Wise man, who first said hell was hot –
he must have come from this dry forsaken country,
this landscape of black stone
and sharp volcanic rubble,

this place of the dead.
Here the air is only rarely touched with life.
When it stirs, we shiver.
Cold sweat collects in a sticky pool at the base of the spine

like some clammy hand, lewdly caressing
those intimate inner planes of skin
where back meets buttock,
the cold touch of an old ghost scared by the heat of the afternoon.

And everywhere, ash and stone and dead wood and bone.

Above, a kite-hawk circles,
vulgar life blessed by what strange wind
on this still afternoon,
the devil alone knows,

but he will not tell, we have not been long enough in hell.


Deccan has been previously published in the Bombay Poetry Circle’s journal Poiesis (Winter 1993 / Summer 1994) in Folio, the literary monthly of The Hindu, and in Reasons For Belonging: Fourteen Contemporary Indian Poets, Penguin India (ed. Ranjit Hoskote). © Gavin Barrett