It rained again today…

As if life was found,            accidentally, when
we took a wrong turn from             death: a
shell lying on a shore               that

it shouldn’t, that

it couldn’t,

yet, within it, the            roar of the entire
ocean. Today, I held life up          to my ear, it’s
voice was wet like rain, it       wondered

if I should.

If I could.

The edge of what you don’t know and cannot feel

Then you make lists of those you loved (some true) and
those who loved you back and suddenly you understand

distance and space and curvature, the bigness of small
things and how to solve for x. Doesn’t a lifetime only

get you to the edge of what you don’t know and cannot
feel? God, for instance, is a mango tree, flowering in

season, interrupted by pests or a lot of sunshine or a
little rain. Four years ago, a couple made crazy adulterous

love under one tree and it refused to fruit all summer (this,
entirely, is true). There is a reason why broken parts

together weigh more than the whole (this too, is true,
because to know grief is to know heaviness, to know how

to trap air in your open fist). But all this, because I was
sitting under a mango tree, praying it would not rain (not

true for clouds are clouds), because so much comes apart
when you have to run, mid-thought, to where it all began.

Makeshift Eden

Dusty bougainvillea — the pink of rotting beetroot peel —
necks craned over the fence, hibiscus heads nodding,

somehow white petals staying white, an advertisement for
peace or surrender, even though war is in perennial bloom.

From skin to earth to sky, the premise for battle is made
holy. We have perfected want so it resurrects itself out of

reason. Reason that keeps us safe. Reason that makes gods
make us make gods. In a scratched pan, over an open fire, we

fry fish, fresh from the lake, poisonous, perhaps, from
effluents and humans, but we have scrubbed it with so

much turmeric, countered the bitterness of chemicals with
garlic and spices, this scrap of makeshift Eden, its back against

this city – we act like the air is fresh here, act like the stars
are visible, act like it’s fine, us being here, us drinking wine, us

being where we cannot see the bodies, us eating dead fish,
their eyes white, staying white, the colour of burnt fear.

The opposite of death

Again and again, I want this life to return, like
a haunting. Until my bones can recite antonyms

in the night. What is the shadow of breath? What
is the inverse of moonlight? What is the antithesis

of the hours you wedged under one leg of the wobbly
earth? The gate to dawn, so long shut, is creaking.

Every mistake wants to be resurrected. Repeated.
Consequences wait at the old places. The traps have

bared their primal teeth. The body knows where
it should burn, where it should wound. Touch is

habit. Desire is the prophesy that can be read only
in a mirror. What is normal if dystopia is an obvious

palindrome? What would be, if not this life? What
do we do with love that is not the opposite of death?

 

While I try to compile them into a more readable format, the 55 posts from the lockdown series will also be accessible through a widget on the sidebar. Check it out!

A connection between soles

All the inversions: friday night and I set a
memory on a skin of spilt beer, feet touching
feet, head two body lengths away, unseen,

suddenly truth is a connection between soles.
Every morning for twenty years, mama took
three buses to work. The radius of childhood,

measured by wheel on wheel on a clouded film
of yesterday’s rain. Which wheel is real when
we talk of the past? Later, putting me to sleep,

the night reflected in her tears: two formless
skies collapsing into one. A false singularity.
Darkness, a perfect mirror of darkness.

 

VV-Feb-2020-Omid-Armin

Image by Omid Armin (Picture prompt provided by Visual Verse)
First published on Visual Verse (Vol 07, Chapter 4)

 

Finally sent something out this year and am glad it found a home. Visual Verse has great picture prompts and I love ekphrastic poetry but it also pulls together a gorgeous contributor page ! Just realized I’ve had 14 poems published there!

Where the waves sing

Perhaps, all we can know about someone’s life is three stories. A story they tell us, a story we make up from the cacophonous unsaid and a story we write together – a paragraph, a consequence or two, an ellipsis that walks away into the void. Here, in Tarangambadi, ‘where the waves sing’, there is the old story of a modest fishing village. There is another story of a colonial outpost, triangulated by the Sahib’s restored bungalow, the Dansborg fort that rises from the sand like a dull Shakespearean pause and the silhouettes of East India Company ships astride the water. And there is the story of the Tsunami that gathered all loss into its blue lap. Loss, beyond the comprehension of human hearts, that becomes wordless flotsam, catching the moonlight after the town has cried itself to sleep.

She had told him her first story, wet like fresh paint. Childhood welts remain welts, scab remains scab and torn flesh remains open and bleeding forever. He had counted them and covered them and been gentle as his pain poured into her wounds. He deduced the second. Adult life learns self-healing. Haphazardly. Hurriedly. Ugly mattress stitches fusing reality and hope, probability and time, failure and a corner of the morning sky. There is a looping calligraphy to the repair, beyond common lexicon. A patient ear can hear the words, discerning skin can feel the knots and the unravelling, a warm mouth can hold a thread in place that has long threatened to come loose.

They had come here, walked along the beach, past three hundred year old churches and a giant gate that must have guarded the white settlement. They had watched the stars, drinking rum and coconut water till a placid sun wove up between swollen clouds and erect palm fronds. And taken a rickshaw a few kilometres down to Poompuhar to watch the irrepressible Cauvery trickle into the Bay of Bengal: a mating of waters, the sweet river having travelled across the peninsula to find the inconstant brine – like a penance, like an incongruity, like destiny. It’s final story.

She had known him as one knows twilight. Real but book-ended. Impossible but reassuring. Like watching cricket in the afternoon, the shadow crossing the line before the ball. His real story was elsewhere. She was a second story, no, perhaps only a reflection of the first. Not manifest until the two came face to face, looking in opposite directions. His third story was his silence. But silence is not the absence of sound. In Tarangambadi, it is the alternating hush and roar of the waves. A saline Morse dotting and dashing sea-stories we cannot know. Ocean. Troubadour. Retelling in drowned dialects.

He hadn’t asked her about her third story. He didn’t know two would not be enough. He didn’t know two didn’t make up a whole lifetime. He didn’t know when the sea backed up preparing to strike. Didn’t know in the hush. Or in the roar. Or when the waves stopped singing. Or when they climbed the walls of the fort. Or when they began to hunt for prey.

 

Flash Fiction #3
Flash Fiction #2

The moon is what it is

We look for formless visions of ourselves in the
distance. But we haven’t found ourselves, not

even lost ourselves. Not yet. Between us is the
desert of halves. Is love more memorable when

it fails? More likely to last forever? I am told to
find bigger things to be grateful for: sperm,

geometry, the blue probability of a kingfisher. I
thank pain that fills fissures like wet cement so I can

wake up whole in the morning. It was happiness
that broke us when we weren’t looking. The

moon is what it is — a fiction of movement and
light. It is the sky that is unfaithful. Or the mind.

I make lists of small things, unclaimed things,
unproclaimed things: Quarter past two in the

afternoon, steamed rice, my name, uncertain,
sitting like a wingless crow upon a stranger’s lip.

 

 

In other February news, am delighted to be one of ten poets named by The Ekphrastic Review in their annual awards list. Very grateful to the editor, Lorette C. Luzajic. Do check out this brilliant platform if you read/write poetry in this genre. This award is for my poem, Corollary, which is on their site as well as in my book, Water to Water.

And if you haven’t read my first flash fiction piece yet, here’s the link. Let me know what you think. Better yet, share your flash fiction as well!

 

Something else in the moonlight

Tell me your god is a poet. And not because the
universe has been crafted as a perfect sonnet. Not

because love, like an ode scribbled on a brown
paper bag on a bus that’s always going away, cares

little about grammar or meter or form. Not because
random things happen like an unexpected close, a

strange foreign word that kisses your ear, a lyrical
movement that gently erodes your resolve. But

because every day what you see is different, even
the difference is like a poem that means something

else in the moonlight, a ghazal that reveals layer
after layer with each reading, until it twists and

mocks and starts undressing all over again. Who
else would conceive a constantly renewing truth

that drags your faith to the edge? Hail the poet.
Don’t we know ‘god’ is just a blessed pseudonym?

 

Recently the papers here carried news that the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary has added a bunch of new “Indian -English” words including hartal (a shutdown or strike), dabba (box – mostly lunch box) and shaadi (wedding). Will they find their way into poems from all over the world? We’ll wait and see!! Meanwhile, this poem came about yesterday, and as it happens with almost all of my poems, I have no idea what triggered it. Am just happy words are breaking through the fog- slowly, reluctantly, randomly – but words, nevertheless. If you’ve just written a poem, do share the link – I’d love to read it. 

Waiting for this year to end

Waiting for this year to end like waiting
for the second line of a poem — the first,
a recursive imperative that keeps looping
back to an undefinable beginning. The

days have to be rolled uphill, a Sisyphean
production in which the movement of time
is a measure of naked ineptitude. We wake
together at midnight, this is when the

gradient sharpens and darkness needs to be
pushed with two hands— sweaty, grimy hands
that have touched skin and broken promises—
with dawn the stone will slip again, past lips

and waists and lies and feet. All this in the
space of a day, in the space of an empty
second line, this year that should end like
a poem, but is always one damn word away.

Writing Obituaries

Will this night not be night if it wears a sun? Another sun that we
dare not look in the eye? This silver-lit emptiness is complicit,

conjuring a deceptive goodness , stealing eyes that would
have scratched the rough scab of unhealed flaws. How many

words have been wasted on the moon, how much love, how
many lovers? Even spilt like mercury from an alchemist’s flask,

she quivers in the lake, the wind a soft moan in the ear of her
bedevilment. It is December, the year is sinking quickly into its

grave. There are things to forget. Things the moon wants me
to remember. That is her prism, the window through which

she becomes beautiful, makes the darkness a burn of want.
I write obituaries in the moonlight. Even a two-inch horizon

presents a linearity I must refuse. Nothing is perfect. A
moment can stumble. A moment can be a waxing moon. A

moment between this year and the next could be longer than
forever. The way, once, a forever love was a waning moment.