Cathexis Northwest Press

© 2018 

prayer; waterlogged; the line of no control



breathing in the incense agarbattis in my 

dadi’s personal gurudwara, where her gold

arches harboured the holy guru granth sahib—

the heaviest book i had ever seen—i sit

with my cousins on cushions opposite to her 

on sunday, after breakfast but before talespin

on doordarshan, and we close our eyes, pretending 

to pray in anticipation for sweet halwa

that awaits our short penance, unaware that two 

years later she will evict my father—her son— 

out of our home, and break me away from the same

cousins i watched cartoons with; i am unaware 

that the agarbatti's fragrance polluting mom’s 

little shrine will also fail to hypnotise me; 

and i will remain negligent to the chaplain 

at school who reads his testaments; and pilgrimage  

up to the monastery only for mutton 

momos; and when the mountains where i grew up sing

the song of sunset’s magrib, it would be muffled 

by bouncing basketballs; and on the day before 

graduation i would pretend to be saddened 

by dadi’s death; because when she is cremated 

under a red and gold cloth at the shamshan ghat, 

and her ashes join the river where a million 

other skulls have cracked, and their incense has escaped 

into the dusty air, i won’t be there to look 

at the horizon for something beyond these shores. 




the monsoon makes it all visible

raining on the smog and dust flooding

holy river and sewage


until streets overflow with underbellies 

we thought we had banished 

beneath us


they call it the New Colony

in the cemented village 

but there was nothing modern 


paused in our own vacuum of time 

much like most of my country

somewhere between yesterday and tomorrow 


i was fortunate to have wheels 

underneath that survived 

flooded potholes of the naked 


broken road protected behind tinted glass

air-conditioned comfort

when i saw your young face


drenched and dirty 

my reflection 

in tributaries of the street 

thirsty in the rain 


with a rusted metal spoon

in your little hand waiting

to grow up

the line of no control



on both sides of the line that doesnt exist 

                                       there is snow, and on the snow there are footprints, 

boot prints, swallowed their soles, crusted kashmiri 

                                       earth and red blood; and wearing these boots are men, 

and on these men are costumes that delineate 

                                       one side of the imaginary line 

from the other, and the costumes differ

                                       but the men are the same, spilling the same

blood, red streaks on white snow, shattered limbs, broken 

                                       hearts, tethered to flags tethered to colours

tethered to faith and other fictions 

                                       of the meats they should avoid and the men

they should murder, slogans in different dialects 

                                       of the same language, repeating stories 

of separation, stories of partition, 

                                       stories of two nations fabricated 

from one land, divided by arbitrary

                                       lines drawn by other arbitrary men

who would never set foot on the snow 

                                       but knew everything there was to know 

                           about lines.

00:00 / 01:22

Karan Madhok is an Indian writer and a graduate of the MFA programme from the American University in Washington DC. His short fiction and translations have been published on The Literary Review, ANMLY, F(r)iction, The Aerogram, and Solstice, and forthcoming in Gargoyle Magazine and The Lantern Review. He won American University's 2018 Myra Skralew Award for the best MFA Thesis (prose) and is currently working on his first novel.

"'waterlogged’ is my attempt to write an Ekphrastic poem, a literary inspiration from a piece of art. But the scene that inspired ‘waterlogged’ was real. It was a small moment, a fraction of a second, stuck in traffic on the flooded monsoon road of my hometown in India. It was a moment that millions of us experience in the developing world every day, the juxtaposition of poverty and comfort, of the haves and have-nots, of seeing one’s own privilege in relation to others. But this image—this flashpoint—has stayed with me forever, tugging and gnawing at me, confronting me to acknowledge it. 


This poem is that acknowledgment."