Poem-A-Day 2021, Day 24: Varsha Saraiya-Shah

So many other important things have pushed the Covid death tolls out of the top of the news cycle over the last several months, but we must remember that the landscape out there is still a pandemic, and we still need to take precautions against it, no matter how gloriously bright the light at the end of this wretched tunnel is. According to Johns Hopkins University Covid tracker, as of today, there have been over 571,000 deaths from Covid in the US and over 3 million worldwide. These figures are top of mind today as I read Varsha Saraiya-Shah’s poem “I Speak from Towers of Silence.”

I Speak from Towers of Silence                                                                               

It is spring, people are afraid
to sit on empty benches in parks 
self-distancing. Coffin’s length apart, 
no matter where on the street or at work
dreading a footloose and lethal microbe. 

Hugs are hats hung at the back door.
Babies like flowers can’t stop being born,
mamas in hazmat suits swollen with milk
weep for their misfortune.

Imagine a massing of crows on terrace
gathered for feast to appease the dead.
Vultures plucking at corpses
I wish not to pollute air or water,
earth or fire. Let birds of prey feed on us.

Fire, Good fire, that burns to cleanse us all
of hunger and passion, anger and emptiness.
Assure the earth, it makes us part of our dirt.
Tell the skies, merge in your stardust. 

O Invisible! Can you hear our dirge?
Italians belting out operas alone? 
Tarantellas on balconies? 
Hear the Spaniards banging pots, 
strumming guitars in night skies? 
Indians trumpeting conchs, chanting
Aum, Aum, Aum.

This poem was published at the end of 2020 in A Global Anthology of Poetry Under Lockdown: “Singing In The Dark” by Vintage – Penguin Random House India.


Varsha Saraiya-Shah’s collection “VOICES” was published by Finishing Line Press. Her poems appear in journals such as Borderlands, Cha, Convergence, Echoes of the Cordillera, Mutabilis Press anthologies, Penguin Random House India, Skylark-UK, Soundings East, Kallisto Press, UT Press. Her poetry has aired on Public Radio and performed in multi-language/century dance program: “Poetry in Motion.” Featured on poetry reading panels of Matwaala South Asian Diaspora, WIVLA, and also Asia Pacific Writers & Translators (APWT), she served on Mutabilis Press Board as a Director and Treasurer for several years.

Being an Indian American poet, she wrote in Gujarati during school and college years. Houston’s Inprint House is her Alma Mater and Houston Poetry Fest, a stepping stone into the English journals. Honing the art of poetics continues through studying with esteemed poets at various programs: Sarah Lawrence College, Squaw Valley Community of Writers, Tin House, Grackle & Grackle workshops and more.


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