The shape of hope

Bush fires, an almost-war, an impeachment trial, more hate, more weird weather, more inaction – could this year have got off to a worse start? Here in India, led by the young, people are out on the streets protesting a divisive, communal citizenship law. They tell us, in no uncertain terms, that however bad it gets, there will be people who will resist, who will dissent and who will fight for what is right and just and beautiful. They are our shape of hope.

Poetry is another matter altogether. 2019 was a great year, personally – I was lucky to publish a collection and to get a pushcart nomination. They were the shape of my hope. But January brought the cold and thick grey walls that words cannot penetrate. Instead, I have been working on a new chapbook. The compilation plays grave tricks on my mind – screaming at the pointlessness of the effort, even as I soullessly move words around the page. But that’s the thing- it has to be whipped into a shape that even hope will acquiesce to wear. Right now, it is all formless and uphill.

So, it is with no surprise that I found that another publication that carried my work, shut shop at the end of 2019. Haibun Today, that published a little Tanka prose I wrote has gone off the air and am only glad its archives are still accessible. Here’s the piece they carried:

Inevitable

Perhaps your leaving was meant to be. One day there was the crunch of our footsteps on splashes of colour and the next the white expanse of a winter that mandates a quick indrawn breath even though the snow had been foretold. Even though the emptiness had been sung. Even though the last chinar leaf had danced through the space between us as if farewell is not a broken word but a private ritual of bough and dusk and wind that we watch from the bedroom window. Safe. Warm. For a while.

drop by drop
a hesitant light
fills the monk’s bowl—
night withers
into a small shadow

 

 

If you remember, a few weeks ago, I told you that another publication, Calamus Journal, had wound down as well. How many more, I wonder. Now, I hope your year has had a better start. If you have inspiration to share in the form of a new poem you wrote or just kind words to cajole the muse, bring them here, they are much needed and very welcome.

 

Best of 2019

I just saw this ‘best-of-2019’ list (is it December already?) in The Guardian and, well, I put these books into my ‘must-read’ for 2020. The best poetry of a year that has almost gone, some from poets I have never heard of, hitting the high spots against ‘racism, authoritarianism and masculinity’.

It is a message that good poetry, the best poetry, has to stand for something. Or against something. And there is a lot going on, that should not go on, that perhaps needs poetry to be its record keeper. There’s a lovely literary journal called ‘Poets reading the News’ that does this in real time. They call it ‘Journalism in Verse’.

But there is brilliant, visceral poetry that is written with the ooze from raw wounds – demanding, pleading, crying for the world to be a better place. There is also poetry filled with the raw materials of moonlight and dawn sky, whispering, whistling, dancing the world into a more beautiful state. That poetry too, is often birthed from pain.

Do you wonder how your poetry fits into the real world? If it does? Slotting in like the missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle or just waiting like too many consonants in a scrabble play hoping someone will open up a few vowels on the board?

the more I show you
a mirror –
the more I see my own face

 

And why a haibun (not a haibun, just haibun-esque let’s say) came about today will remain a subject for a later post.

Act VI

Life had not snuck silently past. It had been a slow, deliberate, high-octane drama played out in five acts, with staccato dialogue and questionable direction, hysteria and inept expression, banal music and imagined climaxes, its protagonists as naked from the back rows as from the front, its predilection towards a trite end evident in the rank imperfection of its beginning.

The books in her vast mahogany shelves were the changing backdrop as one set disappeared into the darkness and another was arranged with more tired fonts, more worn clichés and more minimalist emptiness. The rectangular void of those gone filled with more benign contradictions, carefully curated so the new bore no resemblance to the old. Tolstoy, Gibran, Eliot, Marx, Gandhi, Whitman, Tao, Baldwin, Tagore, Aurelius, Nietzsche – the coming and going of the books like konnakol beats, vocalized percussion rhythms, that traced her every movement— faster, slower, towards, away, louder, softer, year after year, feet dancing, feet dragging— the scenery changing, until that moment in the darkened theatre, the sounds deafening, watching herself, a book clutched on her lap, turning, as if compelled by the tempo, catching the eye that caught hers, moving through time, feet dancing, feet dragging, even while she was spot lit on the stage, even while her head turned back from the fourth row, watching the seventh, naked, clothed, pulses in timeless meter, time stranded in the aisle, the book clutched harder, the book that had not fled, the book that had not replaced the one that had not fled.

The music cracks— a cough, a snigger, one beat too many, two beats too less, the mridangam drummer overcome with horror, the unseeing audience not seeing as phones twinkled between pockets and skin in arrhythmic insolence, the rustle of silken dhotis and sarees as the knowing knew and shifted uncomfortably, calves and eyebrows raised in arched judgement. The scene pauses till eyes shift and the spell is broken and the book falls and curtain falls and the backdrop is gone forever.

Life had not snuck silently past. She pushes her hair away from her face, still young, still old, still ageless, her heart loud in the forced interlude, the drama of her life drifting into act six without her on stage, without her in the fourth row, the empty seat in the seventh watching intently the empty circle under the spotlight, a slow violin sliding into the quiet, the book climbing into the seat in the fourth row, the empty seat three rows behind it burning through the back cover, still young, still old, still ageless. The drumbeats gone forever.

this mulberry tree, this worm, this untouched skin,
this silken shroud —
everything in lockstep

No longer is.

A door bangs shut. Something has entered. Or departed. What was, no longer is. What is, was not, a moment ago. Whatever has changed, has changed forever. And that door is firmly closed now. Who knows if it will ever open again. Who knows how long it had been shut. Who knows if it was open long enough for a paradigm to shift.

Were you present in that moment? Were you observer? Or bookkeeper? Did you enter? Did you leave? Were you the idea that was transformed? Or were you the door, open for a while to movement and now locked and bolted so the September wind knocks, waits, sighs and blows away, the wet footprints on the threshold, a fleeting clue, slowly unpainted by a placid sun.

 

sound of thunder
sky giving way
to sky

Micropoetry Month: Nov 2017: #18

Micropoetry MonthYesterday’s experiment with tanka impels me  to take it further with ‘Tanka Prose’. Like a haibun but with a signature tanka instead of a haiku, this is an excellent form to stretch one’s imagination and word crafting skills even further.

Try this or any other form of micropoetry and share using comments or Mister Linky.

Without Words

For days we climbed together. Sometimes they disappeared into the mist ahead, sometimes they lingered on the edges. I could always hear their whispered voices, even as the sky slipped closer. But now the words are gone and I have been orphaned by the need to speak. In their soundless absence, the river is just one ceaseless motion, the moon in it is just a point of reflection and this moment is both big enough to fill the universe and small enough to tremble as the cold wind rushes by. What will the birds call me if I do not have a name?

on the other side
of the horizon-
the eagle’s wing
dips into
the silent dark

 

Micropoetry Month: Nov 2017: #12

Micropoetry MonthHaibun is a wonderful style because lets you combine prose and poetry in a beautifully fluid way. Basho, the master, wrote it in such a simple, effortless style making his work timeless.
I have two rules for myself. 1. Keep the prose short. 2. The haiku should derive from the prose without being repetitive in word or content.

Write your own haibun or any other form of micropoetry and share using comments or good old Mister Linky!

It was the kind of morning that had all the answers – the square of anticipation, the differential of despondency, the coefficient of human failure. Hanging from the sky like a picture frame behind which we had once hidden the dark, its colours dissolving into sunshine streams, its birds flying in formation beyond its corners. It was the kind of morning that should dawn after a night like that. After you left, after I stayed, after I gathered the pieces, not knowing if they could ever be put back together again. The improbability of hope.

shrinking dusk
the lone raven steals
the last of the light

 

Rainbow Painter

It was so deep inside the dark that light, wading through the charcoal sea, arrived breathless at its door, too hungry and weak to knock, disintegrating rapidly, fading into the ripple-less night. Every night. And so it stayed buried, feeding on the solitude, on the molten ebony quiet, on its own mind, till it no longer remembered why it had come to be there, why it had come to be.

Again, the light burrowed further into the murk, a shadow of itself. How could it stop when it knew there was still something there, unseen, unrevealed? What if it had life, what if it was life? The universe furrowed its brow, the stars went into a huddle. Hadn’t it been said, that some things, some questions, even some answers were best left alone, to die?

from behind a cloud
the evening sun tries to catch
the rainbow painter

1024px-Inness,_George_-_The_Rainbow_-_Google_Art_Project

Source

Tenki Ame

The yellow dahlias were startled at first, then they shook their pretty heads in unison and laughed into the sudden sunshower. Behind me, the rhythm of her brass mortar and pestle unchanging as she hammered betel nut and lime into submission, the old woman cackled. I turned to see her toothless smile radiant across her cloudy face. “The raven and the fox are getting married,” she said as I strained to catch the slurred words, red juice pooling at the edge of her mouth. I nodded slowly at the old tale as she laughed again, her eyes filling. “So should you.”

I watched her. Half old crow and half cunning fox. Everything I knew, she had taught me since I was a little girl. I raised my face to the scent of the soft drizzle and imagined satin black wings that would let me fly into the freshly arched rainbows.

painted in liquid light
this grey gold sky
drips into my empty teacup

 

For Dverse Poets where the Haibun prompt is “Rain”. Tenki Ame is Japanese for sunshower.