24. Amma

The city clutches at its throat for air,
its peeling fingernails scraping sidewalks, clawing
for rest and finding only rats
bloated with sewage water and disease.

Schools atrophy into grey. The chaiwallahs yank
closed shuddering metal curtains.
Cats shriek as gushing gutters fill their homes.
In the far-out neighborhoods,
men float plates of sweet pongal to homes of the elderly,
people trapped in the everyday places of safe,
and politicians plaster
their own triple-chin likenesses on relief packages,

so when we treat water with iodine
and dress our soggy wounds, we can remember
that Jayalalithaa sits amongst scattered jewels,
a beacon above it all,
counting her saris like the radio counts lives
—Amma.

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