No one knows how to heal our broken world,
barely held together by twisted concertina
wire. We made enough to circle the night.
Several times. How else will we protect us
from ourselves? How will we decide which
side is free? Truth burns blue on the pyre,
it’s final act of resistance is to choose if
it should turn into smoke or ash. Then why
does the air still reek of toxic optimism?
Aren’t bright eyes and unbidden cheer
frightening in the dark? I push his hand away.
Hope, I tell him, is just another four-letter
word. He laughs, his breath oddly warm,
frankly, what other option do you have?
Lay down the aphorisms, brick by brick. Play word-
tricks: the awkward juggler has to catch all the
balls tossed in the air, here homonyms fall neatly,
at their pleasure. Isn’t war, unwarranted? Isn’t man,
manipulated? Was there a poet present when light
emerged to rhyme with night? Dot every ‘i’ in
strength and truth and togetherness. Open a popular
wound. Hyphenate the personal and the eternal.
Bleed a little. This always works. Show just enough
flaw so it seems perfect. (They have learnt this from
sighing at the moon.) Cross every ‘t’ in grief and smile
and morning. Pour a free-size ending that fills every
thirsty mouth. Hurry. Is there room between the first
right and the last rite for one more rhetorical question?
Poetry is dead. Long live the poems.
Does the poet still bears the burden of dissent,
of finding new words for a retro revolution,
when there are none left?
Let the seas rise, the cities fall. Let the snow melt.
Let the last of the evil fly one-winged, out of that box.
Let the chasms widen until
there are no more rivers to run through them.
Let people be divided over and over and over again
till they fit in tiny spreadsheet cells.
Let me be gathered as a data point by a factory of
algorithms that build a bubble around me.
Wasn’t it the scriptures that said that the world is just
perception. (And that was before Facebook.)
What do you want to resist most, today?
What outrage fills your coffee cup this morning?
How many odd tweets does it take to draw an even breath.
Because I have no poem for you to declaim.
No verse for you to hang your mask on.
No couplet. (What rhymes with orange or against?)
Go stand upon your upturned crate and say to the
three-and-a-half people around you that
poetry is long dead. Gone.
Now kneel for a minute in silence.
What one poet learnt from 2020:
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- It is never too early for an outro.
- Rain is louder than thoughts, but only in the first
four three minutes. Our Your shadow is still stuck to my wall, where it was cast, without care, that last weekend before the first lockdown.
- At some point, I turned this year into a convenient excuse.
Like you did.
- Probability is inversely proportionate to the length of silence. Words however cannot change the outcome.
- If so much pain seems senseless, a
little little happiness, by extension, is senseless too.
- Every existential equation is solved in the songs the birds made up when humans emptied the streets.
- The thing is, phone calls end.
Like life. Like time.
- It doesn’t take that long for “every day felt like a year” to become “a year that felt like a day”. (It takes a day. Or a year.)
- Isolation is terrifying without a secret preoccupation. (Unless you are secretly preoccupied with the terrors of isolation, in which case the preoccupation is terrifyingly isolating.) (Why secret?)
- Being a poet during a pandemic is a test of brevity. How best can the endless void, the featureless grey wrapped sky, the road that bends into the horizon, the distance that is measured in everything other than distance — how best can the infinite be compressed into neat lines that in the seventh reading still make
- Size has swapped meaning. Big has turned small. Little is too much. Consider. The Universe. One word. Forever. Now.
- Mostly, just #11.
- Truly, just #4. But concise is always a verse, thirteen verses too long.
It’s hard. Not all of 2020 can be kneaded into grief-
shaped poems, most parts are so silent and so
alone – pages filled with punctuation marks that
have lost their words: forlorn ellipses going nowhere,
commas waiting between space and space and question
marks that know answers have been quarantined.
Not all of 2020 can be shaped into light, darkness
shifts in unexpected places, strange, defiant. On a mid-
November Diwali morning, in a year that broke in
March, I wonder what poetry is – anymore? Stepping six
feet away from a stranger, I look into his indifferent
eyes. I pretend he is smiling behind his cotton mask.
A flash of inspiration from Khaya’s post. Happy Diwali! Wish you love and light and – a vaccine!
Come quickly then, familiar stranger, familiar
touch, familiar taste — love waits to flower in
the cold sun of November. We will moult the
skins of the months of separation and find that
our snake souls are chameleons: changing colour
to match the unslept sheets. Nothing learnt,
nothing gained in the static months, racing into
familiar fields to reap what we never thought to
sow. How long, how long before we remember
these times of distance again, fondly, like a
memory, like an ache, like a fervent prayer?
Winter will come, with its lantern light and
unfeeling skies, winter will come like a train
on a moonless night, as if nothing ever happened.
The pandemic has settled like protracted fog on the asphalt,
a needy god wanders the empty streets, faith like a cold stone
in his pocket. Here, at the traffic light, where the push carts
sold biryani and men jostled outside the tiny paan stall,
there are only insomniac shadows of dreamless sleepers.
You think the moon knows, or the birds? That something is
amiss? You think the heart now understands the birds and
the moon? Distance, the incongruity of touch, curvature,
the texture of skin as a nameless want? There is gossip in
estranged doorways about the lover who waited too long.
About a love that waited too long. We breathe in the spectre
of death. Who knows about the alchemy of absence? Between
us, this city expands. It’s funny how the jacarandas blossom
and fall and blossom and fall as if none of this really matters.
This blog is six years old today. I want to thank all my readers for their support and encouragement and the shared love for poetry. Stay safe, everyone.
Beyond this wall of grey, what if there is another
sky, in which a lone bird rises and the light, the
enduring light, refuses to cast its shadow. You erase
the bird, you deny the light, you mock the sky. But
can you feel the wings breaking through your skin?
That pain is relief, is proof of life. See the blood pooling
around your feet, look again, look up, whatever held
you to this ground has left your arms a long time ago.
The sentence has shrunk into a word at the tip of your
tongue. Say it, drain the sorrow from your bones. Fly.
Break open a poem and time spills out, not
quite like sand from a fist, too small, too tight;
not quite like rain from a cloud that has drifted
too long — break open a moment within a word,
within a line, and all the moments before it spill
out, not quite like the blur from a speeding train:
the contained is rarely smaller than its container –
possession is only a manner of being. Break open
this night, hold its screams apart, see, all the things I
thought I could bear, can no longer bear themselves.
As if there are words that actually mean what we
think, what we feel: the keyboard is an absurd
compromise, an approximation, the discord between
manifest alphabet and mind is the dark sky of day.
To listen, to read, is to dress the naked body,
impale an ill-fitting soul upon its breast, to tell it
your secret, give it a name. The reader declares
possession, the listener misappropriates pronouns.
Didn’t you say goodbye like an onomatopoeic verb
with nine syllables for retreating footsteps? Wasn’t it
the whole poem you wrote — while all you wanted
was for the moon to interrupt, just one more time?