The edge of what you don’t know and cannot feel

Then you make lists of those you loved (some true) and
those who loved you back and suddenly you understand

distance and space and curvature, the bigness of small
things and how to solve for x. Doesn’t a lifetime only

get you to the edge of what you don’t know and cannot
feel? God, for instance, is a mango tree, flowering in

season, interrupted by pests or a lot of sunshine or a
little rain. Four years ago, a couple made crazy adulterous

love under one tree and it refused to fruit all summer (this,
entirely, is true). There is a reason why broken parts

together weigh more than the whole (this too, is true,
because to know grief is to know heaviness, to know how

to trap air in your open fist). But all this, because I was
sitting under a mango tree, praying it would not rain (not

true for clouds are clouds), because so much comes apart
when you have to run, mid-thought, to where it all began.

Makeshift Eden

Dusty bougainvillea — the pink of rotting beetroot peel —
necks craned over the fence, hibiscus heads nodding,

somehow white petals staying white, an advertisement for
peace or surrender, even though war is in perennial bloom.

From skin to earth to sky, the premise for battle is made
holy. We have perfected want so it resurrects itself out of

reason. Reason that keeps us safe. Reason that makes gods
make us make gods. In a scratched pan, over an open fire, we

fry fish, fresh from the lake, poisonous, perhaps, from
effluents and humans, but we have scrubbed it with so

much turmeric, countered the bitterness of chemicals with
garlic and spices, this scrap of makeshift Eden, its back against

this city – we act like the air is fresh here, act like the stars
are visible, act like it’s fine, us being here, us drinking wine, us

being where we cannot see the bodies, us eating dead fish,
their eyes white, staying white, the colour of burnt fear.

A crow flies backwards

a crow flies backwards
over the house
in which a young man took his life

the old shaman says everything
must go back to that moment
when hope abandoned his heart

the earth must kneel
and surrender that time
to the universe —

but resurrection is not enough,
doesn’t that kind of death
demand retribution?

shouldn’t the cosmos fold itself
into the darkness
where pain turned to harm?

the crow lands back on a bough
and swallows its song,
there is the weighted silence of dread

eternity bows low, a sun
repurposes the sky — who will ask,
who will grant forgiveness now?

Here Now

Through the cracks in the asphalt, new grass rises—
this city has been silent for too long, disquiet has

settled in its bones. The scab of history was scratched
open by asymmetric tears but how can it be war when

one side always wins? When the falsehood of few
becomes the truth of many? The skill of perception, the

eye peering through the prism doesn’t see the other
looking back at it. A battle with no front line, no

rhythm, no rules — in human versus human, faith
cannot be the arbiter. Consider the evidence, death

needs a path to be meaningful, so it can become
the end. Life needs pain to know that it is still alive.

And yet this city is numb, an uncertain mist shrouds
every exit. Here, now, why are the odds still skewed?

Day 65

She always gave up just before hammering the final nail. Whatever the debate, he never got very far. She started at the edge, hands reconstructing the world in the space between them, spice jars and spoons framing coordinates for her arguments. Suddenly, she would stop, mid-argument, and concede, submission stained red on her warm cheeks. He hated her for losing. Even like that. Even to him. What kind of love demanded this? What kind of marriage created this? He was never sure how to accept victory when he wanted the aching comfort of loss. He thought of his lover instead, her desire so lush, her wit so dry, as if the universe and every quark in it was created only as a hapless target for her humour. How often had he stayed up all night wanting to hear her shred reality into the kind of laughter that came from a faraway place of longing. A longing for everything to be wrong. A longing for everything to be right. He wondered if he could love her in silence. In tears. With a face without secrets. Or on the other side of a wall that could not be broken down with a clever word. He wondered if she loved him in that warped way – where theirs was a world within a world, the penultimate babushka doll that they dared not open, fearing the end. Would she still be real if he woke in a sea of abject darkness? What was she thinking about now? Maybe love is just the universe’s way of paying for its mistakes. Maybe life is the irony that love must endure just to be. Maybe it is all an orgy of expectations and improbables that time conjured up when it was doing nothing.

Outside, the lockdown raged as a noiseless storm. Birdsong floated above the trepidation of the occasional car. The dry summer was slipping away into the arms of another approaching cloud. It felt like mornings rose, hungover from too much quiet. 65 days of being inside. 65 days of a rectangle of window-framed sky. 65 days. Of being all alone. He couldn’t remember when his phone had stopped working.

 

Flash Fiction #6
Flash Fiction #5: Lockdown

The opposite of death

Again and again, I want this life to return, like
a haunting. Until my bones can recite antonyms

in the night. What is the shadow of breath? What
is the inverse of moonlight? What is the antithesis

of the hours you wedged under one leg of the wobbly
earth? The gate to dawn, so long shut, is creaking.

Every mistake wants to be resurrected. Repeated.
Consequences wait at the old places. The traps have

bared their primal teeth. The body knows where
it should burn, where it should wound. Touch is

habit. Desire is the prophesy that can be read only
in a mirror. What is normal if dystopia is an obvious

palindrome? What would be, if not this life? What
do we do with love that is not the opposite of death?

 

While I try to compile them into a more readable format, the 55 posts from the lockdown series will also be accessible through a widget on the sidebar. Check it out!

Curfew: Day 54

Lockdown notes:

1. 54 days is a variable that depends
on where you were when it began

2. 54 days is a language with no
alphabet or sound

3. Mute sorrow has the same
genome as cold outrage

4. The chasm without a bridge
is a chronic wound

5. This death knell moonlights
as a wind chime

6. Randomness is as much a choice
as choice is random

7. Fairness, like the moon, is a deviant,
yet it enchants poets and lovers

8. A god is more consequential by
absence

9. People who hugged strangers before
will do so again

10. Flowers don’t make you happy. When
you’re happy you see the flowers

11. In this hush, even poetry is a privilege
that must end

but we have come this far
and are still exactly
where we started

Lockdown #3 ends today – 54 days since it began on March 25th. This series of daily lockdown posts ends here. Life, or some version of it, will go on. For the generations that did not witness war or partition, the relentless visuals of human suffering will be a mirror and hopefully, change us forever.

 

Also read:
Curfew: Day 53

Curfew: Day 53

24 migrant workers (travelling on top of a loaded truck,
were killed in an accident, on a highway far from home)

no eternal flame/ no memorial/ no statues/ no
flower lined graves / not even a bunch of poppies/ not
even names scratched on a crumbling wall/ though this
is still a war/ though there are still dead people/ people that
nobody knew/ whose stories will never be told/ just a
swollen statistic contains all that they will never be/ I ask
in whose name does the Ganga still flow/ in whose name do
the mountains still stand/ in whose name do we carry
on because lunch is still at 12.30 and dinner at 07.00/ and
sometime before dawn/ many people will be born and many
people will die/ that’s for the moon to make sense of/ what
do we owe dreams that are waiting at home/ for the sleepless
to arrive/ what do we owe roads that never reach/ what
does it matter because this is what was meant to be/ all that
is unfair will be washed away in another forgettable rain/

dear universe
if you can’t be just –
then just be kind today

For the millions of migrant workers making their way back to villages and towns in the hinterland, thousands on foot, walking hundreds of kilometres, as livelihoods are destroyed during the lockdown and hunger becomes a greater threat than disease.

 

Also read:
Curfew: Day 52

 

Curfew: Day 52

1 migrant worker (and the baby she had during
her long walk home)

Hope too is curfewed, hovering 1.8 metres away,
masked and gloved. Everything points to the

appearance of a god, let’s say goddess (but what
are the odds?), to take matters in her own hands

which of course makes the causality problematic,
but faith doesn’t necessarily have to rhyme with

reason. There must be a vanquishing, a triumph,
a reseeding of goodness and the inevitable miracle.

Or two. This is the time, isn’t it? What else could it
mean when the broken are still falling and the fallen

are still breaking , when you hear a million palms
join together, a million knees touch the ground, when

life wants to live longer and death needs to die sooner –
do we know the consequences of so much prayer?

how many dawns
will it take
to erase this endless night

For the millions of migrant workers making their way back to villages and towns in the hinterland, thousands on foot,walking hundreds of kilometres, as livelihoods are destroyed during the lockdown and hunger becomes a greater threat than disease.

Also read:
Curfew: Day 51

Curfew: Day 51

Six migrant workers (were run over by a speeding
bus while on a 1000 km journey home, on foot)

This poem knows nothing of your suffering.
All it can be is a poor witness. A public record

book is more of a poem, it has your name,
your story, even the colour of your eyes before

the dreams were stolen from them. A poem is
just so a poet can breathe. Just a low portal

through which a caravan of gloom has passed
without stopping. This poem is the view through

a window pane while the inferno rages out of
sight. But the poet is so safe inside, so distanced

from the flames that he cannot even smell the
smoke. Yet, this poem wants to talk about the burns

on your skin and the scars on your being. Just so
a poet can still remember what it was like to feel.

we have walked together
for so long – reached different places
for so long

For the millions of migrant workers making their way back to villages and towns in the hinterland, thousands on foot,walking hundreds of kilometres, as livelihoods are destroyed during the lockdown and hunger becomes a greater threat than disease.

 

Also read:
Curfew: Day 50