Smita Bahuguna Agarwal

Three Poems

River Vignettes


Water lay landlocked, knowing
neither dialect nor song.
Traveller’s flung stone ...
Water, garrulous in unused tongues.


To live off the river he fashioned a net.
She edged it with black beads.
Entering the water, he flung it far
waited, then hauled it in.
The half-asleep woman by his side
sprang up to collect the evening meal.
The pot simmers on their slow, sure, fire.
Stew in your juices! fish, that dared to dream ...


At Rasoolabad, the river widens, thins,
in accordance with the waters that flow past.
At a bend, the eye spies a clandestine meeting of its banks.
An illusion! There can be no coming together, only a moving on.
Each bank, nestling its own dark secret: apart.
The grass growing verdant, on this side and that.



Last night, an odd hush
hummed in the air.
Earth longed for rain
that came spitting, inadequate.
A flower bloomed. It fed
on its own petals.
Beware, friend, of all
that kill and eat.


Words are non-referential.
Language is a cultural construct.
What am I doing stringing
words, waiting for them
to flower and scent? There is
no piping-Pan, Lord of Mira or me.
What do I do with this garland of words
with silences buzzing in between?


Crown of guava, afire.
Beyond it, three
Eucalyptus weave
the fabric of air.
Warp of green,
weft of flame.

Smita Agarwal is a well-regarded poet, critic, academic, translator and singer. She hails from Mussoorie, Uttarakhand. Her poems have received awards and residencies from the British Council (1994), the Arvon Foundation (1997) and the Charles Wallace Trust (1999). She is the author of Wish-granting Words, Poems, (New Delhi: Ravi Dayal, 2002) and Mofussil Notebook, Poems (Calcutta: Brown Critique/Sampark, 2016). Her third collection of poems is expected in a few months from now. She is also the editor of Marginalized: Indian Poetry in English, (Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi/Brill, 2014), a collection of essays on Indian poetry in English. Her poems have been curated in magazines, journals and anthologies published from India and abroad. Her critical articles have appeared in Poetry Review, Journal of Commonwealth Literature and her translations in Plath Profiles and The Alipore Post. Agarwal is a professor of English, University of Allahabad, India and former Director of the Centre for Women’s Studies at the same university. She is also a professional singer who performs at cultural events like Triveni Mahotsav and Shilp Mela. Samples of her songs are available at, YouTube and Sound Cloud. Currently, she divides her time between the cities of Allahabad and Bombay.