Sharanya Manivannan was born in India in 1985 and grew up in Sri
Lanka and Malaysia. A writer, dancer, painter, journalist and activist,
she is working on her first novel and a collection of poems. She can
be reached at

Inventories of the Heart

You have:
two books
half the aftermath
a shoulder for the blame
nothing I thought I could leave behind

I have:
a movie
miscellaneous fears
things I'll know I'll never say
love that wasn't enough for the both of us

what we lost

the inventories of the heart.

instinct that makes me find your horoscope
right after mine in the magazine
someone lends me to 'keep me occupied'.

a year, a month and a day

The Mapmaker's Wife

The first known maps were of the heavens, you say.
Our history is one of projected spaces. And so
each night my body assumes
the demeanour of constellations, ellipses into
the arc of the corona borealis,
turns celestial with
its meridian of longing.

And each night in our bed I become
the mapmaker's wife, every
caress part of a sacred cartography,
every kiss the confluence of the earth
and its abstractions.
Our lovemaking urgent against
the crumpling of parchment paper.

I am woman, taut. Hemispherical.
From memory, you circumnavigate
my waters, chart
and consolidate your territory,
a worshipful measuring of the
gradient of my breasts, my
generous contours of ass and thigh.

You kiss your way down a
longtitude of skin, blaze frontier
trails along the cuesta of vertebrae,
enter my navel as though
the tip of your tongue places
a continent upon it.

You discover and, one by one, name
my archipelago of scars and moles.

You retrace your diagrams:
peninsula of ear, delta of cunt, coastline of clavicle

this topography
that isn't yours but you have claimed and

by breath and touch and your atlas of desire

Until I cannot wait,
until I am lost within your borders
your sacred, stolen geography.


I find my iyari in the hearts
of vegetables I feed in my
garden with my own blood.
In potatoes and leeks, the
concentric aubergine hearts
of onions. My deviant
strawberries. It flourishes
in soil, doesn't dangle from
my ears or around my neck -
it isn't an ornament.

I willed my bleeding to
coincide with full moons.
It's easier for them to
attribute my lunacy that way.
Rumour has it that I do my
sprinkling at the stroke of
midnight. I do it in the late
afternoon, after the radio
switches to news. I don't
care for news.

The calyx and the beetle vine.
The roses that bloom above my
daughter's skull. Every year
on her birthday, I unearth it,
sip arack from it, plain sugarless
tea if I can't find decent coconuts.
Nobody will remember
how she died. In my mind
I only see blood dribbling
down a wall, the strips of
cloth they tied me to the
bed with, and nothing of
the missing days between
then and when I brought out
my trousseau box and found
keys to call my own.

Today I visited Pooragum, the
oracle. What she doesn't know
yet is that one day her prized
fighting cock will disappear - she
will eventually divine that her son
had made a curry of it.
The crowd parted at my
presence, always a laugh.
When you are twenty, you
will marry her niece. I see
five children, a sixth stillborn,
long lives and oh my sweet child,
the places you will take this
blood, the places you will
take it.

My son, I will come back
as the gypsy granddaughter like
a caldera. She will resemble me, though
you will never mention me, only your
sister, the one you could not possibly
recall, whose skull holds my roses in
the sweetest embrace. She will be
bequeathed the expectation
of Parampara.
She will fear roosters.

Note: "Iyari" is the Huichol Indian concept of "heart-memory";
"Parampara" is the Tamil word for legacy, or literally
"from generation to generation".

"Love means you breathe in two countries"
- Naomi Shihab Nye

My favourite memory of us
is of that day we washed each other's hair,
standing in the waterfall
of the shower, that moment sweet
succulent as fruit, complete as
a circle, the prowl of knowledge beneath
it bitter and delicate as the powder
on a butterfly wing, powerful
as a secret.

We kissed and drew in water.

Do you remember what I had
said to you, a year before? How could
I not love you?
How could I
not? We had just met. You had
a birthmark the shape of Africa
on your chest; my heart had a
void in its vocabulary just the size
of your name. Love is so small. It
could fit into the hole in a bead, the eye
of a needle, and still not seal it.
It's this world that is so huge.

Now our lives feel reduced
to abacuses.
I count the days it will be before
I can see you, you count
the days it's been since I left.

This is a city of rain.
And chaos - I smile to myself,
navigating its corridor-like
streets filled with schoolchildren
hitching yellow autorickshaws, drizzle
flecking their eyelashes, the morning
still not arrived in their eyes.

I lick moisture from my lips
and am sure
I taste salt, a kiss of tears.

Pain only appears in
the presence of love. This much
I can say I have learnt
by heart. Here in this place of
chaos so profound it silences

I wrap my secrets in skin and
hug them close,

imagine drawing out parabolas
of steel and silk from the centre
of my palm to the
centre of yours, like bridges,

delicate, taut
as the webbing
on a bat's wing,

and wait for you to reach
across the distance and pick
the pieces up, so precise
I could almost taste those

slippery as our love. Almost
forget how imprecise to desire bringing
shape to a love like water -
profound, perfect, universal.

Nothing else will save us now.

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