from New Writing 15 (London: Granta, 2007)
Mediterranen1 A bright red boat Yellow capsicums Blue fishing nets Ochre fort walls 2 Sahar’s silk blouse gold and sheer Her dark black kohl-lined lashes 3 A street child’s brown fists holding the rainbow in his small grasp 4 My lost memory white and frozen now melts colour ready to refract from Prayer Flag (Peepal Tree, 2003) and Rain (Mapin/Gallerie, 2005)
Offeringthe kindness of libation, lyric, and blood her endless notes left for me— little secrets, graces — trills recorded on blue and purple parchment to be lipped, tasted, devoured— only essence remains— its stickiness, its juice, its memory seamless juxtaposition— the brute and the passion, dry of the bone and wet of the sea, coarseness of the page and smooth of the nib’s iridium I try and trace a line, a very long line— the ink blots as this line’s linear edges dissolve and fray— like capillary threads gone mad twirling in the deep heat of the tropics— threads unravelling, each sinew tense with the want of moisture and the other's flesh there are no endings here— only beginnings— precious incipience— translucent drops of sweat perched precariously on her collar-bone waiting to slide, roll unannounced into the gulleys that yearn to soak in the rain— heart-beat shift the shape of globules as they alter their balance and colour, changing their very point of gravity— constantly deceiving the other I stand, wanting— wanting more of the bone’s dry edge, the infinite blur of desire, the dream, the wet, the salt, the ink, and the underside of her skin from The Lunar Visitations (New York, 1990) & Postmarked India: New & Selected Poems (HarperCollins, 1997) / also appears in Confronting Love: Poems (Penguin, 2005)
One Moonlit December NightOne moonlit December night you came knocking at my door, I took my time to open. When I did, there was just a silk scarf, frayed, half-stuck in the latch. from Postmarked India: New & Selected Poems (HarperCollins, 1997) / also appears in Norton world poetry anthology Language of a New Century (New York: W.W.Norton, 2008)
Flying HomeI meticulously stitch time through the embroidered sky, through its unpredictable lumps and hollows. I am going home once again from another home, escaping the weave of reality into another one, one that gently reminds and stalls to confirm: my body is the step-son of my soul. But what talk of soul and skin in this day and age, such ephemeral things that cross-weaves blood and breath into clotted zones of true escape. What talk of flight time and flying when real flights of fancy are crying to stay buoyant unpredictably in mid-air amid pain, peace, and belief: just like thin air sketches, where another home is built in free space vacuum, as another patchwork quilt is quietly wrapped around, gently, in memoriam. from Lines of Desire (USA) / also appears in Indian Love Poems (New York: Knopf / London: Everyman’s Library, 2005)
DesireUnder the soft translucent linen, the ridges around your nipples harden at the thought of my tongue. You — lying inverted like the letter ‘c’ — arch yourself deliberately wanting the warm press of my lips, it’s wet to coat the skin that is bristling, burning, breaking into sweats of desire — sweet juices of imagination. But in fact, I haven’t even touched you. At least, not as yet. from Postmarked India: New & Selected Poems (HarperCollins, 1997) / also appears in The London Magazine, Acumen, Wasafiri, Gentleman, Gallerie International, Inlaks Foundation Book, Findings of Ice, & others.
Bharatanatyam Dancerfor Leela Samson Spaces in the electric air divide themselves in circular rhythms, as the slender grace of your arms and bell-tied ankles describe a geometric topography, real, cosmic, one that once reverberated continually in a prescribed courtyard of an ancient temple in South India. As your eyelids flit and flirt, and match the subtle abhinaya in a flutter of eye-lashes, the pupils create an unusual focus, sight only ciliary muscles blessed and cloaked in celestial kaajal could possibly enact. The raw brightness of kanjeevaram silk, of your breath, and the nobility of antique silver adorns you and your dance, reminding us of the treasure chest that is only half-exposed, disclosed just enough, barely — for art in its purest form never reveals all. Even after the arc lights have long faded, the audience, now invisible, have stayed over. Here, I can still see your pirouettes, frozen as time-lapse exposures, feel the murmuring shadow of an accompanist's intricate raga in this theatre of darkness, a darkness where oblique memories of my quiet Kalakshetra days filter, matching your very own of another time, where darkness itself is sleeping light, light that merges, reshapes, and ignites, dancing delicately in the half-light. But it is this sacred darkness that endures, melting light with desire, desire that simmers and sparks the radiance of your quiet femininity, as the female dancer now illuminates everything visible: clear, poetic, passionate, and ice-pure.
Note: The line-end rhyme-scheme — a b a c c a ... d b d e e d ... f b f g g f ..— maps and mirrors the actual classical dance step-pattern and beat — ta dhin ta thaye thaye ta. Also the left-hand margin indentations match the same scheme and form.
from Postmarked India: New & Selected Poems (HarperCollins, 1997), and Prayer Flag (Peepal Tree, 2003).
SCATTERED PIECES OF A QUARRELWe listen while a dustpan eats the scattered pieces of a quarrel. — Vern Rutsala Every night, for many years now I hear voices next door through the thin of the wall, every core of the crackling scream, like an old stylus needle on a scratched gramophone record, stuck. Every night it happens, shriller and fiercer every night. At midnight, the ritual starts over: the first conversations barely audible, then the decibel levels, a plateau of maimed muffles before taking off sharply, into the crystal air of coded cries, on a steep delirious climb until breaking glass-ware scatter smithereens as the soprano of anguish startles a bluebird in the nest outside, on the terracotta ledge of my alcove. Every morning when the sun's edge clears the neighbour’s roof, I sweep the apartment floor trying to extricate rolls of dust from under the doors. They somehow seem to huddle in fluffy balls insulating the crevices between adjacent flats, the same wall that simultaneously separates and shares, just like the array of dust coils clinging together, in fear of being swept away. from Edinburgh Review (2007) and Postcards from Bangladesh
Prayer Call: HeatI wake cold, I who Prospered through dreams of heat Wake to their residue, Sweat, and a clinging sheet. —Thom Gunn, ‘The Man with Night Sweats’ Outside, “Allah-u-Akbar” pierces the dawn air — It is still dark. Inside, electric light powers strength to my feverish body. Mosque minaret radiate prayer-calls all around — like coded signals emanating from old radio transmitter-towers — relaying the dangers of heat in this stale air. * A bare body sleeps peacefully beside me — her face’s innocence, and generous curve of her eye lashes, try to sweep away my skin’s excess heat, one that is fast making my bones pale and brittle. * A brief lull lingers outside. I cannot hear the heavy lyrics, their rhymes trying to invoke peace and respect, their wafting baritone instilling faith. Such things are luxuries for me now. I lie, trying to piece together the eccentric song of my own inadequate breathing. It is a struggle. * It is also a mystery. Mystery of a body’s architecture, its vulnerability, its efficient circulation — they are perfect models I remember from school’s very early lessons. They are only how things ought to be, not how they are. * Only now, I realise the intent of prayer’s persuasion, its seductive expression. I also value the presence and grace of the body that willingly lies next to me, as her breath tries to realign my will’s magnetic imprint, and my heart’s irregular beat. My vision is awash with salt of her night-sweat. My hearing is trapped within diaphragm’s circuitous drone — in Arabic’s passion that etches its parabolic script, sung loud so that no slant or serif can be erased, altered or misunderstood. * Religion’s veil and chiffon — its sheer black and translucence, its own desire to give and want, its ambition to control and preserve. Such songs mean nothing to me if one’s own peace and privacy remain unprotected, or, are not at ease. I want the chant’s passion, its heat to settle my restlessness. I want the song to soothe my nerve-ends so that the pain subsides and faith’s will enables to rise. I also want the beauty of this faith to raise its heat — not body-heat — but the heat of healing. * But for now, the diaphanous lull is a big boon. Here, I can calculate the exact path of my body’s blood-flow, its unpredictable rise and fall of heat, and the way it infects my imagination. * I step out of the room’s warm safety. I see the morning light struggling to gather muscle to remove night’s cataract. * Again, the mosques threaten to peel their well-intentioned sounds — to appease us all. But I see only darkness, and admire it — I also admire the dignity and gravity of heavy-water and its blood — its peculiar viscous fragility, its own struggle to flow, sculpt and resuscitate. * In quiet’s privacy, I find cold warmth in my skin’s permanent sweat, in its acrid edge, and in my own god’s prayer-call.