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.
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.
Once upon a time, a tree grew at the edge of the highway
from a seed dropped by a careless bird. And every day he
missed the garden, the warmth of roots, the touch of other
leaves, even the song of birds. There must be words in
some languages for such yearning, for things we know
without knowing the words for them. Just points on an arc
of rightness. An infinite horizon that separates the
manifest from the improbable. Isn’t that why the universe
keeps expanding? Isn’t that why spring keeps returning,
why a tree keeps growing, alone, in a garden of moving
cars? Isn’t that why a tree gives up and walks away with its
roots and the moon triangulates that emptiness and sighs?
The rhythm of the sea is the incessant wondering –
not if you loved but if you loved enough. An answer
that will only come with loss. The verbs of separation
conjugate in excruciating ways. Grief is a hyphen
connecting empty mirrors. Shouldn’t absence invalidate
a mirror? How much can you love a night not defined
by a moon or stars? Should such a night, be night? You
ask if it is the fault of the sky or the limits of love or of the
imperfect lover? Enduring darkness in the hope that
morning will come, is not love, it is faith in the light.
Love asks for more. At low tide, it asks you who you
are, after taking what you do not have and cannot give.
and that scene, over and over: you can be anyone
you like in your own drama, but you choose the
girl spreadeagled on the ground, life slipping
away from her, one truth at a time. Or the one
with wings, hovering above — they look at each
other, with the same eyes, incredulity awash in
fake moonlight, both saying at the same time, “I
know you.” When the curtain drops, there is
silence, or a lone shout, or a nervous whisper, never
the same, never different, and you tell yourself,
that is their drama, they are playing to another
audience. For them, their act may have just begun.
Is there a way to hold a question? Not as close
as lust, closer than fear, arms closed to the
answer? Or is that the way the question holds
you? In this monsoon, as evening turns to night,
without drama, I try to write a love poem, without
tropes, without the moon, objectively — without
love. But too much is made of love which, like life,
is passion in passing, matter in transformational
happenstance: only this thought, born of thought,
nameless, formless, can last unchanged forever —
love like a question will outgrow your hands, learn
to walk, yearn to walk away: only this thought will
stay — that, for a while, love felt warm, like it
belonged, as if, for a while, it was the closest answer.
The transformation of is to was — like an overcast
morning, the inevitability of sunshine and the
possibility of rain are not equal, there are all kinds
of ways to foretell all kinds of things — yet, an
umbrella bears consideration. Some things just are.
Like seeing you now across the street and not
stopping, not slowing down, not wondering where
you’re going, not remembering an hour later, all
the times it rained and words got wet — some words
that were quiet, cold, running down heated skin,
some warm, dissolving in light tapered on window
sills — not thinking at night that some things should
not be together, like sunshine and morning rain:
rainbows too are surely errors of judgement.
One leaf. One leaf falling from bough to mud. So many
considerations. Height. Gravity. Size. The side the wind
woke up this morning. One leaf. Not in the sky. Not on
earth. Both still and moving. Both alive and dead. Both
watcher and watched. Both character and story. Life, at
best, is only this bleeding wound: falling, is a necessary
ritual. You only have to ask the rain. On a night like this,
when the heart is stubborn, when skin aches for skin,
when night itself is only a silhouette cast upon a distant
moon – on a night like this, you only have to ask love.
But the earth unrolled is wider than this patch of
sky – what is the point of an infinite universe that
won’t fit in your eyes? See, the moon is only peering
through a window — what a lot of fuss over a curious
voyeur. What we cannot do, gods will. What we
should not do, gods must. There are things you can
debate with the gods at 3 AM — the density of
darkness, the subtraction of life, why the physics that
keeps the moon afloat cannot balance a heart. Gods
are loose-tongued at that hour, they will confess light is
trickery, that what you see, you don’t. But talk quickly,
at the stroke of dawn, the last god turns into a sun.
I walk faster than my solitude. But only as far as
the tether of want. Then I wait, in its overhang
for silence to catch up. Want like a bitter salt rubs
slowly over broken skin. Pain seduces with its
mouth, speaking, always speaking. You learn its
words by walking with the full moon. Who knows
what the moon does when your head is lowered.
What kind of love requires you to lift your face in the
darkness? Aloneness, however, is mute – a friend
that crawls under you so it can look you in the eye.