But the things that happened
turned life into a second class
waiting room in a grubby train station
in some small town, somewhere
between here and there, a name
you would hear only if there has been
a blockade or an accident.
Waiting is a fool’s errand. Waiting is
not hope, do not give hell a sweet
sobriquet. You don’t wait because
you think you have a chance, you wait
because there is no other way. There is
no train to come, there is no place
you want to go. Just this seedy
room on a nowhere platform with
a yellow light bulb separating
you from insanity.
Mice scurry in the dark. A lost gust
of wind sometimes wakes the
dust. An empty Pepsi bottle rolls between
benches. Life goes on while you wait.
The stretch of universe you hold tight
between your fingers, starts to slip. You
think the rumble of thunder is an
incoming train. You think you imagined
the rain. You wake up in your own
bed, wet and shivering, still waiting,
a bottle of pepsi, warm and flat,
sitting on your table.
and you stick them together.
and you learn to make do.
(looks more real now, love.)
and you put a picture in a frame.
light sticks to reflections.
light splits around shadows.
one breaks. then two.
and you learn to make do.
what was sea is now fog.
what was fog unsheathes its nails,
piercing rain that breaks the skin.
she sews harder.
broken stars to bleeding sky.
what is, splinters into promises.
what was, becomes a jagged line
of ungrammatical sutures.
(look what is real now, love.)
and you stick them together
(now look, what love is real, love.)
and you learn to make do.
They say when the migratory cranes come to the
Phobjika Valley, they circle the monastery three
times. They fly around it again when they leave
after winter. The places we go to sink deep into
our bones. I can still feel Jomolahri gleaming white
in the evening sun, Dochula Pass with its head
stuck in a cloud, Punakha Dzong at the confluence
of the male and female rivers. It was the spring
of 2007. The young guide wanted to turn back
about half-way up the mountain. All tourists don’t climb to the top, he shrugged. Men with heavy loads
and women with babies on their backs overtook us
with ease. Eventually, we made it to the monastery
that clings to the edge of the cliff. Taktsang Lhakhang.
Tiger’s nest. They say the great guru flew to Paro
on the back of a tigress. Faith and folklore elevate
the seen and unseen into wonder. I can stay here
forever, I told the guide. I want to visit Bangalore,
he countered. I thought of traffic and crowds and
concrete. He smiled, as we entered the tiny airport. I want to travel by train. I thought of butter tea
and incense and the wise eyes of the holy man in
Thimpu. Cranes and monks and rivers and guides —
and poets. We all have our own journeys to make.
Happy to say Part 30 appeared in Via Negativa’s collection for Week 3 of 2023. Read the poem and other work from the blog-world here. Many thanks, Dave Bonta.
Also, super delighted to share artwork by V Vangala that so beautifully represents the title of this series – ‘A story in many unequal parts, some missing’. Perhaps our ordinary stories might be more gentle and fragrant, if we let flowers tell them. Ordinary flowers. Flowers that lean into washed-out skies. Flowers that brush the air and soften the harsh edges of our lives.
Love this interplay of creativity! You are also welcome to share your art, pictures, words, voices here. Leave a comment or connect via the About page.
Most times I felt like a hummingbird, furiously
flapping my wings, fluttering back and forth,
looking hungrily for what the universe had to
offer. The banal everyday consuming so much
energy, creating so many crayon strokes against
a stretched canvas sky. I should have found
calm instead: a monk-like reserve, spurning love,
forfeiting desire. Being bones and air and reason.
A minimalist silhouette that puts colour to shame.
But I am made of want. All that is not realized,
sprouts and grows wilder. A forest of unanswered
longing. We were different. I wished we could be
in that forest, beads of light darting through the
canopy, tattooing your skin. Together. Becoming.
Burning. Not even the whole you. Just the part
that knew its way to the forest. But you spent your
time digging fire lines. One side never allowed to
consume the other. A forest ablaze must become
its own pyre. The dark side of the moon can never
know the melodrama of the earth. But even you
cannot live on both sides of the line without getting
singed. Clouds have names where fires don’t rage.
A humming bird without wings becomes a certain
stillness. A glowing red ember. A thirstless quiet.
There’s another poem from the past that I want to bring into this story. It was written way back in March 2016. I see the old me in it, the urgency, the writing style and the struggle. But it belongs here and should be Part 20.1 – it was in effect, the foreword that didn’t know there would be a story written after it, six years later. But I’m putting at what is effectively the end of Section 1.
go look if you must,
where they are, those years that passed,
hollowed-out days and kamikaze nights,
folded and creased,
out of the sun’s knowing reach;
put your hand through
that unremembered morass,
does she rustle in the echo of your breath,
a poem whose words have withered away,
memory holding an empty notebook
in its silent bones;
what is left of that day
when the moon turned tricks in the river,
silver arches heaving in her crescent arms,
how does it feel, that freedom,
decomposed, it’s insides peeling
flaccid and parched,
all those lines we drew,
dividing spaces, names,
tips of unyielding smiles sawn off
to fit our stencilled squares;
go look if you must,
the nineties are unravelling,
sift through the ashen residue,
elbow deep in lifeless weeks,
the fetid air drawing you
into her timeless lair;
go look if you must,
carry a compass, a map,
mark your sky with motionless stars;
the unlived past is a nubile mistress,
i’m not sure
from where she lies,
there is a way,
The myth of the churning of the ocean — good and
evil battling for the nectar of immortality. Metaphor,
handbook, warning. On the walls of Angkor Wat, the
extraordinary comes alive. A confluence of art and
faith and the subtlety of being. A place of worship.
A place of submission. Of belief. Of hope. All that
is vulnerable inside us is on display. All that we are
capable of, surrendered to a greater abstraction.
At dawn, colours are smeared across the clouds
like a child’s finger painting, the temple inverted
in reflecting lily pools. I went with nothing to offer.
I left with more questions. What is a battle if it can
never be won? What is victory when all is already
lost? What is forever if time keeps spooling back
to a point of no return? Am I essentially good?
Which would make so many so unbearably bad?
If the mistakes were mine, why does this morning
curdle around me, spilling its secrets? Why does
this sky seem to say that if I have come to it now,
dragging my past like a painful phantom limb, then
it will let me be a child of its light. A place of belief.
A place of hope. The sun has moved higher. The night
has slipped away like an illicit lover. Everything is in its
rightful place. Every road, every wrong turn, every
unconscious move would still have led here. To this.
A poem from November 2021 that I think would have slipped into this series if I had been writing it then. If you’ve been tracking the story, then perhaps this should be Part 12.1 – harking back as it does to those early growing up struggles. I’ve made no edits, copied the poem exactly as it was written then. How we break and then try to fill the cracks with poetry…and it seems, it is never enough! But that’s a poem for another day. Will leave you with this now.
Without an inside or outside
it wasn’t much of a home:
maybe it was just a window,
without a room, without a wall,
without an inside or outside,
keeping things apart
slicing through sentences, consequences,
a window that could have been opened
but never was
because no one wanted to
it was the time I made things up:
purple shadows and obstinate light
sounds like memories of fragrance after
the garden is emptied of flowers
things that walked without ever moving
things that talked without ever speaking
they said not having so much wasn’t having so little —
need recalibrated itself every night
they said what you really want depends
on how far you really want to see
it was the time I made up a name for longing:
a name that has no tongue or has two
a name that dips and swells like night air
on bodies watching sleep
like strangers on a late train
a name that gurgles in the throat
like a last breath, like the whisper
that never left despairing lips,
they said it was nothing because
it was also anything
it was the time I made up a sky:
with stars the taste of quiet
black stars for day, an orange moon
to unsettle the dusk,
they said having so little light
wasn’t having so much dark
and though the window could be opened,
it never was, the window
that could divide though it was nothing
the window that had lost its wall
lost the home that wasn’t much of a home –
every time I looked through the glass
I saw myself, looking back, from the other side
Maybe it is safer to believe in random correlations.
The moon does not contrive to hide behind a cloud.
Maybe that was all the love that I had to give. A road that can go no further has also led somewhere.
Maybe all that you had to give was not love. A cactus does not flower to flatter the desert.
Maybe love is yellow wildflowers on a quiet hillside. I would say to you if we met that it is the butterfly that is chastised ever so often, that it used to be just a lowly caterpillar. Who derides the caterpillar that no matter what, one day it will turn into a butterfly? You would say that poets think the stupidest things. We would be silent, for a while. What about a moth, you would ask.
Maybe that was as far as love could go. To that liminal
space where the spectacular is still a dream and hope
seems at best, an absurd preoccupation. Strangers write of love in excruciating detail. The shape of the mouth, the curve of a breast, the warmth of a body inches away in the cold light of a diffused December morning. I remember in straight lines that divide time. Before. Later. Truth. Lies. Then. Thereafter. The right angles of a moment that should never have been.
Maybe the shaft of light coming in from the window is
an overture. The universe suspended in a sunbeam, naked,
trembling. Apologetic. The morning breeze bends a palm frond deep towards the earth. The bulbul, perched upon it, is unfazed. It is staring at the rain cloud, singing its love song, not missing a beat. The sun turns a soft, sobbing shade of white, wet with feeling.
Ok here we go, the soundcloud for Part 20. If you want to read the poem instead, click here.
This is the last reading for now. Will still post an Interlude whenever there is more to share about the story or its parts.
Also Part 27 is on Via Negativa’s collection for the last week of the 2022. Check it out here. Many thanks to Dave Bonta, as always. It’s so rewarding that some of these poems have found a second home.
It’s interesting now to be sharing poems that relate to various places I’ve visited and the consequent cycle of thoughts. The travel phase. The last poem, Part 28, talks of Egypt. Here’s a picture of a Cairo sunset, taken back in 2004, mesmerising as the sun floats down behind the Nile.