A Sestina for the Death-Steeped Rivers During the Pandemic

by Debasish Mishra

Carcasses float in rivers
a head here and a torso there
like offerings in Tibetan sky
burials harpooned by hungry
vultures that splash the air
with blood and fear of death

The pulsating ripples of death
dance in the blood-steeped rivers
and scatter in the venomous air
like smoldering corpses. There
is little hope for the hungry
hapless eyes that gaze the sky

No more space in the sky
to accommodate stars after death
if that is the fate for the hungry
folks who rot in the rivers
and pollute the water there
and also the canopy of air

I lost a friend for lack of air
like these bodies facing the sky
His kin pleaded, is anyone there?
No one came but only death
I hear the requiem in rivers
but death is still hungry

and it shall remain hungry
till it gobbles the last gallon of air
and fills the holy rivers
with corpses and the sky
with a pungent smell of death
I want to know, is anyone there

who hasn’t lost someone, their
family is intact and nobody’s hungry?
Is anyone immune to death,
unafraid of the air
or the lack of it and the sky?
Is anyone blind to the rivers?

There is no more holiness in the rivers,
no calm too in the hungry sky
and the soot of death unleaves the air…


Debasish Mishra is a Senior Research Fellow at National Institute of Science Education and Research, HBNI, India, who has earlier worked with United Bank of India and Central University of Odisha. He is the recipient of the Bharat Award for Literature in 2019 and the Reuel International Best Upcoming Poet Prize in 2017. His recent work has appeared in North Dakota Quarterly, Penumbra, The Headlight Review, Amsterdam Quarterly, California Quarterly, and elsewhere.

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