How to phrase what must be told,
how force the seals, twist back the locks,
burgle the cabinet of his soul?
How to rifle his cupboard of masks
and then to squeeze into the damp
between costume and true color?
And who shall break the sawdust news
to those who survive, tell them why
he’d withdrawn and what, is anything,
the alien had meant al all.
All this you learn, in jerks and stammers,
halfway to the sad wisdom that comes
from listing a dead friend’s letters,
sorting his desk, watching his diaries burn.
I do not envy you this, biographer.
To you his grief is so much code
a wasted vigil; the fine X, a lover met).
A sharp task you have set yourself,
safecracker of private language:
though with frank hands you unbolt his fame,
the pain tricks you, and that it is hard
to place his ashes in an urn
and weeping, mock them: this you learn.
And hear, again, his baffled, guttural voice
growling a refrain to these afterlife rites
of murder and rebirth.
Spy, tailor, your golem works.
It shakes the smug who think they knew
the dead man inside out: the scorn is brave,
but has the séance taught you how to soothe
the lovers he’d cast off, stretched in slurs?
As cravats of gossip, laughing, you shrug off
the nightmares he’d sutured into his flesh,
and when the cocaine night grows louder claws
to scratch and hiss in his chest of drawers,
you pretend they’re a pension of records he’d saved.
The mannequin’s on test. Toying with anecdotes,
you slit his windpipe, render his sour brogue
in the fluted accents of civility.
But in the end, you cannot char the heartwood.
Spurning the genteel syringe of tack,
you tighten the gauntlet till it chafes
the bare wrist to bruising, till you say:
He was a damn shabby sort of man
but I loved what I knew of him.
Trainer-shod both crept from where
I’d glanced back, intuiting assault
the terrace houses curved away deaf,
lugubrious, into dull orange glow.
A giant arm, weirdly gentle at first
as of a buffoon, embraced my throat,
gurgling from a cheated windpipe
for help I knew just wouldn’t come.
The smaller, adroit, unruffled boy
probed searchingly around my midriff.
Patience led him to the wallet –
teased out like an awkward oyster
from its shell. Good! They scarpered
leaving the spectacles on my nose.
The weatherman be needed none.
A storm brewing in the sea, says he,
to hit the city.
But now the weatherman be needed none.
For we, we is me and she
have learnt to tell
of storms brewing in the sea to hit the city.
The ingenious simplicity
of Nona. Naughty Nona.
Anyone that owna Nona
can do this.
Nona of the sheer seersucker skirts
flowery in the fields of the highway.
Strategically stood Nona in the path
of the storm brewing in the sea to hit the city.
And the sheer seersucker skirts flowery
hitched above her knees flapping
frrrp, frrrp flapping
billowing, the seersucker skirts flowery
flapping and billowing sucks
the storm inside her soul.
My ear placed near
her lips to hear
and by God, a distant roar
of the storm brewing in the sea.
And Nona she breathes
a slow, lazy assault of storms
here in my ear placed near
her lips. Delicious
the storm brewing in me.
With the first monsoon showers,
the old dusty lanes of Puri
demand a fresh look.
Rock-cut stairs of the age old temple,
its wooden deities and occult rituals
reveal untold stories.
The raging sea I had been watching
all these years, ceases to be
a stranger, splashes and waves, welcomes
with a carpet of foam.
The hissing waves rush no more
with their raised hoods,
they recede, disappear
into the blue depths of a sea
swelling with passion.
The sleepy beach under the shades
of casuarinas turns,
stretches and yawns,
looks in a sudden surprise
at the gentle touch of your feet.
Now I remember many forgotten tales
to last for a thousand and one nights.
This evening we shall sit
near the old mast, anchor
and the brass canon
of some unknown ship
lying on the beach for years,
count waves, stars
and the distant lights
of lonely vessels peeping
from an envelope of dark until
the rising tides touches us
with its teasing waves.
Only in the imagination can you love the forest that is not yours, the crumbs of light, the everlasting cicada, the lovely cool green skin of silence which unwinds forever from its wooden spool and passes through us like invisible water, like the thought of a peaceful death, a kind sleep. I know what it is that hangs from the tongues of leaves and I know that it has never heard us because our shouts are softer than whispers and our whispers are dust. But listen how the cuckoo drops, now and then, a cold clear petal of music; think of the blue night and the beds with sheets of water, the couples asleep there, sewn into each other’s dreams. We were wrong about ourselves, out on streets of glorious sunshine, high on bridges made by men, and even higher, on the wings of truth. We were wrong about that truth. Someone ought to stir in his sleep, someone ought to wake up and put his ear to the dawn, someone ought to write ‘sun’ in his blood, and later, ‘The night is coming.’ The night is coming: where is there room here for the grieving, loved, the cold and confused?
Each Sunday evening has fallen like something from a child’s hand – a stone or a broken toy – till the years of his childhood became memories of things never drawn to completion and then became dreams, wistful dreams that kept his face half turned from happiness. But I am not anxious to return Sundays, Mondays, the days of waiting, the cloud-dark days: I don’t want to unravel those patterns. When I open a book women leap out, the same women in the same mountains, tearing and sobbing through the same nights in the same sad houses. They are the only ones I love. Their eyes are my eyes and I open them under so many dream-hollowed nights that time forgets whether it binds us or whether it is we who have imagined our irreversible course down its iron rivers. How easily loneliness becomes an elixir then and lets us ride, night after night, on the strong, black, burning shoulders of the southeastern winds….
It is the smell of washed clothes being ironed on damp afternoons and the lime tree in the backyard that grows so slowly it seems to be resisting life. It is the tinkle of a hammer from some hidden valley and the weight of a cloud on a sparrow’s back. It is the season of pears which is boyhood season, season of bare feet and frogs, and everywhere the kiss of the wet, red earth. It is the month of the chrysanthemum, the yellow flower rising sun-like from disheveled gardens. It is the month of the afternoon rain which is so long and repetitious we no longer try to build sheltered paths through it but invite it instead into our poems, our rooms. ‘I would like to go naked as a raindrop, able to live and die all at once, to hold only a single atom of life in my hands and go clattering to my death on an empty street.’ We say that and the rain is our sister, she holds our drawing hand in the height. And the height is given to the frantic fluttering of pale, delicate moths that have just been born and are already winging their way to the light’s oblivion.
That’s all. That’s all that happens on Sunday evenings when the monsoon begins.
Thus Spoke a Cigarette
And I came out of my bed, which is my kingdom. The grey dawn was seeping into the room. I opened the window and looked at the fluff of cloud in the sky. An icy cool breeze started fanning my cheeks. It was a secret quiet. Minutes passed on. My wet eyes saw the naked trees and the distant lampposts. For a moment I felt a bitter sense of freedom which comes from separation. Vague thoughts crossed my mind and vanished in a split second. The temple bell pealed. I thought of my day’s appointments. Soon I was to leave and attend to my work. Thoughtlessly I got the mirror and the shaving kit. Having kept the things in front of me I sat down with my hands splayed out on my thighs. A coloured bib covered my chest. I was to shave.
The rectangular mirror reflected my crisscross hair and bearded face. I ran my hand over my face. My fingers got some moisture from the wet eyelashes. I tugged at the blue collar of my shirt. And I was at ease. Presently, I applied the shaving cream to my face and the lather covered it the way snow covers earth. The blade moved smoothly over my chin and cheeks. The mirror now reflected a clean face pimpled with soap over my temples and nostrils. My fingers journeyed through my hair. A smoke after a shave is my luxury. My eyes fell upon the packet of cigarettes near the shaving brush. I smiled and opened the packet. A sad scene! I was moved to find a solitary cigarette weeping and wailing at its lonliness. It was a pang of solitude and anguish of deprivation. My mouth parched and my lips were dry. I saw my own vacant and empty look in the mirror. I shivered. It was a tense moment – deathly and mournful. I gave a sad smile. But I swallowed my smile when I saw this lonely and sad cigarette take a human form. It spoke yet I heard nothing. The grandfather clock ticked. I felt the stare of the cigarette. It ws not a meaningless gaze. It was anger. I felt a murderer peeping out at me. I couldn’t scream. I choked.
And then the cigarette said, “Your life on earth is evil. You have no compassion and no love. You are a victim of blindness. I will eat you up.”
I gave a helpless shriek. Nobody seemed to listen. My body trembled. I lost all power and energy. At last I dared to say, “I love my fellow companions and help them. I see God not in the temples but in Man and Nature. Tell me, what have I done?”
The cigarette opened its small mouth, and I saw a ghastly world of death and decay. I saw snakes hissing at the black cats with erect whiskers. I saw an ugly black dog howling under a decaying tree in the stillness of a starless night. It was his definition of life.
My body felt a tremour. I felt a sense of amazement and horror. Havn’t I always feared death?
The delicate cigarette repeated restlessly, “look at me. I love death and decay. I love to sit upon your lips and move towards my end. The smoke circles and the dancing fumes vanish. My ash falls upon the good earth that you have defiled. Fire sets me free. You trample upon me and I sing in happiness. I love cremation. The solitude gives me no joy. My martyrdom lies between your two fingers. I die a beaming martyr. Death is a liberation from bondage. It is solace. You didn’t smoke me but kept me gasping in solitude. I die so that others may live. You spend your life selecting and rejecting. You are sinful. You are a clever cheat. I am meant for your lips. I love my ash. In my end is my life. Therein lies my superiority over you.”
For sometime I couldn’t see anything. Everything was clouded. I was too tired to get angry. I had a look at the sky. It was a dull sheen. I cast a look at my own self in the mirror. My eyes were pools of incessant shame and defeat. My dry voice came out with the words, “I was busy witht the affairs of the world. I love my friends and to my girl I am a god.”
The cigarette quivered and said angrily, “You insignificant brute, are you capable of loving and helping? Do you settle the affairs of men? Man, your earthly existence is an abstraction and an absurdity. You are ambitious and greedy. You love life because you are lustful. You have killed your own men. You will die a dry death. You are afraid of death because you love chicanery and deceit.”
I was still and then I heard, “You have always laughed at my death but wept at yours. I was with you in the past, I am near you in the present. So shall I be with you till there is no time. I have seen you worshipping gods but killing man. You have greed and hate and anger and selfishness. I am your sole companion when you are in doubt and indecisive. But this time you delight in neglecting me. You think too much. ‘I’, ‘I’, ‘I’ is what bothers you all the time. You have always treated the other as your enemy. You are callous, calculating, cunning, cruel and cold.”
Even the mirror cracked. Time seemed to stop for me. My mind was a jumble of empty thoughts. The mirror stopped reflecting me. I calmed down, thought about my artificial, false and showy existence on this earth. What have I done through the days and nights of my life? Why do I crave popularity? What has been my achievement? Has knowledge given me piece of mind? What does my sensuality mean? And, above all, who am I? What do I want? Have I really prayed to God? And when?
While I was engaged in these fleeting stray thoughts, the cigarette made a humble request, “Consume me, you hypocrite, and give me back my life. I detest you company. I do not want to watch what you do during days. And you are unholy during nights.”
The cigarette shouted, “You devil, you have conquered the worlds but you have never been victorious. You have counted your heartbeats a million times. I have seen you die in infancy, in youth and in old age. Yet you have always wanted to live.
You have preferred the transient to the eternal. Your birth has been your death. You coward, why do you veil confession?”
I said, “In your lonliness I see my own suffering. My life is a gamble and a mistake. My actions are a refuge and a solace. I wish I could see my own death the way you see yours.”
“But you delight in the burial of truth and honesty,” came the reply.
Again I said: “Clasp me and take me into your arms. You are the one who stands for truth. Remould me and teach me not to run from my own self. I have broken the world into tiny fragments.”
The reply came as if from a far off place, “You have lost your memory. You have annihilated your true self. Thus you have always suffered. And you will suffer always.” I pondered the futility of my life. No solace. No joy. No love. Falsehood and untruth. This I am. This alone I am.
A Poem for Katherina Galuzzi
Gopi Krishnan Kottoor
No, these don’t mean a thing
Sitting near you feeling your knife –
cold sleeveless arms upon my fingertips,
us together watching “Wild Strawberries.”
The smell of your long gold hair
Circles the winding sun with rain.
My words take-off in the smooth skies
of your softening breath, collide with your smiles
etching bird hits all over. They fall
about the thin green lawn of our longing
and among your small lit
parking-light breasts, whereby the nearby street
returns leaf-red in the hollow breeze.
There is no prize for love poetry or love
anymore. But time having known us
will stroke its blue-beard, take away
its spectacles and think of us together
holding hands, watching through the window
the falling snow. But now touch is a sad
bird on its empty nest, as your laughter
seeks an answer for why we ever met
or became friends
like small change tossed in this begging bowl
of earth. You cross my bridge returning ruins
putting your light foot somewhere
on your quiet Italian shore. Flowers
make good wreaths, love mixes well
with colours of grief in the palette of the face
and god bless that one day you fall in love
like I now fall in love with you, but forbid
that you come where dark pools fill
with wet eyes to shed your beauty there,
lift your head toss your gold hair a minute
and find someone you used to know walking there,
picking wild strawberries for you in the Indian rains.
Robert James Berry
The weft of evening tugs
Crevasses of memory
Thrusts up stories
Sharp as glacial ice.
In the ink specters move,
spellbound words finding tongue
As pen transforms page to magic labyrinth,
The fable of creation.
This evening the words inside me
Are sentimental as a grandmother
Bawling over the poison of history.
The letters smell of sorrow.
From the grit of memory
Become bright as a medieval illumination
Their margins haunted by beasts and gargoyles.
The whole show swells like a fabulous pearl.
Proudly, I am fingering this newborn thing.
In the tilting dues
A dry sharp staring god of sand
Spins storms to tear my sash.
Desert sand is in my teeth,
The fierce phantasmagorical desert
of half-mad prophets.
If resplendent caravans
Swell and buckle on the rim of the world,
They are the sand-shattered dreams
Of our god-ridden sages.
As these erstwhile masters
recede into history
Only their haunted forts,
and the broken aftermath of their bitter hopes
In our desert,
The sweetness of well water has claimed us.
The nodding palms of paradise are
Too hot with ancient grief.
the blue sky
the white pigeons
in the paper mesh.
of his paper
has been scraped
It has turned black.
From all corners
tries to fly away
at the center
right at the center
sits the paperweight
on its chest
holding it down
on the table.
Making their way
through a forest of darkness
have set out
in the stormy sea
steadying in the echoing waters
trying to gather speed
their sails still unfurled
then when the wind has fallen
and the waters have receded
a white paper
to the surface.
What if this paper
(Translated from the original Gujarathi of Kamal Vora by Abhay Sardesai and Avaneesh Bhatt)
Hold Your Breath, Recall Bhopal
(Gas Tragedy of ’84)
The sky is empty
And so sad
No birds swim in the air
Nor do any kites dance
The birds of this city were so proud
They not just flew in the skies
Campaigned for democracy
Roving round in Swaminathan’s paintings
Nestled in the words of poets
Where did they disappear, those birds
Were they stuffed into bags and
carried over to the Shamla hills
By some huntsman?
What happened to those kites
Flown high by small hands?
Were they snatched away by someone
From the endless skies?
A World on a Hand Cart
In an unusual time
It was a usual scene.
Bananas were piled on a hand cart
The fleshy, bright and healthy
On one side
Rickety, stained and a bit rotten
On the other
I was aghast
Even on the handcart
The world is divided into two.
Picking out a few good ones
From the cheaper lot
As I moved forward
Behind me I overheard
‘I knew this man would buy bananas
Only from the cheaper lot.’
Did the banana seller know magic craft
Or do I have something in common with
The cheaper bananas?
Perhaps he was not wrong.
I turned back
And stared at him
With mute appreciation
Suddenly it dawned on me
That not just me
But even he
Resembled the bananas of the cheaper lot
And a train of similar faces
Rushed to my mind.
In the first flash
Came the smutty faces
Who toil along the roads
With pickaxe in their hands
Bridge the distances round the clock
Then my memory teamed up with
The dhoti-wrapped women
Seen at twilight
Broom and basket in their hands
Silently making the earth
Clean and beautiful.
I remembered those ones
That march to factories every morning
For transforming primates into gentlemen
Like a blue surging wave
And come back
Like a trail of smoke at sunset.
The scorched face of my uncle too
Crawled into my mind
Who turns the earth
So soft and fertile
That cooking pots of our homes
Keep boiling over the hearths.
Myriads of new faces
Thronged at every thought.
In spite of my efforts
I could not explain
Why their skin became discoloured and dark untimely
Why their bones and bodies were rickety
Why black boats appeared below their eyes
Why their faces became wrinkle pouches.
I could not tell them
Who were those others
Different from us
Radiant, cheerful and healthy
Like those beautiful bananas
Arranged on the other side of the hand cart.
Is This How You See Me Now?
It is a balmy night
with a full moon,
across the face of which clouds rush
murmuring of evil as they pass.
Or is that the cicadas?
I sit alone in an unlit room,
My splits amongst the murmuring of the clouds,
the chirruping of the cicadas.
Reek fills the room, dark and fetid.
Wet and glistening, dark and fetid,
they squelch out of me
and I watch, balefully.
It is all I can do,
they are my essence and I am drained,
as they crawl out
Madness twitters and perches on my shoulder,
with his claws deep in my head.
Lust clambers up the curtains
dark seed falls
and jealously capers his mad dance for our entertainment.
Noises fill the room,
twittering madness, murmuring clouds, moaning lust, cicadas with their
chirping and laughing jealously
all speak in my ear,
and I listen
and I watch
and I wait
as the night rushes by outside my room
too scared to peep in
and be overwhelmed with my maws
in the jaws of what I have come to be.
I cry for that lightening spark
is from absence,
how quick is the idea
how slow is its understanding.
I do not contradict
but what would do,
a dream wearing a reality it hates?
should I say: all what will be
would not restore what has collapsed
of my age as a dream after another.
why, then, did I tolerate what I tolerated?
should not I record my name
among the positions’ and orders’ people?
to strike with the same whip?
to set the same traps?
I do not think I exist for this.
and I know
why I do not seek help.
neither the fat,
nor the flesh.
I cry for that lightening spark
when it flashes from eternity
that soon wither away
have the spirits dried out
in the bodies of this city,
so that no solace remains
except the virgin of forgotten solitude?
It is the authority of death
crouching contently on our inner walls,
with the walls of a spacious prison
I sadly call: the world?
for freedom alone
I hanged my steps’ calendar
upon the wind…
(Translated from the original Arabic into English by Nageeb Awad)
Finding light in Sukna
The winter morning rises –
an old cough, sputum that tucks
itself in crevices of the iris.
A white crane carries
the sunlight in its beak and
dissolves it into the stream.
Light floats and fights, it
tires, and then, like an insect,
sucks out the day all at once.
Light is honey. It sweetens the
sight. And then it disappears.
Light is honey.
Light is a schoolboy walking
on a river, a prophet with a
stick. Light is a command.
Light is an untouchable girl
playing hopscotch on the
river. I wait, I play, I throw
a stone in the Sukna. A black
stone, blacker in the river, fights
with light. It loses. Light takes its
revenge – the stone turns
twig, long is round, and all
straight crooked. Light on the
Light is a promise
you said you’d keep. You’d
bring light and take some – from
You sneezed first,
and it shook. Light on the
Light is a
child you throw to the sky. Gather,
collect, hold. Light is a cracked heel
on the Sukna. Nurse.
You were a lover,
you thought light was the sound of
an animal, you wanted to capture,
to shoot, and tame. You threw out
a lasso to the light on the Sukna.
Like a lover
you returned – burnt. A singed
film roll – of light on the Sukna.
(for Arindam, lover of light)
Night by the Torsha
Night’s your nickname,
you swore by the Torsha –
and the cow-heel black night
Night is a scratch,
a blueblack bruise going sore,
you cursed, dipping the ends
of my hair in the Torsha. The
wet dripping joy became the night.
Night is a neighbourhood
aunt you once eavesdropped
on. She’s going blind. Her breasts
sag, you say. They feed the day.
Night is excess bleeding
the sky. Night is light, light
looking at itself. Night is light
cleaning itself. Night is light
scrubbing your eyes.
watch but cannot see.
Look, there’s the night
seeping into the breath
of trees. Hear, there’s
the night licking the roof.
Hear, hear, the night’s
lapping. Shadows undress.
Night, night. Night is a refrain
without repetition. Night is pure.
Night. Night is a thief never
caught stealing. Night, night.
Night is a clothesline
sniffing at the wind. Night.
Torsha tickles the night.
The river’s a mat on which
the night rubs its feet. You
held my feet in your palms.
Soft. Tighten, you said,
commanding the night.
The skin creased. Stars
burst into shivers, the
night was a hiccup in
Night is a discipline, the
Torsha taught us. We ran
errands for it. You blew
my hair away from her face,
I helped her swallow
your tickles. And our skin,
our sticky unknowingness,
soaked the mint night.
the night. You held it on
your tongue. And then
you poured the basil leaf
night down my throat.
And the night was cured.
(for Ranjan, my night)
Maya Sharma Sriram
Butterfly-like, the mind flits
from line to line, verse to verse
searching nectar, finding manna;
gathers heady seductive words
in lusty, insatiable greedy thirst;
flutters dizzily, drunken, trapped
in swirling eddying melodious notes.
At last, swollen, sinks softly in a stupor.
By osmosis, pollinates wayward thoughts.
Tomorrow a song will ripen and fall
The Confessions of a City-phile
The City can be a fever in the brain with
a need to open the door to get the daily fix.
The pulse of the traffic throbs in the veins,
The aroma from bistros is the life-breath.
There’s a rush from watching the crowds
Exchanges on weather and cab-queues,
tossed casually like dressing on salads,
leave a pleasant after buzz: the safety
of knowing while remaining unknown..
Twinkling lights against the darkening sky
Switch on and off, like some complex code
evolved by a members of a mystifying club.
Sleep comes easy with awareness; this dance
returns at dawn with no new parts, or moves.
Your dreams waver, turn tumescent. Slink off…
You trace their story lines with a languid finger. You try
to bring them back.
They reject your advances during soporific afternoons.
They retreat into the greenrooms of your mind.
They’d rather wait for the night
when your eyeballs will rotate beneath watery lids,
and they can tangle up into a ball.
Your supine form seeks a shroud
beneath which you can dream… Your pupils dilate
in the dim purple of day’s end. Your hands slap at mosquitoes.
Body flounders in its own soup of desires. You don’t bother anymore
with the niceties of evening rituals. You don’t hope anymore
for a knight in shining amour, ready to race
his pennant down this turbid corridor. Though
you would have loved it of course. To usher him in
now that your dreams flit like moths
among summer candles. Whose sooty entrails
waver. Rise like ghosts from gravestones.
Abirami Arunachalam Velliangiri
Come April, they whisked me to you
a whole night’s journey, you waited in your Malayalee land
you were the gypsy queen, high throne priestess
dismissed me in a glance.
Your skull reeked of madness, every bone was mad
from garrulous pits you followed me around.
Crumbs of mind, sized me down –
Black Mustard Pea. You had these
Mona Lisa eyes, and such Malayalamness about you
I often wondered, did they musk coconut oil from you?
Picasso woman, bovine and square – all jaws and elbows,
did you really tap toddy and elope
baby strapped to back? Tibetan warrior,
you breast-fed your eldest, while you battled those demons
like father to a Jew.
Love was the corpse
I closed my eyes, I closed them shut
am the neo-
classical devil. I sway
Anjum Hasan works and lives in Bangalore. Her poems have been published in various magazines around the country.
Rumjhum Biswas has been writing poetry almost since she learned to read and write. It was her way of getting back at the world. Now a bespectacled and hopefully respectable mom of two and wife of one she continues to write poetry and also fiction, because while poets remain poor some fiction writers do get rich and that gives her hope. Her publications and mutterings are here: http://rumjhumkbiswas.wordpress.com/. She also jabbers from time to time at Flash Fiction Chronicles.Abirami Arunachalam Velliangiri Abirami Arunachalam Velliangiri started writing poetry out of envy of a fellow writer, to try and create something as beautiful. An Engineer, though not by choice, she is also an aspiring film maker who blogs to absolve Indian Cinema. She also writes short stories and essays.Vishal Sinha works and lives in New Delhi
Prabir Chatterjee is a village doctor in North Dinajpur. Visit his blog http://prabirkc1.blogspot.com/