Part 11

I watched the elaborate ritual prayer, wondering if
others imagined their god like I did — conducting a
cosmic orchestra, leading stars on giant violins, the
stars beyond the stars we can see playing bamboo

flutes and somewhere behind that, astral fingers
dancing over silver piano keys like drunken fireflies;
or a god walking around a nameless forest like a
pied piper, rivers and lakes chasing behind him; or

a god that sings and crafts poetry, fingers dipped
into the early light. Words as soft as silence. They
might have laughed. I didn’t tell them it was also
how I imagined love. Because a cloud wasn’t a

wrapper that hung empty after all the rain had
fallen. The cloud was the entire rain. I put things
like that in my notebook between poems. About a
god that sat in a cloud that was rain and wrote

about love. About love that could read unfallen
poems, standing in the rain like a god. Things like
that. Things that I left behind after that first drought.
People and rain and love. And god. The poems, I kept.

Advertisement

Interlude (2)

Okay, more of what’s happening:

A few parts of this story have found their way into the weekly poetry blog digests on Via Negativa. Much gratitude to Dave Bonta for including them.

Here are the links:

Part 04
Part 05 
Part 09

And below is my reading of Part 02. To those who listened to Part 01 and shared your feedback, thank you.

Also, for anyone who needs to know this, if you are not a WordPress user, you can subscribe for updates via email. There’s a widget on the sidebar to put in your email ID.

Part 10

She was a fake oracle. Back then, so much
was not quite real, so much was over the
top, it was hard to tell the difference. Not
that we thought about things like that.
The air was taut, stifling, fettering by
approximation, not that we knew about
things like that. Everything was accepted,
normalized. People were judged by the
company they kept, by the company
they refused to keep.

We tried and sighed inside cotton wool
bubbles. The Bay of Bengal comforted us.
Movie songs on cheap cassettes comforted
us. The pale stirrings of mistaken love
comforted us. Still, there were voices that
beckoned from a nameless beyond as if
the tree of discontent had broken through
the murky loam into the sun.

She claimed she was a fortune teller, of
sorts. She said I would never cross a sea. I
thought about her in Alexandria by the
Mediterranean, in Santorini, in Dover, in Cape
Town. When it felt like the fates whispered
in my ear. When birds roosting on that long
ago tree cried in unison. When there was
so much right and so much wrong and it
was hard to tell the difference.

Until we stood together at the edge of a
sea I cannot cross. A sea that demands more
than boats and arks and bridges. More than
the capacity for breath. More than mere
wanting. A sea that dares me to walk on
water. She was a fake shaman. And I, a
fake traveller. The water runs cold, deep
and without mercy.

Interlude (1)

A couple of things to share:

First, a picture shared on Instagram by a reader who wrote these lines from Part 09 on his door.

“There is also no explanation
for why a monsoon sky is the colour
of a sonnet, why a heart breaks in
the way day doesn’t, why a moment
shapes the poet when the poet shapes
the moment, but in the reverse
direction, as if time and poetry
are mirror reflections staring at
each other from opposite worlds.”

Part 9- Door writing

And second, a reading of Part 01 for those who prefer to listen to their poetry.

Part 09

Poetry first arrived
like a sparrow at the window —
brave enough, sometimes, to
reach for grain, to sing a note,
retreating at the slightest
approach.

I was emulating verses
taught in school: Wordsworth,
Frost, Davies, Shelley. Not
knowing the context, not picturing
the landscapes, not hearing the
intonations. Just syllables chasing
each other through burgundy
synapses, kicking up inexplicable
waves of joy. This is how the poet
must have wanted to be read. Or
maybe the poet never imagined so
distanced a reader. Or any reader.

I can frame my own space
now, hear my own voice. But the
universe still reveals no premise for
why something is, why it wants, why
it is denied and why it grieves into
poetry. There is also no explanation
for why a monsoon sky is the colour
of a sonnet, why a heart breaks in
the way day doesn’t, why a moment
shapes the poet when the poet shapes
the moment, but in the reverse
direction, as if time and poetry
are mirror reflections staring at
each other from opposite worlds.

There is also no explanation for
why the road less travelled by
turned out to be a dead end.

Part 08

As if redemption comes from one flash of lightning? From
one great loss or one unexpected reward? Not in a story
like this. You learn slowly, painfully, the skin you are
trying to moult ripped unwillingly off your body, the scars,

years later, still burning red when the night descends. You
try not to see differences. A better love. A better wound. A
better prayer. You try not to colour and label them. You learn
to compensate. To string rope bridges across the void. To

count footsteps in the dark. To cross over to the other side.
Until the face in the looking glass is no longer yours. Until you
no longer know what you buried deep inside the matryoshka
dolls. You never grow up. You never rebuild. You rename the

differences. You recolour them. You make excuses for the
void. You reimagine yourself. You watch the storm from
inside a house without mirrors. Silver lines of rain holding up
the sky. The better wound. The better skin. The better pain.

Part 07

A story needs drama. But life is mostly insipid, washed
monochrome. And those are the better days. Death
demands more histrionics. A bigger stage. I wonder
about the distance to death, how many steps, how many
detours. What if I cannot walk all the way? What if I know
I am dead, for a day, for a year, what will I think about?
What will I miss? What will I want to go back for?

But the day she died, the one that took her life, I didn’t
understand the horror. There is a flurry of activity when
someone passes: there are things to get done, grief to
be expressed, people to be met. A kinetic filling of
the void. Instead of quiet. Instead of explanations.

The nightmares came later. When I was still young. When
I got older. The dead leave questions. Your life is no longer
directed towards your own end. It somehow points to
theirs. What do they think about? What do they miss? What
do they want to come back for? In the nightmares, she still
lives. And requires answers. Those are the better nights. But
this is an ordinary story. Mornings are always on schedule.

Part 06

Possibly imagined.
Wholly unverifiable.
My memories of childhood are
like a shoebox diorama
with faceless miniatures
as if I am seeing my life
from a great distance.

When they burned
the bridges caught fire from the silence.
There was no roar of an inferno
there were no ashes to collect
no reminder of what once stood
and allowed a crossing, a meeting.
Silence obliterates everything
in its path. Even the path.

I never found my way back.

That silence, like a fungus,
eats into voices, conversations,
remembered, forgotten.
I no longer know what
the past sounded like.

When you have run so far that
you measure everything by the distance
from what you left behind,
you tether yourself to a void,
to a leash from which you are never free.
You cannot question why you began
to run. You cannot return.
You can go as far as the leash allows.
The leash that no one holds.
The leash that pulls at your neck,
biting into a wound that will not heal.

I became a snail,
running slowly even when
I was running fast,
getting nowhere,
having nowhere,
forward or back,
never bound, never free,
carrying, always carrying,
the home I did not have,
the home I never had,
on my back.

Part 05

Back then, reading books everyone was reading: Rand,
Gibran, Hesse — imagining perfection, imagining that
misunderstood idealism was some kind of quiet
rebellion, a secret counterculture. Until it came apart.

First innocence was fractured. Like a faraway rumble.
A misheard oracle. The truth is not always true. Then
the heroes turned themselves inside out. This too was
endured like a blood-letting ritual. An inevitable rite of

passage. Home is a variable construct. The cracks grew
wider. And deeper. Till the pillars crashed. Till the roof
caved in. The bottom fell out. As if someone let go. As
if I had been holding on. You can lose what you never

had. How do you run away from a place you should be
running to? But this is an ordinary story. You grab your
dress above your knees and rush out against the wind.
You cauterize your wounds and brush reasons from

your hair when you fall. You tell yourself the swamp is
an open field. This is not a warrior-epic. You are a little
dog in a big dog fight, except the big dogs don’t even
know there is a fight. You can stay. But then you run.

Part 04

Does this story want to be told in the first person?
In a story without beginning or end, an i that starts

in the middle is malformed, is incomplete, presents
no meaning. i is a burden that cannot tell its story.

Even this ordinary story. The uncapitalized i must say
things you cannot understand, things I dare not say.

And how can you be that perfect listener? You have to
know so much first. Things even I don’t know. So much

about wanting. So much about running away. You have
to know how far you can get when you want to, but

cannot run. You have to know which one needs more
want – running towards or simply running away. You

have to know that coming out of Rumi’s mausoleum
in Konya, i cried. Because to say everything there is

to say, you have to feel everything there is to feel,
and there is no way out of the labyrinth of not feeling

and not saying, both walking blindfolded through a
dark warren, looking for an exit that may not be there.