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Past Tense by Shobhana Kumar

Artwork by J.J.Lankes

Past Tense


Moments after the passing,

grief is put on hold.

First things first—

someone orders an ice box.

An unknown neighbour calls the crematorium.


Calls to distant cousins

and still-angry uncles follow.

The pauses are awkward,

conversation, stilted.

The house is full

of strangers trying

to overcome the moment—

this silence.


The entourage arrives—

priest in tow, rose garlands,

rice and sesame seeds.


there’s purpose in rituals.


All the decades of a reputation

so carefully built

into an impenetrable fort

of morality

are suddenly reduced

to the inanimate,

past tense.


An outpouring of warmth

against the cold skin

of rigor mortis…


At 1000 degrees centigrade,

even the bones are not spared.


The next morning,

ashes, still warm from life

embrace rushing waters.

And grief finds release.

About the poet:

Shobhana Kumar has two books of poetry and six works of non-fiction covering industrial and corporate histories. She is Associate Editor of Sonic Boom and its imprint, Yavanika Press. Her first book of haibun, ‘A Sky Full of Bucket Lists’ , published by Red River in 2021 has won critical acclaim. Her poem, 'Just Married' was selected and translated by Gulzar in his seminal anthology,’365 Poems’, and published by HarperCollins in 2020. She is co-curator at The Quarantine Train, a writing collective founded by Arjun Rajendran. She works in the spaces of education, branding and runs an NGO called Small differences, that works with vulnerable communities. You can read her work here.


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