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…

Let me be

The storm – J.M.W. Turner (1840-45)

****

If that is all I learnt:
to see a storm and
draw a teacup around it
so I can feel safe
so I can stay calm
so I can be in control
if that is all I want now
if that is all I am now
then I don’t want
this growing up

Let me look that storm in the eye
Let me paint it bigger
so it swallows the horizon
Let me paint it louder
so it can match my scream
more anger, more anguish
more hyperbole, more
theatre of wet and light and dark
Let me chain that feckless moon that
slips in and out of the churn
Let me mock the heaving sky
that turns itself inside out
Let me feel the trembling
underbelly of the universe

Let me shatter your teacup
Let me steal all your boats
Let me be until I am
Let me be that storm

Hurt from Hurt

disentangling
from you:
bruise from bruise
touch from touch
look up, cable tv and power lines
hold up our mottled sky
lies rise above that grid
so do prayers —
the more ridiculous among them
self-destructing at precise altitudes —
falling like ashes
like dead birds, fallen angels,
limb from limb
mouth from mouth
truth sinks, heavy,
corroding the body from the sole
somewhere in between
skin is washed
over and over
shedding fingerprints,
scrubbed like flint, causing fire,
burning time
the universe swirling, once, twice,
mixing in soap scum,
escaping down the drain,
nothing from nothing
I think this can be heaven
neither lie nor truth
nor prayer nor filth
just a fucking bruise
you touch sometimes
so you can tell
scream from scream
hurt from hurt
being from being