Is it the light?

The earth hums late at night. You feel her
uneven sounds rise through your spine.
The lone string of an ektara moves under
her finger – a horizon vibrating, sky spilling
into charcoal ocean. Is it the light that takes
the music out of our ordinary days? In the
dark, love becomes truth. Of what use is
certainty that does not have your lips? Aren’t
the patterns of stars made by intervening
shadows. See, ambiguity is the prerogative
of the broken heart. I want to sing with words
I have never heard. I want to remember
things that never happened. Let me steal
a silver melody from the devious moon.
Tomorrow, I promise to lie about this moment.

A poem for Susan’s prompt at PU – “Authenticity”.

 

 

Am hosting Poetry Tuesday all through November – be sure to join in! . Prompts (open through the month) are posted here.

Poetry Tuesday #1 – Old

The subject today is “Old” – an eventuality I considered at length in my chapbook “On Turning Fifty” – there’s something about a milestone birthday that makes you want to stop, look right, left and right again, before going forward. Today’s poem, however, comes from a divergent thought about reality, about time and by extension, all things existential.

One more bean

The line from me to myself arches across the southern
sky, plummeting through a cloud of stardust, or maybe it

scours the bottom of the ocean, dragged up, wet and
heavy: either way, both lines pause at the threshold of

this argument? On one side, worn, wrinkled fingers shell
hyacinth beans, dropping them into a wire basket —

79, 80, 81… the toothless smile is capitulation and
resigned acceptance. The beans will be skinned and

cooked in powdered spices at dawn. On the other side
is the moon, watching with one eye. Languishing. She

too will be peeled and colourless once the kitchen fires
are lit. See how both parties offer their transience in self-

defence. One more bean. One more hour. One more
meaningless night. As if time is just a farcical construct, a

peg on which to hang our last excuse for being here. As
if every clock face is a pulsing confession of age old guilt.

 

Do share your poems, exploring any aspect of the prompt(age, history, evolution, geology, childhood, yesterday, nostalgia, rust, wisdom – whatever it means to you), using the Mister Linky widget, or leave the link in the comments section below. Even if you don’t have a poem to share, stop and say hello! Next Tuesday’s prompt (12th November) will be “New“!

 

 

Or does darkness?

A wall to the right of the empty bed, concrete
blocks and wood that feel the first desperation
of night. To the left a window where dawn’s
seduction begins. Does light pick a side first
or does darkness? As usual, evening is the
arbiter of arguments over illumination. It was
evening when you left. It is evening while I
wait. Evening that is neither light nor dark.
Evening that pronounces: the moon is neither
empty nor full, neither real nor imagined, the
moon both is and isn’t. Is such a moon not
borne? Is such a moon not a chant? Is the
moon first light or first dark? Why then can’t
you bear absence? When can’t you speak
of love? Are they not moon crust? Why then
can’t you forgive this infidel flicker of love?

 

To all you poets:  Am going to be writing theme-based poetry every Tuesday starting 5th November. Do let me know if you’d like to share your poems (spoken or written), discuss and critique all things poetry.  More details soon! 

 

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

Notes from Warsaw – 5

Tadeusz Gajcy was 22 years old when he secretly published a second volume of poetry.
Tadeusz Gajcy was 22 years old when he was editor of an underground Polish resistance journal – during the Second World War.
Tadeusz Gajcy was 22 years old when he was defending his city with his pen and his weapon.

Walking towards the big B-24 Liberator on display at the Warsaw Rising Museum, I stopped to read his poems. Not that I knew who he was. Not that I had ever heard his name. But I knew I would go back and find out. I knew I had to.

I scoured the net for translations. They are hard to come by. What I did find was fragment after fragment of searing verse.

He wrote of war and country:

Do you know that land beneath the icicles of blackened
flaming candlemas candles
which formerly creaked with resin but creaks today with
membranes
of huge bats’ wings?
Do you know that land
where along paths of sighs
float dead
charred flowers and the bones of meadow and forest beasts?
(from The Polish Review )

He wrote of grief:

It is too stifling for the words on one’s lips
hewn from the glow of fires and from grief as heavy as
stone…
You thought: it will be simpler.
But one must change words, musical words
to make them as hitting as a spear
(from The Polish Review)

He wrote of love:

Though I might say: I will love you, I will stay,
though I might nail together words as I would a coffin,
don’t trust me and wrest memory away from me.
(from The Sarmation Review)

Tadeusz Gajcy was 22 years old when he was killed in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944.

Crack open your soul, dig out the words,
as if this is your first poem
as if this is your last poem

 

Also in this series:
Notes from Warsaw – 4
Notes from Warsaw – 3
Notes from Warsaw – 2
Notes from Warsaw –

Notes from Warsaw – 2

Walking down the Royal Route from Warsaw’s Old Town, I came upon the statue of Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855 C.E.), set behind a little garden of sweet smelling roses. I learnt he was Poland’s national poet whose epic ‘Pan Tadeusz’ is considered a Polish classic. I, of course, had never heard of either the poet or his work. Ignorance seems particularly challenged by continental (perhaps, town) boundaries! But this was the poetic ever-after. The glory of one who took up the pen against his world and thus lives on forever.

Alone, My Polish Rose, I die, like you.
⁠Beside your grave a while pray let me rest
With other wanderers at some grief’s behest.
⁠The tongue of Poland by your grave rings true.
High-hearted, now a young boy past it goes,
⁠Of you it is he sings, My Polish Rose.

–  The Grave of Countess Potocka by Adam Mickiewicz

What makes a poet great? Is it just his poetry or the times he lives in? Is it the collective attention of his readers or their aggregate angst? Is this an age when poetry is dying or has it been revived to fight the general disaffection? What is poetic greatness in this digital age – let’s ask: when a poem is posted online and no one reads it, has it been written at all? Or maybe: when a poem is posted online and read a million times, has it been read at all?

to what end
this unfinished soliloquy
unfinished, in the end

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Also in this series:
Notes from Warsaw –

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