Pervin Saket – WE Diva of Verse ’20. WE ICWP Prize ’20. Shortlisted for WE Kamala Das Poetry Award ’20

The Sculptor’s Guide To A Goddess


She may have four arms or six
even eight, but only one pair of legs
and nothing between them 
except a gentle fold of cloth.
The palms may be raised in blessing
or hold weapons, brooms, crocodile teeth 
or a man’s head but never 
a bottle of moisturizing lotion,
a screwdriver, a cupcake, a microphone.
The wrists should bend delicately
frozen in ethereal dance
but if that might tire her out, choose from
one of the sixteen (bangled) mudras 
that suggest a tenure track to moksh. 

Let her smile or appear vacantly benign
or, to work in the dead crocodile 
she may glower and scowl
with flesh caught in her fingernails
but never must she appear 
to ponder with any of the three 
heads atop her neck
the stock market
or Diophantine equations  
or bunions on her feet 
(nevermind that she has been standing
six thousand two hundred and forty eight days).

Her hair may be worn in tight knots
or cascade neatly over her shoulders
like an additional shawl; think of it
as her own built-in fleece
and though she may have lived 
three thousand years
in rain-blessed loamy lands
it cannot be grey or frizzy 
and no matter the fashions of your time
it’s never styled in layers 
with bangs. 

The breasts must be tasteful C-cups
okay, D-cups - live vicariously 
through your art but never lactating 
or weighed down or pulled apart 
by gravity or feeding.
Sculpt her in nine yards of silk
sufficiently cinched at the navel 
to reveal a waist-to-hip ratio of .6 
and though she is ‘mata’ 
to us all, remember - no stretchmarks. 

Blood, if you must
is permissible on faces and hands 
the respectable red of battle, valour, men   
some may even dribble down 
her flesh-eating teeth
but she has no use
for tampons or hot water bags
and even if she did bleed 
she would have to walk out
of the temple
that week.

In the poet's words : ‘The Sculptor's Guide to a Goddess’ simultaneously questions patriarchy, religion and their entanglements. 

Assorted Advice Received On The Art Of Woman

Soak peeled onions in water for at least ten minutes; the world will give you enough other things to cry about anyway. Have children. Have boys. When in a crowded bus, hold an open safety pin next to your chest. Laugh with your mouth covered. Devi, you are like temple – how you let anyone touch? The unhistoried can find themselves too. Higher, lift your legs higher, you’re a ballerina not a dog about to take a piss. Keep cats if you want to learn to cope with the otherness of lovers. Women who hate are far more interesting than women who love. Why you insist on jogging on the street, shaking your thisandthat – what are treadmills for – and who you want to preen for all the time, huh? At least get the driver to take you to the park and then jog inside the park, arre what is so complicated-vomplicated – just call him, sit in the car (with jacket on), get off, do your joggingandjiggling, call him, back in the car, wear the jacket again and go back home. Simple. Most creatures have roots, some have wings. If you must meet a friend on the street, wait at a bus stop so you won’t look like you are soliciting. The morning will come again. The night will come again. Your premonition is more accurate than his proof. They’ll say dance like no one’s watching but someone’s always watching. If you hate his shirt so much, throw it in the wash with the woolens. Don’t use oil when the recipe says butter. Wear sarees. Never marry a man you wouldn't want to divorce. Wear jeans. Even a flower has its roots in manure. Wear lingerie. Don’t watch too many romcoms thinking you’ll heal with laughter; sometimes it just makes you numb. Wear nude make up. Your voice is the sharpest blade the world has known, don’t let anyone tell you it’s high-pitched. Wear heels. One day you’ll look at the old man in your bed and feel foolish about believing in true love, but it will pass, I promise. Celebrate your birthdays, specially those in your fourth decade. Have girls, chalo, at least one daughter for old-age sake? Give, give, give until you turn inside out. They’ll say the age of woman has come but do not believe them until they stop saying it. Bleed

In the poet's words : "'Assorted Advice Received on the Art of Woman’ resembles a found poem with its list of how womanhood is shaped as an identity and as a practice. It is arranged as a solid block of text, without the spatial relief of verses and line breaks, to evoke the claustrophobia of being fenced in by commands and expectations."

Pervin Saket is the author of the novel Urmila’ and of a collection of poetry ‘A Tinge of Turmeric’. She is the 2021 Fellow for the Vancouver Manuscript Intensive. Pervin was shortlisted for the WE Kamala Das Poetry Award 2020. She is Poetry Editor of The Bombay Literary Magazine and co-founder of the annual Dum Pukht Writers’ Workshop.