‘Much Later, Achilles and Arjuna Speak of the Gods’ and other poems

01 July, 2014

ABOUT THE POEMS The world’s great epics show their valorous, and sometimes vain, heroes at the crest of their powers. But what happens in the aftermath of heroic victories? In ‘Much Later, Achilles and Arjuna Speak of the Gods,’ Minal Hajratwala imagines her two protagonists as aged men occupying the same hospital chamber. Shorn of their martial settings, they look back regretfully at their past selves, much in the way that readers might regard characters. Taking the idea of parallel progressions further in ‘Terza Rima in Bermuda,’ Hajratwala deploys a little-used poetic form: the terza rima made famous by Dante, in which triads of lines rhyme in an aba bcb cdc scheme, so that sounds appearing between rhymes in one stanza begin to rhyme in the next, and then fall away entirely in the third. Here, they do so in parallel columns at the same time, making the eye shuttle back and forth between terze rime.

Much Later, Achilles and Arjuna Speak of the Gods
(ENTER Patients.)

We are old men now

drinking gold instead of draping

heavy chains over the breasts of our dreams.

I never much cared for boobs.

I was an ass man. Am.

Was it worth it,

all that sticky red gore?  Did I honour

my lover’s cannon-melted

lump of jaggery?

Ten thousand twirls of her sari.

Strap-marks on his chest

where the armour chafed.

When He spoke the universe sweetened

With the light & wind She tricked me,

with the vengeance-melody

with the song of duty & order,

& it seemed

the only way

we could restore order

to find peace

but where is the order in battle,

o but where is the peace in mayhem,

what I wielded with the tip of my sword

what I dispensed, arrow after pure arrow

arcing bright through the muscles of men

aimed true into the hearts of my cousins

like divine love?

I would rather have adored,

adorned. Had I dared…?

Now they sing of us

in rhymed couplets, heroic metre

as if we were brave.

Shit-scared. Bastard. Orphan. Cunt.

Kund, kundalini, Kunti.

If I had known you then?

I’d have shot an arrow

into your noble eye.

(ENTER Nurse, with syringes. Shh, shh, she soothes as

veterans’ nightmares soot the ceiling

of the PTSD ward. She lifts each soft,

mottled wrist to find the vein.)

Notice of Fictious Business Name
This thing

covering something

will henceforth be called skinIts inner scaffolding is named bone

System of sinews that shifts it

let’s moniker muscle

or Id

Growing from it is hair

in soft waves of sex

Deep inside      geography untamed      soul

solely occupied with mapping

itself silently

no will or ill



ease of transmission the whole

calls itself Minal

cuts the ribbon

throws open the doors

begins to serve

Terza Rima in Bermuda


This islandholiday's been pain,


daisy chainfraying, so


packed & prepped to go

when she sees


may be the storm to seize

as souvenir: sundress,


ring, T-shirt, wordless



deep thirst. ready,

set, more

fear than

hope, she reaches for

her shoulder — cold — then

wonders how to mend.

She wakes her: Listen,


But she's wept island

tears all night (wane

of moon,

ache of star), lain

awake & thought how soon

they'll leave;

no mood to ruin

morning sleep to grieve

the end of

what she wants, still, to belive—

end of fate, of her & her, of

the right

to ordinary love.

some soon night

she'll rise

alone, won't fight

the day like this, will realise


one should know before she dies

but not yet. Too soon to sever

the dream, blue bits of forever.

Minal Hajratwala is a writing coach, author of the award-winning Leaving India: My Family’s Journey from Five Villages to Five Continents, and editor of Out! Stories from the New Queer India. A collection of her poetry is forthcoming this year from The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective.