The birds will come soon, painted storks and pelicans, fleeing the winter in strange places north, trusting their primal disposition, hollow bones bearing their nomadic burden with a lightness that fills the air, coming somewhere warm, somewhere to be, for a while, somewhere to live and birth and sing, for a while, there are no words for nation or border in birdsong, no grammar that draws boundaries, talk to them as they nest on tiny islands in the Cauvery, they will tell you there is no separate word for freedom either, it is the same as the word for being alive.
The poem is not a lover. A lover wants comfort, cajoling,
even the cold-hearted ones keep coming back for
reassurance. The poem is not a friend. It is not there
to listen, to reinforce, to hug. The poem is not a child.
Even though you birthed it. Even though you dress its
wounds and feed its soul. It will deny your motherhood
in a second, without remorse. That evening, on the terrace,
the Cauvery bare below us, her sandy underbelly exposed
to the stars, the night dipping lower and lower and finding
no reflection, you said the poem was a river. One that
came from the low mountains, that begged for rain, that
in the summer swallowed its own words to slake its thirst.
I watched the ink run through a forest, tumble down the
hills chased by monsoon clouds, the abundance running over
its banks, spreading through the fields, the villages, the
rotting bodies, like blood from a head wound- a river in
rage, the page blank, flapping wet against my dismembered
limbs. How do I make you see the boat crossing that river?
There will be no headstone,
where will you go to grieve at sunset?
I want to be there to read your thoughts,
they say we remember things differently.
Will you forget in an ungodly sequence,
hear me speak in another’s voice?
Will remaining be so arbitrary?
Will you go to a place we went together,
some other quietness that lets you fall gently,
a public square where crowds fester and
we can be strangers again in unseeing eyes?
Will you come on days like this
when it rains in dots and dashes
like the sky has a message to send,
after all I too am now of the water.
Maybe I will leave you a note,
like fish do, stuck on the wetness,
remind you to bring cigarettes and cake,
oh, and daisies.
That August monsoon.
Weren’t they yellow daisies?
is an owl,
its head twisted two hundred
and seventy degrees, selective
memory stepping into sharp
focus, the present uncertain, going
both ways, going
nowhere. I make
lists. Of things I
want to remember. Of
things I must forget. Things that
want to be both. Important little
things that can’t make
up their minds. I make
lists, my arm extending
into the mottled darkness before
me, my eyes still
you in the feathered
light I left
The horizon runs like a thread through
all the lives I never lived-
lives that wilt like strung jasmine
in the oiled braid of a soft hipped lover-
we walk fast as if it is late
too late to go back to the beginning
to the stillness when we were waiting-
and the train hadn’t rolled in
and the skies were still swollen
and the jasmine was still bud-
the tracks disappearing, always distant
on a journey
when it started raining
when the flowers bloomed
strangers that never touched
that never cried-
I never knew your name
I never knew love
or the wet touch of rain-
you asked once
in the voice of a night time ocean
you asked once
as if regret is a choice like the full moon
you asked once
in a life I never lived
what are the odds?
You can hear the cages rattling, people trapped in
degrees of macabre, struggling to get out, their poetry
sliding out through the bars, unheard by the guards,
escaping into the night. Becoming stars. We watch. We
have no words, not even murmurs of cold consolation.
What can we write from the safety of our beds when we
have appropriated the moon into our harems, made the
ocean our boudoir? Even the mirage is our gilt handled
mirror. Our false notes resound across the forsaken desert.
The truth grimaces, tries to balance on one leg. I curl up
alone, earth-dyed and tongue-tied, notebook empty. The
calligraphy of pain is benign in the eyes of silent spectators.
The captives don’t let me share their suffering for the same
reason the guards won’t let me dare their entitlement.
Prisoner (Der Gefangene) by Christian Rohlfs (1918)
There can be no hesitation, no delicacy in stripping the
structure from life, sinking its bones, crushing the weight
of its expectations till it wobbles like a loose-limbed cloud,
going where the wind takes it. You cannot take this hour,
this day and start nailing calendars on its walls, leave potted
chrysanthemums on its front steps. Things move to their own
rhythm or not at all. Pain is not tidal. The moon is a scapegoat.
Everything we were can’t be history, there is no linearity to
love. It fills a moment like light, at will. That is no basis for
extrapolation- of love itself or of time. I knew that, didn’t I? I
buried life’s ribcage with my own hands, set its bleeding heart
free, read its funeral prayers. How did I become its prisoner?