Of books and journeys and an atlas that shrinks at the touch

At Tallinn’s Lennart Meri Airport, Estonian bookseller Rahva Raamat has a little nook where you can pick up a book to read as you wait for your flight, take a book with you that you can bring back later from your travels or leave a book for others to read. Browsing their shelves I found a signed copy of ‘In defence of the cherries’ – poems by Peter Sragher and Claus Ankersen. I’d never heard of either of them, but sometimes a book gives you that long look, insisting it has something inside – just for you. A faint tingle of anticipation for the known unknown. A biting of the lip. A narrowing of the eye. There is no resisting that invocation.

So two things happened.

One, I couldn’t just take the book, even with the honest intention of finding a way to send it back to Tallinn at some point. So I left a copy of ‘Water to Water’ on the shelf, hoping my poems would find their own readers and their own journey. After all, that’s how poetry should happen to you – accidentally, without warning, just filling the space between your hands with something so intensely personal that you wouldn’t have even dared to acknowledge you needed.

And then, as I do with poetry books, I settled down and opened a page at random. The poem was titled: Farmer Poem on ‘The Ethos of Place’ and poetic nomadicity*.  My eyes followed the asterisk to the bottom of the page:
* This poem was written in India.
Now, this book is bilingual, published in Romania. I was in Tallinn, after a drive through the Baltics. The arc of poetry was bending towards my physical being in ways I still could not imagine.

So I read the poem, a rather long poem, that talks about “how nomads and poets always yearn/ for a belonging they can not embrace and rarely fathom/” I shivered. Yes. But the next page had more: “Did I tell you that/ one night in Bangalore, after a festival, all left to my own/ whorish worldly dances/ I took an auto to Koshy’s*, had vegetable curry, a paratha,/ fried fish and beer/ and among all the nomads and waiters dressed in white/ I faced my Karma Bhoomi:/ I am a wandering wordsmith/ as fleeing as the wind.” I didn’t need to follow the asterisk this time. I knew the place, the waiters’ uniform, the taste of that food, the trouble with wandering and words. And home. I have been there. Often. Coincidence is a probability. Strange is a constraint of knowledge. Koshy’s is an old restaurant in downtown Bangalore.

everything is connected
sometimes you are the dot, sometimes the space, sometimes the line
even your denial means something in another language

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Afterthought

I was a cat then
and now I am this
nine births removed —

beside me, the tree,
that is still a tree,
watches a fragrant
jasmine creeper
climb up its roots to
seduce the decrepit
moon. It knows —

a single bee
hangs in the
unmoving air
like an unpleasant
truth —

trying to be human
damages the soul so
it can no longer be
recycled, washing up
on a faraway shore,
killing the fish
that ignorantly
race to feed upon
its unbroken bits —

a single flower
falls on the earth
where we lie,
the cat and I
together, nine deaths
removed —

Water to Water – on Amazon

 

From different journeys

I travel backwards even as the rest of the train flees
in the opposite direction. The man in the opposite

seat lets a newspaper fall. We pick it up from
different journeys, fingers briefly touching. I tell

myself the earth is a sphere, the horizon is my orbit.
I will arrive where he arrives, sooner or later. Some

people traverse yesterdays better than they ford
tomorrows. The train lingers at stations. The sepia

dust dances in a light beam of failure. Mirrors still
reflect the pink regret of long ago. What if creation

had made us before it made time? What would love be
then – at this station that is both the next one and the

previous, in this moment that has passed and is still
occurring, in this vector along which I have moved and

am still waiting? I watch the man leave, the paper
under his arm, understanding and still not knowing.

Print/e-book on Amazon

Myself From Myself

disappointment is raw sky
before it paints its face innocent blue,
where the blackness sears your eyes,
a fire that you cannot see or put out,
where you grasp the stars so you will not fall,
how many points do they have?
why do they gash and cut my palm, leaking blood
that will not leave the body?
disappointment is seeing the moon
strung from hooks with steel cables,
a falsehood made of recycled dreams,
how many hopes were pinned on a piece
of dented aluminium glitter?
in the back streets of the city where
the asphalt and trees have a washed out
mediocrity, the crows look tired and ashen
and the cats are mangy, as if they would rather
starve than eat the tasteless gutter rats,
from there to the top of the mountain
is a million steps, the only way to rise
is to cut strips of yourself, unburden
yourself of yourself as you go, and yet
tonight, reaching the top, flat and empty, my head
half buried in the undressed sky,
seeing reality lie after lie,
was it all for nothing? but wait,
you can prise out sunbeams buried in the dirt
and slide down to where you began,
but there is a question, a ticket clerk
at a half window, bespectacled, asking you
who you are, apparently there is a right answer
to exit purgatory and go back to the beginning,
to the foot of the mountain that
you cannot climb without ridding yourself
of yourself. I told him I was everything I wasn’t,
I wasn’t anything I was, and found myself back where I 
started, the mountain of doubt ahead of me,
with nothing to give up that was or wasn’t,
unable to separate myself from myself,
to journey to hell again.

 

Like Dust

She sang of journeys that ended though the road continued, as if
time had had enough of being a quiet companion, as if the reasons

collected in our shoes like dust that we shook off each night. She sang
of the king who offered his golden chariot to a fallen jasmine vine, heavy

with ivory blooms, mourning the tree to which she had bared her breast.
Can you be as compassionate, she asked, as the emperor who walked to

his palace, the fragrance of grateful flowers clinging to his hands? I once
laid a crumb trail of broken hearts so a cold lipped lover could find his way

back, is that not enough, I pleaded. She sang, as if she had heard. As if she
knew. That’s a different story, she crooned, a child’s bedtime fable. Broken

hearts collect in our dreams like dust that we brush off each morning. I
looked up to see the crescent moon had turned his face to hide a smile.

The legend of King Pari

On the Edge of Cabo da Roca

sitting where the land ends
the Atlantic sloshing beneath our feet
liquid possibility in a bottomless cup
swapping myths about love struck queens
half maiden half snake
about cities built on seven hills
half devout knee half exalted head
and the first ships that found their way
to a place you call my home;

the sea here is a different blue
mixed with the light from another sky
we measure distance in two languages
physics tangles with etymology
on the edge of Cabo da Roca
and unreason flattens the smiling curve
of your far horizon;

this is why we journey
so the sea can sink and the earth
can join its hands for a moment
saluting the sun
so the ocean starts or ends
depending on where I sit
the brine blue in my veins
depending on how the tail of the sky
coils around its golden throne
depending on where I come from
a place you call my home

Cabo da Roca, Portugal: Western edge of mainland Europe.  So interesting that the word for boat/ship in Portuguese is nao and in Hindi, naav.