Sunday 28 April 2013

Ashoka, after Kalinga

The few who return home from here
will never again be quite whole.
Combat zones. Courage and fear.
So many ways to shrink the soul.


Not just flesh that is sliced open,
it’s not just bodies that blades maim;
violence plants its secret weapon
and those that return won’t be the same.


The tips of arrows, heads of spears
end of day are plucked from skin;
but war is too hard to pluck clear
from the heart once the blade goes in.


There could be other paths, directions,
fields, where it’s not this one battle
and maybe they too change a person
they’re not the same once they travel;


I’ll take that road and see for myself
if peace can be found a different route,
if a change in travel plans will help
and a war-free way to be will suit.


Thursday 25 April 2013


You haven’t turned up. The buffer zone
of anticipation already ruined.
I keep my fingers steady on the stems
my lips serene, breath behind voice, eyes fringed
with the twinkling antonyms of forlorn
just on the off chance that you’ll come.
Faces have poked around, come and gone,
a thousand pairs of feet filed past, inch
by inch, but yours weren’t amongst them.
I draw my self around myself, alone
like the eye wraps itself in stormy winds
and unruffled, calmly carries on;
like the foetus curls into its amnion;
and the wound wreathes the pain into poems.


Tuesday 23 April 2013

Things fall apart and into place; and not always a comfortable place

I’d never thought about him till he died
without public drama at eighty two;
I’d carried his books tucked into my side
and flicked the pages as schoolgirls will do
and puzzled a little over the context
the abstruse climate and customs portrayed
and nothing in it bluster or defensive
a firm outline to the ancient and complex -
or so I chose to hear, so the teachers said
and it was enough to pass the exam, and live.


Sometime during the years that he wrote
I stopped being a schoolgirl, and I grew
my hair out, and even more remote
from nuances, and the immediate milieu.
The books stayed thrust somewhere aside
their pages rarely handled and splayed open
their spines slow faded, tight, still intact
their seeping fame spread slowly worldwide;
but the connect snapped with them way back then
and beyond that no memories, no impact.


It takes many random years to gauge
the words of a writer read in early youth
to reckon the deadweight of an unturned page
of letting a book dissolve in its own truth,
lie dusty and forgotten on the shelf.
The news streams its way around the world
and death is a sudden spike of interest
stabbing time, a leap across the wide gulfs
of my understanding, sharpening what’s dulled
but little point now that his hand's at rest.


Saturday 20 April 2013

Mists of glass

Do I tell you to look me in the eye
and speak your mind, move around, come and go
between hours? choose between things to say and know
and yet not know a thing and not care why?
you live and love the way you want, and I

Wednesday 17 April 2013

"Each of us leaves an unfinished life"

The first name that springs to my mind when I read that line by Mary Oliver is Sukanta Bhattacharya, the youthful rebel-poet of Bengal.

হে মহাজীবন, আর এ পদ্য নয়
এবার কঠিন, কঠোর গদ্য আনো
পদলালিত্য ঝঙ্কার মুছে যাক
গদ্যের কড়া হাতুড়িকে আজ হানো

প্রয়োজন নেই কবিতার স্নিগ্ধতা
কবিতা তোমায় আজকে দিলাম ছুটি
ক্ষুধার রাজ্যে পৃথিবী গদ্যময়
পূর্নিমা চাঁদ যেন ঝলসানো রুটি

Monday 15 April 2013

How to write a sonnet

Beginnings – I’d start there, I’d start with you -
that is the sole, central hypothesis -
it morphs to both argument and premise
and a summing beyond debate, and true
in all positions, from each point of view.
The rhythms I’d pick up from your sturdy wrists
no figures of speech required, no smart twists
of language, just fourteen plain lines would do.

For you are the poem, its start and end
the lightning fork, the naked flame, the plume
of grass, the forest’s silent canopy;
you are the sonnet’s sharp post-octave bend
words written, wreathed in papery perfume
and in some ancient birth given to me.


Saturday 13 April 2013

In the eye of the dream

Each time you raise your lids
horizons float fuzzy fluid
and when you close them shut
the trickle of the road dries up
inhale, exhale, hold
dreams get quickly cold.


The winds from an exposed place
flay open the planes of a face
a small window in the cheek
shows the movements as each speaks
climb up, climb down, stop
it’s all just idle talk.


So a machine emits poetry
as the finger jabs at a key
hardly anything involved
horizons easily dissolved
regroup, recoup, stream
the crusted eyes of dreams.

Thursday 11 April 2013


Not in crowds, nor in the company of a few
close friends, nor when I’m alone, and even with you
there is this restless weight the soul won’t relinquish,
small knots of sorrow it’s strangely loath to undo.


I wish I knew to unravel their ends, I wish
I could tease their rough hemp fibres from my flesh
and bones, from spaces of the self, I wish I knew
to snip one link and escape beyond the whole mesh.


But no cities there made of jade, there are no views
of freeways glistening in rain, no green ooze
of rivers, nothing beyond the pale knots of anguish
that’s any different from here, nothing to choose


between these two sides of the rough tightened lattice
at least not so marked that you’d sit up and notice.
What world can be made whole if it’s without you
and what’s an escape if you aren’t an accomplice?


Tuesday 9 April 2013

How will you take it - light or dark or grey?

Everything must thin
for the dark to come in
for the light to pass through
and become the dark too


all must be effaced
and the feelings faced
and maybe that’s just light
but could also be the night.


It may be either-or
but equally, nuanced more
a long gradual fade
from slow light to shade


both of them must thin
so how’ll you determine
which of them will do
and which is finally true?

Sunday 7 April 2013

Thoughts in the Cavafy Museum in Alex, seeing two yellow candles set into the outer corners of the desk he used when he was alive OR I have always wanted to write a poem with a very specific and long title, like those far eastern titles longer than the haikus they head

Cavafy's desk with candles

There are no visitors, none; just us three
the house is a flat up dark flights of stairs
and sure, the marble plaques and busts are there
but the guard’s surprise is also plain to see
a few pounds for adults, children go in free
the guide’s dutiful, “that’s his desk and chair,
he spoke five languages,” the love-affairs
glossed over. Decorously perfunctory.

Monday 1 April 2013

Song mad love girl

Not winds and waves, all the normal things
leave her swivelled eyes glassed out doll
she finds her songs in broken, breathless wings


the jagged knives, the ragged guitar strings
knobs of silence tumbled in freefall
not winds and waves, all the normal things


she twirls and twists, the dance sharply brings
heels together; misery is for all;
she finds her songs in broken, breathless wings


the metal rattles in undone couplings
the baby sleep of cells, the strangling walls
not winds and waves, all the normal things


the clasp of flesh as it sucks and clings
to insane twigs of bones and snapped souls
she finds her songs in broken, breathless wings


she turns again, the hem of her skirt swings
her lights are blinded bats, nights burnt out coals
not winds and waves, all the normal things
she finds her songs in broken, breathless wings

It needs absolutely no links, goes without saying which well the verse above draws from.  Probably the very first villanelle I ever read, or maybe it ties with this one.  Anyways, deep reverence.