Words A tempest of violent syllables A deluge of throttled sounds Sweeping through a limitless demesne Of births deaths resurrections And I Rummaging through a heap of rubble Among the guttural ruins Among the chaos of pulverized language In the doom-vowelled silence Stumble upon A bloodied phrase
Like a grain of sand
Gather to a greatness
Perhaps through some law of Nature
Or the Creator’s subtle hand
Often such things
Sink into memory
By their sheer denseness
And quality. And resurface
From time to time
As a haunting refrain
Of our joys and pain
Yes, certain things —
By quirk of Nature
Or the Lord’s guiding hand
In the oyster of the brain
Like the grain of sand
Pass into the sublime.
And In the Human Heart
There is a certain emptiness
In the human heart I cannot fathom.
Nothing grows there –
Except the hollow beat of despair
Reverberating to the staccato of machine-guns.
There is no substance:
Not even for a seed of Hope.
The great deserts that span the great continents
Have gushed forth either water or oil;
Vast wastes of sand
Have sustained many a civilisation
And borne the toil
Of a million shuffling feet.
But, in the desert of the human heart,
Where there is neither water nor oil
Only the bloody fount of hatred springs.
The Nowhere Man
(An exercise in self-satire)
There is something about life
You always miss the bull’s-eye:
Is it black as blood or white as dough?
Perhaps you don’t care, even though
Somebody of your urbane ilk
Sticks his questioning face at you.
A nowhere man-about-town, you
Stop at the crossroads — eremitic
As a crab — in your old man’s pampered Fiat
That purrs like the household cat
Waiting for its bowl of milk.
— Waiting for red to turn green
With nothing but hell in between
Whilst somebody gives a yell —
(Amid a frantic change of scenes)
Blast you to smithereens!
The Unfinished Man
He dreams about a blue house
With a red roof
And mangoes that burn
Like hundred watt bulbs
In his backyard
He has been dreaming about them
Ever since he banged his head
Against a cross-beam
In his father’s garage
(He had not reached puberty)
He dreams about a blue house
Where the night disrobes
In a slow strip tease. Where dawn
Slips silently under bolted doors
Spilling her load of gilt-edged mail
Where fear does not coil, uncoil
In the belly
Like a thousand vipers
Where shadows do not cast
Dark glances in doorways at dusk
Where clocks do not echo
The heart’s silence
Beating to a standstill
Where mangoes are in season
All the sweet year round
Ah sometimes his mind goes blank
He fights the dark in the dark
Hoping for something drastic
A blow to the head perhaps
To jump-start his brain
Tonight he is fighting again
Against the din of consciousness
The dogs are stripping the night
To the bone. The flower in his brain
The mangoes are slowly becoming stone
A Lament for Their Eyes
(for my ULFA brethren who are either dead, dying or will die)
They want to shut their eyes, they cannot
The red, lidless eyes gape like festering wounds
They are struck with a strange sickness
They are struck with the seeing sickness of the sky
The sky sees everything. The sky is one enormous eye
The sky never stops seeing. Seeing everything all at once
The eyes too can see everything. But only in patches
The sky sometimes weeps
The eyes do not weep, they cannot
The eyes have become clogged with excess salt
They cannot wash themselves clean like the sky
The eyes do not have the luxury of tears
The waters of the eyes have become locked in ice
Like subterranean cataracts in winter
The waters of the eyes have withered into a lake
A lake of frozen tears
The sun comes feeling for their eyes with pointed daggers
The moon comes feeling for their eyes with banderillas
The wind comes feeling for their eyes with grasping fingers
They cannot shut their eyes; they cannot shut their eyes
Last night they fished out a corpse from a pond
Its mouth was wide open. The eyes protruding like ping-pong balls
They say he cried a lot. Others say he died of seeing too much
Now he tastes death in his mouth and death stares through his eyes
The rain claws at the green skulls of violent memories
The air is moist with blood spewing from ransacked towns
A vulture slakes its thirst at fetid pools of submerged bones
In the distance clouds gather like poisonous mushrooms
The rice shrinks back into the earth. A swathe of smoke
Covers the eyes of those who have come
To cremate their dead. Somewhere a girl tries to sing
But the song sticks in her throat like a knife
They want to shut their eyes, they cannot
They cannot shut their eyes in spite of the daggers
They cannot shut their eyes in spite of the knives
They cannot shut their eyes in spite of the guns
That seek out their pithless hearts with long fiery tongues
They are the fallen angels with wings like shards of electricity
They cannot shut their eyes, their eyes with their pierced dreams
Oh, if they shut their eyes the nightmares begin
I lean my eyes
Against the bright blue rim of the sea
I unfurl my spindrift pennons
As I wait your return
A quiet hope laps round my heart
As the tides come in every afternoon
And drowns in a quicksand of sighs
As the tides go out. A battered sundial
On this blind-bleary shore
I keep the lengthening hours
As I watch my seamless shadow
Slip into your clothes
Between Bomb Blasts
After the explosion, the silence blithely
Resurrects itself. There is no report of casualties.
People are so used to being blown to bits these days:
Prayers shiver down sodden wicks on Diwali*.
The silence is a piece of wafer. All huddle around it –
Afraid to eat of it. It isn’t strange that deep in the ghettoes
Somebody should prick his ears– above the muezzin’s call–
To plumb the soundness of the silence.
The sky is rigged with booby traps. Nobody mentions
Death by lightning. Natural occurrences are rare:
In life as much as in death. So long as the silence lasts
There is no cause for panic.
*The Festival of Lights that is celebrated throughout India by lighting lamps and bursting crackers.
(On first viewing a computerized image of the foot and mouth virus)
For Sylvia Plath
I hardly look like the rose:
The inflorescent crown
Unfurls its horny petals
In all weathers.
My colours erupt on the skin
In a conflagration of volatile tattoos—
Vivid! Diabolical! Motley!
They are comelier than those that sprout
In the genitals of your ancestors
And bosoms of holy men.
I am not ornamental:
I do not adorn the lapels of your jacket—
I only smoulder
Where the heart once blazed.
A carnivore, I fatten
On the thin sap of the human animal.
I am neither male nor female:
Virile to the tips of my corolla,
I tread down all creatures
In a silent march of hungry midgets
On a million tiny feet!
Ah, but unlike the rose—
I am absolute.
Stray Thoughts on His Birthday
(For Markus Vinzent)
The cards dry up, friends fade.
Another day sloughs its skin
On the barbwires of memory.
The years fizzle out one by one
Like a row of streetlamps
Along a dark, lonely alley.
But, beneath the junk-pile
Of jettisoned dreams
Things remain much the same:
Only the wounds gape wider
The shadows loom ghostlier
And the day lasts longer.
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