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 – 3

I dye my words
in night and moon —
dawn always two verses away

Today, The Wire dropped an article featuring Polish poet Tadeusz Rozewicz. This on a morning when I had Notes from Warsaw -3 (now numbered 4) floating somewhere between cursor and central nervous system. This is the way the universe works – you fixate on something for even a brief moment and that thing will begin to appear on walls, seep through the cracks and basically do a war dance in the spaces between the Malabar tiles on your roof. Try it.

Rozewicz was in the Polish resistance during WW II and his poetry is severe and visceral, ripping open your insides with its stark simplicity. But he was just writing about the times he lived in – the pain and despair in his poetry a mirror of the unbearable horrors of war. I wonder if reading my poetry years from now, a reader can discern the zeitgeist of our days.  Maybe my poems should be a dirty yellow, the colour of weakness as earth and humanity crumble to dust without ink breaking over them. Maybe my poems should be a flaccid blue, the colour of cold refusal to rage against the dying of the light. What will that future reader get from the monochrome poems filling these infinite digital (d)reams?

Tomorrow will judge our today using yesterday as its prism. But that can neither dictate nor design our poems. But it does tell us who we are and what we might become. What we were and who we have become. It does tell us the truth.

I added Tadeusz Rozewicz’s books to my wish list. I peered inside the Kindle sample of his book – New Poems. The first poem, ‘The Trains’ had this:

 “I am building
a bridge
to link the past
with the future
The past is today,
But a little further on…”

The article from the Wire is here.

Full moon over Swietokrzyski Bridge, Warsaw

(from Bangalore, India: 29 Sep 2019)

Also in this series:
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


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

A story is a room

A story is a room, with windows that let the outside in, with
corners in which to hide, with a place for the past, even for

seven variations of the present — time splitting into rainbow
hues, each coloured arch bending towards a different end.

But love cannot fit in a room the way it can in a poem. A
poem is a shining eye. A small object. A distant star. A cup

of tea. A raindrop sliding off a leaf. A single drumbeat.
Everything I have to say is held in its tiny fist. There is no

breadth, no depth, no curve to tell you why or when. No
space for reasons, for questions. I see your room, rich with

pronouns trimmed in brocade and velour. I know that kind
of love that has Persian carpets and antique lamps from the

souk. I bring only a blue marble. A swatch of sky. My poem is
a little box of wood. How many are already lost in your room?



For Poets United Midweek Prompt: “Writing Prose”