Love in a New City (and other poems)

Love in a New City

The metro arrives looking similar 
to that childhood game 
where we had to prevent the ever 
growing snake from eating its own tail. 
It was our first lesson in desperation, 
how if left hungry, the body feeds 
on itself. When the doors open, 
men and women spill out like inmates 
broken free. I’m new in Delhi 
and still as loveless as I was
in Lucknow but now, I’m more alert, 
more receptive to hope 
and affection. Inside, the compartment 
is packed and warm with freshly 
washed bodies crashing softly 
into each other like morning waves. 
Ever wonder, if it wasn’t for moments 
like these, we would go on without 
touching another body—
so busy we all have become with our 
minuscule lives? And as we wait 
inside this white pill gliding through 
the city’s oesophagus, 
I notice a man looking at me, once 
and then once again as if recognizing 
in me something inherent, 
something these people separating us 
might lack. When I smile and he smiles 
back, I know I’m not alone in my own
loneliness, that no one really is. 
When the metro slides into a platform, 
I step outside knowing he would do 
the same. We meet, give each other 
our names, and I see how gently he puts 
what I’m called inside his mouth, 
licks and tastes it, and I get to hear 
after a long time and in a manner never 
before, my own name 
          mouthed by someone else’s. 

Things I Have Done

Liked my own tweets,
my own Instagram posts, and called it self-love. 
When I was fourteen, I kissed my reflection—
the mirror a fog, my own lips like someone else’s.
If it wasn’t for the mirror’s coldness,
I would have thought I got what I always wanted—
the boy a class higher then me. During summer
vacations, me and my brother would accompany 
our grandfather to all the distant trees 
his father and grandfather planted. Our favorite
were the mango trees because they rewarded us
for our travels with fruits like golden nuggets
hanging precariously on thin boughs.
Though I never learned to swim, I know the rush
of water past my dangling feet. My first kiss
was hasty, neither of us knowing how long 
it should last. On those village visits, we learned 
about stars, lying on the roof at night, dreaming
of lands farther and farther away. I have loved many
men, a few only for a night. I stopped praying 
when I realized I would never change no matter
the time dedicated to the gods. What use were prayers
when as a fag I went to sleep and as I fag I woke up.
No metamorphosis for this queer, the gods
must have declared. Now, I only bend my knees
to comfort men, to make them rest for a while
in the softness of my mouth. And how grateful 
they are, their eyes relaxing as deflated balloons.
To love others is to love the self, isn’t it?
They give so much love, I sometimes spit it out.

Tell Me, Do Faggots Fear Dark

It's night because so many things refuse 
     to capture the sunlight and what can 

a moon do floating as it does in the sky? 
     Give credit where it’s due; at least it tries; 

at least you can see the road beneath 
     your feet. I do consider it impolite 

to ask someone to give you something 
     they never even had in the first place. 

I’m impolite, a condition since adolescence 
     and have begged every man I knelt before 

to love me as they would their own. 
     But tonight I’m promising to be good 

and decent, to ask only what I could be given. 
     Walking, I hear an owl hoot, calling to 

what I will never know. When the solitary 
     street lamp flickers, the mindless 

moths panic, hitting the bulb until it laughs 
     gold again. I notice a pair of hands 

extended in that cone of yellow light, odd 
     and sadly bodiless, beckoning me. 

The man, standing at the edge of that bright 
     circle is no more than a silhouette, no more 

than a ghost already dissolving in the dark. 
     Tell me, should I not take it? These are 

just hands, soft and maybe harmless 
     and am I not here to be held, to let another 

man tell me love has many forms and this 
     is one of them. Tell me, should I not 

give this man what he asks, a weight 
     to finally anchor him to this      light?  


What is it? If not this belief 
that nothing is as cruel as the present, 

that future is a bed of feathers awaiting 
this body. If not this idea 

that with all the crimes these hands 
commit, we will be saved 

once again. When I learned to pray, 
I never questioned—to what? 

Because, that’s faith. Because mother 
had said, bow your head and gods 

will listen. How ma? Since, what we 
pray to lives someplace higher. 

At night, I would climb on the terrace, 
balance these feet on the railing 

and look up to the stars shining like 
lit windows of those who forgot 

to switch them off. Change me, 
I would whisper, would let the cold 

breeze take with it my words. 
Now imagine, years of praying returned 

like unanswered mail, like an echo 
reentering the mouth it came from. 

So I did what most people would do—
put faith elsewhere and let the body 

learn to live with its own illness. 
Because faith, in part, is in knowing 

who to trust. Like the man who said 
love is just another derivative 

of companionship—a moment well spent 
in someone's arms. Like the man 

before him with his hand on my head 
as he guided me through the night. 

Faith, in part, is in knowing that if you 
submit, good things will happen. 

Like father letting mother win 
an argument every time, or a seaside tree 

accepting the wind to shape its form. 
Like this dark bending its knees 

          for the morning to finally come.  


  • Ashish Kumar Singh is a queer Indian poet whose work has appeared in Passages North, The Bombay Literary Magazine, Grain, Chestnut Review, Fourteen Poems, Foglifter, Atlanta Review, and elsewhere. Currently, he serves as an editorial assistant at Visual Verse and a poetry reader at ANMLY.

  • Three sculptures by Severo da Ravenna (Italian, c.1496-c.1543): 1. Kneeling Saint Jerome, 2. Writing Casket (container for pens, inks, and sand for blotting), 3. Inkwell of Hercules. Courtesy of The Cleveland Museum of Art.