Tonight, the chhau dancer has a moon on his back,
and he clasps each of its crescent wingtips
above his head like an angel holding its horns.

When I said that I have looked for you in the bodies
of others, this is what I meant: these martial stances,
these masks, the way his shoulderblades convulse

in tandem with a shuddering drum, the way he raises
a foot to the level of the eye. Some of us are forged
salamandrine, enduring the universe with no more

than the will to be reborn. Others must wear falconry
hoods, and sometimes, when even I can no longer bear
to see, I think of you, once, your head in your hands

in a gesture of mourning, that night at the beginning of
the year of broken idols when a beautiful costumed
man ripped his chest open and showed you that secret

theatre, that solitaire, the hooked bijou of my heart.
Since then, the cosmos has been without choreography.
The seraph on stage unsheathes his trident. I wrap myself

in a serape of sadness and wonder how many dancers I
have watched on how many nights since; how many
I have torn my gaze from to beseech the sky,
as though the night numbered among
its many stars    the zodiac of your eyes.

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SHARANYA MANIVANNAN was born in Madras, India in 1985, and grew up in Sri Lanka and Malaysia. Her first book of poems was Witchcraft (2008), which was lauded in The Straits Times as being “sensuous and spiritual, delicate and dangerous and as full as the moon reflected in a knife”. She is currently working on a book of stories (The High Priestess Never Marries), a novel (Constellation of Scars), as well as two manuscripts of new poems (Bulletproof Offering and Cadaver Exquisito).

A Pushcart Prize nominee (for “I Will Come Bearing Mangoes”, Rougarou, Fall 2011), her poetry, essays and fiction have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including Drunken Boat, Killing the Buddha, Superstition Review, Dark Sky Magazine, Softblow and Pratilipi. A journalist and columnist, she wrote a personal column, “The Venus Flytrap”, for The New Indian Express from 2008 to 2011.

Sharanya is noted in particular for her unusual onstage charisma, and she has read her work extensively since 2001 at venues as diverse as colleges, bars, bookstores, embassies, an abandoned pier, a cemetery, the 11th century Borobudur temple and while sitting in an autorickshaw.

She has lived in Chennai since 2007. More about and by her can be found online. She also Tweets and blogs.

10 responses to “Secret Theatres”

  1. Irene Zion says:


    This poem is positively beautiful.
    It is as though it has wings to fly into the reader’s consciousness.

  2. Uche Ogbuji says:

    I love the twinned image at the beginning (angel plus crescent-invoking-moon), and how the poem works that into braid with the dancer, invoking physical and spiritual sense of the ancient cosmos. All tied together nicely with 5-beat accentual movement. Very enjoyable.

  3. Jessica Blau says:


  4. Reno Romero says:

    This is without a doubt one of the most beautiful poems I’ve ever read. Wow. What can I say?

  5. Ashley Menchaca (N.O.Lady) says:


  6. sheree says:


  7. Swapna Raghu Sanand says:

    I loved the imagery in your poem. This line resonated with me, “Some of us are forged
    salamandrine, enduring the universe with no more than the will to be reborn.”

  8. The Bride says:

    So lovely! I caught my breath while reading it.

  9. Dhananjayan says:


  10. […] The poem is called ‘Secret Theatres’ and you can read it here. […]

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