Swan Song of the Thief
an adaptation of Bilhana’s Caurapâñcâśikâ
by Dawn Corrigan
by Dawn Corrigan
Still I remember her, the white magnolia
of her body, the line of hair down her belly
a stamen trembling beneath my hand.
I’ve lost that body like a forgotten science.
Still I see her light increased by love—
below the stars and moon, with face aglow,
her body burned as though it might catch fire
until I cooled her limbs and she could sleep.
And still if she would come to me again
with love-smeared eyes and breasts that bent
thin shoulders with their weight, I’d drink her mouth—
the bee, that connoisseur of nature, at a bud.
Still I bring her back, wearied so with love
she couldn’t lift her body from the bed,
black hair against her cheeks, her guilty arms
wound round my neck and left their scent on me.
Still I remember glittering eyes
that danced in a sleepless face, for she’d stay up
all night, to swim like a swan in our great bed
until, at dawn, she hid her face in shame.
And still if I could see now her eyes bright
and widened in the fever of our parting,
I’d lock her in my arms, and close my eyes,
and bind myself to her with her black hair.
And still today I can’t forget the dance
of shade and moonlight moving on her face,
traversing heavy lips and heavy hair,
the slight, continual trembling of her limbs.
Still she is with me, lying on her bed.
Her scent spreads, an exhaled breath of sandal,
nervous lashes playing on her cheeks
a pair of songbirds sporting on the wing.
Still she swims, her lips confused with wine,
her dazzling colors: red wine-smeared lips,
slight golden body and great live eyes,
saffron paste and musk, camphor and betel nut.
Still I see only my love’s face, brows arched
over gleaming eyes, startled at the end
of our conjuring like the spring moon released,
suddenly, from the embrace of an eclipse.
Still my mind dwells on the night I woke
my princess with some small sound: a murmur
or a sneeze. She turned away and, flustered, hung
a jewel, little good luck charm, from her ear.
Still my eyes that wish to see no more
will draw her face suspended above mine:
her golden earrings flick against her cheek,
a bead of sweat pools on her swollen lip.
Still I see her gazing back at me
as gracefully she arched her back and stretched,
and disarrayed her clothes, and bared her breast.
I see bold eyes and lips marked by my teeth.
Still I see her hands, nails painted red
like new asoka leaves. O tree that stays
green always, with rosy cheeks you swim
forever through my mind with a swan’s grace.
Still the intimacy of our rough love—
the mark my nail left on her powdered thigh
covered by a yellow sheet she gathers up
in shame, graceful padding of fleeing feet.
Still I remember in secret the look
of black-fringed shining eyes, flower-plaited hair,
red lips and my love’s smile, slim arms raised
above her head, bracelet’s manacle jangle.
And still I retain our secret, the look
of loosened hair at dusk, flowers crushed,
restless fingers at the strand of pearls
around her neck, and sleepily she’d smile.
Still I brood on her as once I dared
in the night at her white palace, darkness
broken only by the torches’ jeweled light
and by eyes that filled with shame as I stared.
Still I am with her in my mind, though far
from her beautiful smile and radiant eyes,
her body that was small but burned so well
it lit the night and caused the birds to sing.
Still I remember my laughing love
standing before me in ropes of pearls,
fingers brushing across her belly—
and I know my princess was happy.
Still I hear her voice close to my ear,
the sweet words she’d whisper after love,
a scattered jumble, or the song she’d hum
by the window, her head held in her hand.
Still I watch over her as she sleeps
within a thicket formed of sheets and clothes,
her slender body worn out by our love.
In all my lives she’ll be the only dawn.
And still I see her as the setting sun
sets fire to the outline of her hair
and breasts, heavenly silhouette.
For me she is the life beyond this life.
Still I know the measure of her beauty’s worth:
both prime meridian, all others judged
by reference to her, and magnetic north,
the target of love’s endless compass arrows.
Still I won’t forget her, clinging to me
with her burning body, hand to hand
and mouth to mouth. Now she must go alone;
even so, I’d want no other life.
Still I remember her, most beautiful
of women, all elements of lust contained
within her as with the voice of love she’d say
I cannot bear this parting! You must stay!
Still though I’m in danger here I cannot
hold my thoughts on prayer; always they return
to her. Although my time to die draws near
I know she’s mine, and I’m content.
Still I remember scared eyes in a lost face,
her whole form trembling like a cornered deer’s
on the day my sentence was announced
and, as I was led away, the heavy tears.
Still though I search everywhere I cannot find
a rival to my love, whose smiling face shines
like the goddess Rati’s in my mind,
eclipsing all the stars, the sun and moon.
Still I remember the pain of each parting.
The shortest separation was my death
until I kissed her hair and lived again.
I feel her presence more than my own dreams.
Still with wonder I recall how brave she was:
a rose baring her thorns, she lashed out
at the soldiers’ hands, the men her father sent,
but in vain, for they still dragged me away.
Still I muse on her all night and day,
my beauty with her rich distinctive taste,
a salty jasmine blossom, and I know
there can be no pain so deep as missing her.
Still she haunts me like a lover’s memory
intensely retained from a previous life,
forbidden girl, who cannot be my wife—
I’ll gladly die and hope we’ll meet again.
And still I remember her alarm when
bees began to swarm the air around her.
Which the bait: the lotus, or her own sweet face?
She tossed her head and shook them from her hair.
Still I see caressing eyes, eyes that deepened,
meeting mine, or when they found the mark
I left, in my fever, on her breast. Lightly
she brushed her finger past this treasure.
Still I remember her violent anger
when I appeared late for our secret meeting:
how she kissed me, then turned her mouth away,
jumped up to leave, abruptly sat back down.
And still I imagine the corridors
of the women’s quarters where my princess
and her ladies play and dance, then lie down
for a nap. If only I could be there now!
Still I wonder, what is her true name:
Rati? or perhaps she’s Lakshmi, Krishna’s queen?
Creating her, did Brahma wish to make
perfection and set all three worlds aflame?
Still I know no painter anywhere
could capture her, not even the ancient
master of the guild. To try he’d have to see
as I before he even stretched a canvas.
Still I see her painted eyes, her burning mouth,
her whole weary body trembling in laughter
and with love. Now I hear she wastes away,
my princess; if this is true then who’s to blame?
Still I remember her luscious face
illumining the night like a full moon,
a face that would tempt even the saints—
if I find her again I’ll keep her this time.
And still if I could find a way once more
to reach the heights I climbed to with my love,
again to pierce that sanctum one more time,
I’d give my life and think I paid no price.
Still I believe the day I first saw her
was the first day of my life, a life she fills
with beauty like a rain of lotus blossoms,
but the flowers of my girl don’t fade.
Still her sleek swan’s body glides on waves
she raises eternally in my mind;
coated with lotus dust, she protests
she’s sleepy when I reach for her again.
Still I wish to see again greedy eyes
that watched our play so eagerly she seemed
like angel and goddess both to me,
a divine being fallen to my couch.
Still I recall her sleeping form so clearly
I think I stand again beside her bed
where her body curves into the altar
of her waist, and I kiss her sweet head.
Still I remember how her body’s glow
increased with the heat of love, how I feared
I’d hurt her when she fell back in exhaustion,
until my kisses ignited her again.
Still I remember the love battle
we waged each night until dawn, her hands
fluttering against me, keeping time
with our rhythm: how always she was victor.
Still I endure in this prison, these bars
meaning nothing to me except as barriers
to my love, but in that unendurable—
and I long for death to release me.
Still Siva drinks poison to protect the gods,
Vishnu, like a tortoise, supports the earth,
the oceans keep consuming fires at bay:
the faithful keep the promises they’ve made.