The arbiter of all sorrow

How do you lose something you never had? That
perceived loss contains an imagined belonging that
contains an unacknowledged loss that is premised
upon a right to belong and the circles get narrower
and narrower until it reaches a point where both
grief and denial exist. Grief that there is denial and
denial of that grief. Is that how the earth drifts
through seasons? How the sky needs a dark cloud?
The ocean is the arbiter of all sorrow. Who owns
the shore that it leaves again and again? A bird
that loves the rain not knowing when it will come,
not knowing how long it will stay, learns twenty ways
to say the word drought. It sings of a remembered
rain. It sings of a forgotten rain. Birdsong, if you can
translate it, is the original dictionary of contradiction.

Plan B

The earth is dying. Hope is eroding, at best. Faith
is sustainable and will persist as long as the last

glacier resists the ice-melt. God was our Plan B.
For when it all became too much. Or we were the

cosmic Plan B. For when it all seemed too little.
All that is broken now, with the wild weather,

with the disappearing creatures, with the
invading seas. We reneged on our deal with

the planet. Defaulted on Plan B. A hungry bird
swoops low towards a pair of yellow-eyed fish.

Changes its mind and settles on a thirsty branch.
Eating the last two fish cannot be the answer. A

strange fox watches from the shadows. Cursing
the wasteland, he waits for the bird to drop.

I say nothing

I say nothing. But nothing is not a vacuum.
Think of a very small number. A very big
zero. There are degrees of nothing, decimal
places with codes and guides. The sum of
several somethings, big little things, things
that cancel each other out. An empty theatre
is nothing. A moonless sky is nothing. You
see the equations slipping into the fault lines?
A poet dies. This too is nothing. A liberation
of being, negated by the poems that will
forever be shackled to an open window.
Waiting. For nothing. You ask if I am alright.
I say nothing. There are big things and little
things duelling for air. I make a list. I cancel a
list. Flutter. Fall. Say nothing. How are you, you
ask again. Maybe you are just being polite.

At this hour

Poems don’t rise like firebirds here, kindling hope
and faith and new dimensions. They waddle, lazy,
awkward, with nothing much to say. Redemption

from mediocrity must be sought from other sources.
But at this hour, she steps out of that house, still
warm with desire, a koel nibbles on the moon-mouth

trapped in the neem tree, a street light, dew-diffused,
slips between her skirt and skin, a gulmohar branch
scrapes the top of a milk truck, red flowers scattering

everywhere, a petal sticks to the bottom of her shoe,
like evidence, as if someone is watching, strays whimper
in the grammar of dawn, early sunbeams arch along

her curves as she turns into the bend — at this hour, just
common longing, an unremarkable crow gathering the
dark, awkward, lazy, poems with nothing much to say.

So much, So loud

Maybe if someone presses their face against
a glassy sky and screams, so much, so loud,

the glass will shatter and all that is hidden
behind the absolute blue will rush out, deluge

after deluge, sweeping me with it, no longer
sky, no longer glass, no longer night or day,

just a unified mass, a weeping singularity that
cannot stand the pain, so much, so loud. We

were not supposed to be like this. How does
one heart hold a sky full of grief? Where will it

go when it breaks, that sky full of grief? I watch
another cloud mass move in. It has been raining

for eleven days straight. The monsoon is a lover
who will not be denied. How many hearts, how

many skies, how much of crying makes a deluge?
How many rainy days makes a sky full of grief?

In a particular way

I could split like sunlight to show you my
colours, but would that be too cliched for
you? Even the violet of new bruises still
too tender to touch? Even the indigo-blue

of ink stains from the written, unwritten? So
what if the writing and the reading were in
different languages? The green of things I
wanted but could not have? This of all things

you know well. But green has the audacity to
dry, given time, to fall and rot in the cold. And
yellow, its every shade, every fear, eating slowly
into everything else. There were tangerine

evenings, staining skies, foretelling the dark, the
dark that was to come, that always came.
See my unanswered questions burn into this
molten red? Helpless anger is fevered blood,

difficult to live with, difficult to die from. But
even in the silent wet, don’t you have to be
there, looking up at the sky, at a particular
time, in a particular way, to spot a rainbow?

****

I happened to see Paul Jenkins’ splendid painting “Rainbow Bleed” after I wrote the poem… and really felt it spoke to me. We need to find the colours we are made up of. 

Broken Wing

Dreams – Langston Hughes
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
The Blue Bird – Marc Chagall

Both these impressions came on the same day. Strangely. I ended up writing this:

 

Broken Wings

How much sky can a little heart bear? Birds
don’t know how to fix their broken wings.

There is no repair shop in that far-bazaar,
no shaman in a flowery cape, with poultice

and a magic spell, to wrap a wing in lengths
of cloud, to dab the sweat off a throbbing

brow, to chant healing into a feathered
ear, while crossing her fingers behind her

back to say: here, here, universe, your path to
repentance begins here. It’s funny what you

want to see, looking up, alone, at a moondust sky,
when you don’t dare admit that you are hurting.

Broken Beginnings

How long will you deny
those silhouettes
teetering on the edge?
Broken beginnings
stories barely held together with
chewing gum and stolen tape:
broken beginnings mistaking
survival for choice
existing for life
‘moving on’ for dragging
one shackled foot
in front of the other
in front of the other…

What is more corrupt than
the false idiom of success?
When the finish-line is static
no matter where you start,
no matter how you start
there is still a race, still judgement
from the bleachers, still a winner?

The abyss is endless, terrifying.
I toss a little rock and watch it
disappear, face first.
What is the velocity of a falling dream?
How long will it fall before it finds wings
and floats away into the vacuum?
Winning is not relative.
Where is that dubious podium?
Where is my victory parade?

How long will you deny it?
At the very edge, you will
find detritus: gum, tape,
wing, impossibility, a shiny
medal no one
ever won…

Friend

It is not a tryst, not a beginning, not a confession. Definitely not a conversation. Don’t say anything.

If, in a moment of strange alignment, I make the uneven journey from within myself to what you see, what you think you see; if, in that moment of random foolishness, I peel away the façade, the armour, the wall after wall of defence; if, in that moment of irrational truth, I let you in on something real, then, don’t say anything. Let me have that moment. Let me step into the light. Let me cast my shadow. Let me happen. Let me come free.

You see that moon, alone, adrift in the pitch-dark sky, the moon that doesn’t know it shines, the moon that bears its scars alone, the moon too far to hear a word, the moon that came in through my window once to say it has the darker side…

…that moon used to be my friend.

just one night
without an impending dawn
just one night

Untold forest

It is okay to have stories that you will never tell anyone.

It is okay to have trees grow inside you that fall when no one is around. It is okay if it is an entire forest.

It is okay if that forest burns one night and turns to desert.

It is okay if in that desert an ugly flower blooms. And you don’t know its name. And you don’t tell anyone.

It is okay because a stranger will see you from a moving bus and think to himself that there must be a big desert inside your heart because your eyes see nothing that they see and there must be in that desert a single flower blooming because you still cast a light.

It is okay if you never meet that stranger and he forgets your face. It is okay that the stranger has no light. It is okay even if that was the best version of yourself and the only one who saw it and mistook it has forgotten about it.

It is okay that it is pointless right up to the end, that no one knows the pain, no one shares the surging joy, that no one sees the suffering. It is okay that it is all for nothing, that the erasure will be swift, will be surgical, the space you occupied will fill quickly, easily, as if it never was, as if you never were. It is okay that your existence is not validated by someone else.

That someone too has stories they are never going to tell.

stopping
suddenly, midway,
this too is a destination