Princess and the Pea, New Delhi
Despite the snugness of twelve mattresses
stuffed with eider-down
the princess could not sleep.
Imagine the outrage: half-naked ducks
shook their winter plumage loose,
let it drift to the earth
to cushion the spine of this lady.
They say the prick of a single pea --
planted by a dame doubtful
of the maiden's gentility --
kept her from the netherworld of rest.
But I have my doubts.
Perhaps it was the insolent moon,
white fire that scorched her sleep.
Perhaps she ruminated over
the political eyebrows
of her potential mother-in-law,
needling her bed with rancor.
It could have been her taste for gulab jamun,
its stone-heavy honey glutting the gut.
Lesser things have kept one from dreams.
She roamed cavernous hallways hung
with the finest Kashmiri tapestries.
She demanded fresh milk at midnight,
decanted from her silver cup.
Peons fanned her with peacock feathers.
Still, dark half-moons waxed under her eyes.
Outside, a subzi-wala,
a boy of sixteen draped
over his rickety vegetable cart
snored under summer skies.
Heat became his blanket.
as labor sung its lullaby into bones.
Under his neck was one pale melon.
Brinjals filled the crooks under his arms.
He imagined he lay in the lap
of a many-breasted goddess.
In the cauldron of his dreaming the flies
alighting on his forehead became the feather-
light caresses of an impossibly delicate maiden.
His lips, scorched orange by paan, parted
to emit a low, contented sigh.