Below? Above? An arrow without a head? As if the
universe has a label showing which side is up? Unbox
life and stars spill out on ice cold sheets. Square
stars to fit your oval skies. Soft stars that dissolve in
your eyes. Not everything is meant to be. Not
everything beautiful happens on a full-moon night.
But aren’t you better than a moon that cannot account
for borrowed light? Some things are better upside
down. Some things are better displaced. What if the
morning shifts as it wakes up in pain in your bed? What
if the evening changes the locus of your dream? What
if a word running into a sentence running into a verse has
no place to stop and read? Aren’t there things unmoving,
things without wings, things still broken, forever fixed?
What one poet learnt from 2020:
Preview DRAFT 1.x
- 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.
Can’t write that story because who would believe
it, I wonder, myself, how much of it is true, pain is
surreal even as it throbs, a Dali-esque landscape with
no sign posts. Perhaps, that’s all there is to living:
running faster than memory, so it falters, flattens,
fattens as it pursues my reluctance, becomes a
disconnected shadow that has no locus, no umbilical
cord. No mother. I want to write of the day that came
unstuck from that storyboard of same-same mornings
and self-devouring nights. Something changed then. Or
maybe I only noticed it in that moment. Or maybe I
made it up. You can’t return to what you left behind
except as a stranger. What was the colour of the moon’s
unseeing eye? To remember, to remember is to lie.
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.
All September, this city swathed in rain, sorrow has
prospered in the damp air and all the things we have
broken, we cannot put back: not like this monsoon
sky that will reset itself, no scratch, no seam, leaving
us to wonder — if we imagined all the grey mornings
after all the stormy nights, if touch, too, was a dream,
if water was an affliction, if detachment came from
the separation, or fastened itself to the silence (tiny
spores of colourless indifference, growing on a forever
bed of contoured waiting) — if in the molten dark, we
reached to wipe the washed light from the face of the
moon, skin brushing skin, strangers, in the silvery wet?
I was writing a set of “City Poems” last year that was supposed to organically grow into a chapbook of some sort. Of course, 2020 effectively destroyed all creative mind space and everything seems to be on some kind of endless pause. Somehow, from that muscle memory or from a sense of foreboding, this poem has emerged into the light. From comments and discussions, I can tell several poets are struggling to write. One left a message on my blog today that she hoped to be inspired to write again. This is probably the best thing we can do for each other – hope someone finds some words and hope those words will help us find ourselves.
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?