhapriya

I know —
       every chip in these filigree walls, every dip
and crack in the jewel-tiled floor
every slippery hollow walked into the steps, every song
of the monsoon-swollen river

       and my mother's moods in my sister's voice —
How then shall I leave?

4. Begada

Forget her
       as I have forgotten her.

We will thread Gul-mohar and wild
magnolia into garlands of heady flame
exchange them under Agni's dancing gaze
       and Soma's ecstasy
We will feed each other crisp pomegranate seeds
       and forget

5. Amritavarshini

Elder sister, walk with me
Elder sister
       give us leave

       He is my breath
         my monsoon rain

       I beg you —


6. Rithigowla

From my breast, from my arms
       a harp, O traveler
My fingerbones — to be your pegs
my hair unbreaking strings

Carve me
Set me, O my love
with nine celestial stones lustrous as pomegranate seeds
and take me

7. Bhairavi

Leave my blood to the cinnamon river

In Ruby's steadfast cadence
I no longer need
       a heart

Only let it pulse, Mother
in your storm-foamed rage
to find the sea
to crack and dry with summer
to be eaten —
I no longer care.

8. Hindolam

Do not grieve, Elder sister
Do not cry.
       I don't want much.

Just your throat's blood
your eyes grown dim
your thigh bone
       for a flute
to sing Mother's sweet springtime moods
in your beloved voice.

9. Hamsadhwani

And under your hands, O my love
and your warm breath, we shall sing
       — together.

Shweta Narayan was smelted in India's summer, quenched in the monsoon, wound up on words in Malaysia, and pointed westwards. She surfaced in Saudi Arabia, The Netherlands, and Scotland before settling in California, where she lives on language, veggie tacos, and the internet. Shweta took classes in classical Indian music on the way; her late uncle lovingly referred to these as "the bellyache."

Asked if she believes in ghosts, Shweta says: "I believe in anything I'm writing about; so I'm not afraid of ghosts -- yet. People turned into musical instruments are another matter."

Her poetry has recently appeared or is forthcoming in places (other than Goblin Fruit!) like Mythic Delirium, Jabberwocky, and Not One of Us, and her fiction in Realms of Fantasy and the anthologies Clockwork Phoenix 3 and The Beastly Bride. She was the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship recipient at the 2007 Clarion workshop. Shweta can be found online at

The music in the audio version of this poem is performed by Sangeetha Ayyar of Sydney, Australia; Shweta would also like to thank Mohan Ayyar for his help with the recording.

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