A poet asks if we should keep writing poetry

It’s hard. Not all of 2020 can be kneaded into grief-
shaped poems, most parts are so silent and so

alone – pages filled with punctuation marks that
have lost their words: forlorn ellipses going nowhere,

commas waiting between space and space and question
marks that know answers have been quarantined.

Not all of 2020 can be shaped into light, darkness
shifts in unexpected places, strange, defiant. On a mid-

November Diwali morning, in a year that broke in
March, I wonder what poetry is – anymore? Stepping six

feet away from a stranger, I look into his indifferent
eyes. I pretend he is smiling behind his cotton mask.

 

A flash of inspiration from Khaya’s post.  Happy Diwali! Wish you love and light and – a vaccine!

The morning after the poem

at first light, on a
single sheet of paper, I found
a poem that does not want to be
read, a sky that will not know its
end, a cloud that realized it cannot
resist the wind, and a moon that
longs to scream over and over and over
again that all it can ever see,
is darkness —

the poet, as always,
did not
show up
at the
reading

After the party

Somehow, it’s February already. And we’ve just confirmed a second coronavirus case here in India. This month definitely carries the burnt, acrid smell of its predecessor. As a sceptical look-behind-the-sky realist rather than an it’s-always-sushine optimist, I’m not so sure this was the year February should have chosen to have an extra day.

Also, I have hardly written any poetry. Am supposed to be compiling a new chapbook. Instead I find myself watching the same news over and over again, hoping for a different ending each time. And writing snatches of goodness-knows-what which will never see daylight and on one strange occasion, a bit of flash fiction. It is a brand new genre for me, and it was fun while it lasted. Will it replace poetry? Now, like I said, there’s always some grey to find, if you look hard enough on the other side of the sun! No?

********************

After the Party

The city’s literati had turned up in their customary khadi and kholapuris, the conversation through the haze of smoke and a mirror or two had dropped a few banal points, the new twitter-trending novelist who had just published a chest-thumping, decibel-shattering novel was on his fourth whiskey, his political counterpoint was sprawled on the floor rolling joints in two thousand rupee notes with the hostess, she who read nothing but reviews that she paid for each week. No one wanted to talk to the pretentious young woman with the new exposé who was trying to will her phone into calling itself. Near the bar, a poet was having an extended verbal orgasm, his rhyming couplets now declaimed from the top of the Makrana marble counter, the punch line delivered in a fiery expulsion of alcohol breath, theatrical flourish and appeals to an alternative god. But all this was a moment ago, before a reporter had got into a squabble with an old professor in a goatee and madras checks. There had been some cursing in back-street Hindi, the academic had been accused of something, no one was certain, it could have been plagiarism or something more fundamental, but a bottle was smashed, punches thrown and a scream or two later, the poor man’s rather ponderous body lay in a pool of blood and Old Monk rum, ice cubes refusing to melt around his already cold body.

In the morning, it was a scandal. By afternoon, the reporter was arrested. His employers had to bring their news website down for ‘technical reasons’ and there were whispers of insurrection, of adultery, of debauchery, of suicide. A month later, everyone had forgotten the professor’s name. Six months later, they were forced to remember it as the pretentious woman released a video from the party. It was from her cell phone, the audio was muffled, the images barely visible in the dim light but it looked like a battle and it sounded like a war and the professor was branded a spy and a lowlife, definitely a radical, so they rooted for the reporter. It had to be self-defence. A year later, the reporter was on TV panels talking about international terrorism, populism, education, economics and climate change. His syndicated column appeared in forty newspapers and he was writing a book about his time in prison. He said it was a sacrifice the country had demanded of him. Someone suggested he should run for office.

The hostess had new flooring put in. It looked like green granite. It could have been black. The twitter-trending writer had a new girl on his arm. No one would later recollect the name of the girl or of his book. The loud rebel was lecturing to anyone who would listen about the need to turn vegan while drinking something green from a copper bottle he had brought from home. The pretentious woman had a new phone and had learnt to make it ring on command. The poet was in a deep debate on the structure of the ghazal and the subliminal effects of repetition. He was rewriting Shakespearean sonnets as ghazals or so he was proclaiming for the seventeenth time. The reporter had not been invited. Word was his book had not recovered from the reviews it had received from the culture press. A few hands had been shaken, a few backs rubbed and more people and parts cajoled in most agreeable ways to keep him out of the literary circuit. And certainly out of the party of the year. Someone suggested he should run for office.

The hostess rolled another joint for herself and left her house in a big black car that pulled up to the door. It had been a success. Last year had been forgotten. The floor shone. She stared at the onyx ring on the finger. The professor had been laughing in all seriousness the night he had gone down on one painful knee to present it to her.

********************

Flash Fiction #1

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”

A Crow That Became A Line

It’s supposed to be a book, a story, but I wish I could start with
a poem instead, there’s something about leaving things half

said, something about a handful of metaphors and line breaks,
that wear their brevity proudly, there aren’t that many words

in the beginning anyway, just an uncertain awkwardness that
stumbles over ellipses, saying little, saying a little. A verse about

a day that wasn’t supposed to be, but was, about a time that
wasn’t meant to mean anything, but did, about the big things

unremembered, about tiny details that stay in the empty frame
like disconnected dots. There was a crow outside the window that

day, watching, as birds aren’t expected to, but do, like a sadness,
an inadvertent new moon, a crow that became a line in the sky,

in the beginning anyway when there were no words. With a poem, I
can stop here. You never speak. The poem becomes the whole story.

 

crow
Toril Fisher Fine Art

 

For the ekphrastic prompt at Real Toads. Also for Poets United Pantry.

Driving Home

we saw him in the bowels of the side street,
as we pulled up for a traffic light,
it was him, surely, we were around his table
just the other evening, his wife in those big peridot earrings
and coiffured hair serving faloodas, smiling,
now this strange woman with the painted face,
loud under the yellow lamps,
his money in her still slick hands,
in a hurry to leave him,
he, uncertain, in a hurry to leave himself,
dropping his sordidness like crumpled pants
beside the bed of cracked asphalt;

I saw your quick glance but you weren’t looking at me,
perhaps at the beige seat belt
that held me tightly in place,
held you tightly in place,
the metal box on wheels that elevated us somehow,
he was gone by then, the place they left
swallowed up by the forgiving night,
we drove home quickly,
the silence brushing against our thighs,
your eyes on the road,
my eyes on your hands that gripped the wheel,
tighter, still slick,
the unsaid like a familiar ghost
in the back seat.

Unfaithful Eyes

there was ocean spray reaching for the sky
and footprints scurrying after the emptiness,
they should have wrought ballads on eternity and ephemera,
on opaque time and transcendental light,
something about a grain of sand
and how the part is a manifestation of the whole
or maybe it is the other way round,
at least a verse or two about ungrateful moon tides
or karmic gratification of the raspy brine,
maybe love or yearning, definitely yearning,
but even the waves here are resurrected in silence,
the beach is a wordless graveyard,
the sea an unspeakable womb,
the horizon stretches like a blank line, unreachable,
unteachable,
what need do we have, the wind asks,
for another poem,
everything is said, anyway, each sunset,
here, throw away your lying pen,
wrap the darkness around your unfaithful eyes,
they see what they want to see,
make them listen.

Update: Elizabeth at SoulsMusic has written a poem inspired by a couple of lines from this one. She calls it Grain of Sand.

The Way I Walk

I write the way I walk,
in the morning, still smelling of sleep and stars,
head bowed, the familiar even stranger
like a long lost childhood acquaintance,
staring sometimes at a house, a tree, an idea,
as if it were relocated the night before,
as if going faster will stretch the road,
or make the slightest difference to yesterday’s butter chicken,
the past unaltered by the plodding ministrations of the present;

I write in long strides on empty pavements,
an exercise over loose stones and silent ugliness,
while the sun is already warm on April’s shoulder,
words frown, seeking the shadows
of metaphorical jacarandas, before they form,
no one notices the unbalanced gait, the faltering,
frequent collisions with imagined obstacles,
no one cares in a city stretching a million arms,
covering a million yawns, for such early indulgence,

I write with the urgent numbness of the unslept,
in the blind spot of a world
consumed by its own reductive parentheses,
dropping hoarse consonants in my path
like a dog walker who does not pick up after his pet,
walking too short a distance to be useful,
too long to be pleasurable stroll,
too many times to be able to separate one rhythm from the other,
too hamstrung in my own trail to recognize the short way home.

I write the way I walk,
one unmeasured thought chasing after the other,
as another day implodes along its fault lines.

Close, Closer

pull it close, closer,
read in the pockets of its moulted skin,
this poem is not the blistered red
that chaffs your hate of hatred,
not the half sewn gut of every war
that rages against your outrage,
not a word here is the bruised head
of a hammer on unflat lies,
nor the colour of your neighbours chin
that floats in the salt of your eyes,
no punctuation here comforts a child
without home, without dream, without price;
bring it close, closer,
this poem is like air, like water, like sky,
without the burden of voices,
without the weight of tears,
it is not a soul looking for a body
so it may live again,
it is not a song searching for a melody
so it may speak again,
inhale it and feel its breath
burn with yours in your lungs,
put your hand through its lines
and feel the wetness of what was old spring rain,
and someday if you find yourself
dancing on its shoes like a laughing child,
or taut in its arms like a naked lover
asking to be unravelled in the night,
know it then, know it well,
know it as the rainbow
that braids the broken light,
there for a moment,
there like a kiss,
there, soft, softer,
then gone
before you can remember to say
its name.