Mani Rao

Mani Rao was born in India in 1965. She is author of six poetry collections Echolocation (2003 Chameleon Press Hong Kong), Salt (2001 Asia 2000 Hong Kong), The Last Beach (2000 Asia 2000 Hong Kong), Living Shadows (1997 HKADC, Hong Kong), Catapult Season (1992 Writers Workshop, India), and Wingspan (1987 Writers Workshop India). Maniís multi-media work can be seen on


What Mani says about her self and her poetry=

Oh I know God waits for me in the palace
But I am busy with his garden roses
Dazed, fiery, I take to their cool nectarine pastures
Forgetful of the closing skies


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Pol Pot

Piece by piece the clothes fell, skin peeled and flesh ran in lumps and gravy
Her sidelong glance still tosses lazily on your hammock smile, icecube swirling provocation in your glass
The bones are good to drum with
Tusk plucked and thrown like a gauntlet
Row of ivory pawns, pillars in war of no ceiling

You relieve the palms of superfluous arms and use their sawtooth blades to slice our necks
Shells of infant heads you smash on trees, oil stains trunks as tears of elephants
We play calm host to your furrowing worms, rats tentative in our gullies, radio flies
When you tap for one last formal dance we show up in crossbone bowties, jiggling our hips we make the ratatat.tat of castanets
Your raised leg swings the ball of your foot bounces tilting the earth the heel falls correcting the tilt, chandeliers heave, marbles Rrrrrr
Our skulls your lost beachballs; somedaysome snake our scarf or rag will loop through our sockets to polish us


Disappeared into his shadow.
The man without a shadow.
The shadow had a person.
Don't let your shadow find another person.
Escorting our shadows we take them where they want to go.
Folding his shadow on his arm he went.

(from Living Shadows)



Nude, the poet had to fashion masks out of his own diaphanous slough.
Extract expressions and adore each as a face.
There is no face, only a deft masker, spectral spectrum.
As shadow to body, body to rhythm Ė follow the ruse Ė this far Ė this guise, this guile.

Slough must be eaten to the last shred.
On the last journey, tracks made by the head must be covered up by the body.
Coil to the shape of a bracelet, place tail inside mouth, fasten clasp.

The womb never leaves a child. You wear it on your back even as you look for it in absent-minded mourning.
The new skins you grow are slough.
But this is flesh, kin.
Slide back into its canoe, bark curved from memory, and thus dressed, go to the shore of your bride of death.

(First published in Meanjin, Vol.64 Nos.1/2, 2005).


Holy Cow

To the North, salt mountains
To the South, pepper waters
Keep ghosts out

Then who is this silent cow
Block on my narrow tar this
Late at night

White flag draped on bones
From the recruiter

That notice nailed to her head
Two long glints in eye putty
Wonít come out if I flay her

Still playing those old records
Where men slur clay
Where women trill

What is the roundabout song trying to say?
For Saigalís sake!



Close as air, the booming faces and familiar faceless.
Swift absurdities not feared, shrill urges not looking for fulfillment.
On waking instead of the soaked skin and bruised-fruit shadow, tirelessness, as if someone else did the dreaming.

Breathing rises and falls, steady synchronic trot of a waterbearer gliding across shifting tectonics.
We pass under waterfall amnesia like a first rite of kidnapping the spinning around before blind man's bluff.
Guarding the bubble we are in carefully fanning it with new air to keep it afloat so intent that for a fraction of a breath we forget to breathe.
We lurch forward and find ourselves (as if awake) drifted into an archipelago of dreams.
We meet people we don't know. They don't seem surprised to see us here. They seem to know exactly how to be with us what to ask of us. No matter what we talk about they always ask us to stay.
We meet people we know. They seem undrenched as if they came by another route. We join them in reality plays.

Hell is not a where of probable people in likely places
Not mix-matched grossities from a claymation kit
Hell is not what you see patrolling in a toga taking notes
Hell is a creeling, a damp toid, a ment
A soft hand that caresses your face, sinuate at your throat
Thud.thud.thud.thud hooves
Blurry dustline
Sparks in the opening weil of sky
Banners come into view
Blonde lighthorses to the rescue

In fest covered in formations spots flaring mushrooms sulphuric lesions in the air and tunneling across this the anaconda train tinnitus.
The interminable will not stop, what saves is a turning away, a mere turn as the body rotates earth rotates, swooping to the salvation of night, when even the leprous can sleep.
Quiet in the cells.

(A version first published in Dimsum 2004)


A geological thing to happen
To start with skin, end with leather
But I no longer wish to be friends with passion that dies

Yes passion dies, nobody warned me
The penis grows to the same length
in desire of all degrees

As you lit a candle I thought, twilight is brief
We'll wake up when it's white
They'll be bringing in the hard light

Instead, go, Go Now
And when I give you all my love, quick, take it away
before I take it back

(From The Last Beach)


Eyes are emissaries, soft knocks, nibs. Eyes are tongues, mad riverbeds insomniac for salt. Eyes are fangs, bared chisel tattooing face on retina. Bite this word, lick that wound.

Eyes are the itineraries of shooting stars on the tail of new disasters. Faster than witnesses, slow as alibis, donít look! Phoenix of mirages, allusions, holy ash, rising mohair soot. Darkness caving into black diamonds. Lashes fan the air between.

Stones drown to measure water of expression, water nothing dissolves in, pure staring child. Soft convex pillows, seed of sleep.

A false door revolves, a roulette swings back to starting position, the masochists bring out x-ographs.

Unfurling, clitoris. Descriptions, insatiable.

Eyes, are braille.

(From Echolocation)


Singles streets

Eyes slipping from person to person
Shiny black dognoses and their journeys

Blue denim slashing groin to white
Breasts that must be soft and warm

Girls, gifts nobody can open
Circling their eyes, eddies of eyeliners
Fences guarding me from their sharklike pupils

Not my love, never my love

(From The Last Beach)


Back from the markets of lust, havenít bought anything.

Our trolls rally on the windowsill - the leopard who mates for life, handless martial grey beard, taped up windowpane, ancient ring.

Living in the presence of each otherís lives, from order to chaos, dispelling heat.

The one star you find and pin with your eyes as I scramble for a wish.

We see the lightning together, gasping, lips sealing around a vacuum.

I watch you asleep, stealing your time. It rains and rains, the tanks fill up and the grass grows inches overnight.

The jealousy because I think you are dying faster, the faint darkness between your lips, the striving for a piece of your skin.

You lock me up to make sure I am there when you return.

I wait for days to see you, when finally you appear I walk away.

(From Echolocation)


Tiresome cupids

softly nervous

the sweet meetings
of their buoyant bums
and rosewater piss

(From The Last Beach)


(ĎMake Poverty Historyí, 1st week of July 2005)

The world over one wonders why
some have nothing to eat
in India, are there no restaurants?

Bless you rats, says fat Ganesh.
The geckos know the Gita
but stay on the wall

for in the eat-all-you-can place
on Marchmont Street
itís never easy, to find a seat.


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