2/25/17

Poems | Priyam Goswami

Artwork : W. Jack Savage


This is the Year of Long Nights

all afternoon
the snow has
fallen.
of Kreuzberg too, they will speak;
this isle of theirs
is also frozen.

all night they touch
themselves in Wedding
somewhere in the dark.

theirs is the silence of black lacy bras
theirs is a love
of broken seas.
the ease has gone out of love now
their cries floating
somewhere in Wrangelkiez.





First Snow

the canal froze
//over//
            last night; this I saw
from the window.
            the snow
                        //still falling outside//
collects
            in the clefted nude trees.
now, now, now
            the men in fluorescent orange
                        //arrive//
            throw, crunch, trample
                        this pebbled gravel
                        melting the snow.
These feet, our tender old feet
                        waking this morning
                        are pricked to no end.

2/23/17

Poems | Anjali Ojha

Photo : Lee La


This Christmas

I see how bright is your Christmas tree
Yet, not as bright as I would like it to be...
The city, never quite though, has dulled...
There are still couples walking hand in hand,
Breathing out white vapour,
High on the fog
That suddenly enveloped the streets
On the Christmas morning...
Jesus must be here...
But truth, like love, has few takers...
Jesus needs a disguise.
This blanket of smog, a cover for him
Just as the manger was that night
For Joseph and Mary...

Santa Clause can be seen on the roads,
Selling, marketing, trying to pull the crowd
Shops are decked up,
Not as glamourous as last year though.

But the three wise men,
Live only in tales.
Gold, frankincense and myrrh
We can now imitate...
The gift of Magi
They say, is just a myth...

Would Jesus not be roaming around as well?
On the streets of my city
That has dented its spirit forever...
Covering the homeless with blankets,
Feeding the poor...

Or begging outside the pubs,
Where we drank our fill and sang a loud song...
Or sitting with the urchins in Connaught Place
Sniffing a handkerchief like others.
My city lost its Christmas,
Somewhere between the worship homes and markets...
My city clinks and clatters
Like the loose change left in my pockets.


How did you kill your poets ? 

How did you kill your poets?
The ones who sang of
desert roses and fountain of miracle?
How did you poison their dreams?
The vales that whispered
Tales of love, melancholy
and sacrifices
How did you taint their verses
with blood
Replacing the ink that coloured the sky
with stars in the night
and clouds during the day...

Pens and diaries
Replaced by guns and diktats

There was a door
With a dream catcher
Now, it has dents.

Did you use bullets or bombs?
Or just sealed it tight
So tight, that neither the zephyr
Nor the sunlight could walk in.
The poems trapped inside
Knocked hard
Shouted
Banged on the sealed entrance...
It must have been the impact that left the dents...

But I know, the last dying flower told me,
The screams had silenced
Before the wood cracked
Out of agony.

In collective grief,
The sun, the forest, and the gardens
Withered.

Now, a dry heatwave sweeps
The streets where unwritten words
Wander like a madman.
The poet's body, still walks,
A zombie, adapted to routine.
A day, that is sans melody,
Nights, that sleep quietly,
And mornings, that pray,
But only through their lips.
The hearts,
And the eyes,
Are empty.

How did you kill those poets?
Their verses seek justice
They counter, and question
Your chants and diktats
But there are no listeners...
The city is dead.

Prose | Barnali Ray Shukla

Photo : Lee La

At five-something in the morning the world seemed a happier place to Ila.
Morning prayers wafted in from the masjid.  She was perched on the outer ledge of the window of her apartment on the 13th floor. Her wet tresses played truant.

The breeze was still strong. At a distance, a persistent Arabian Sea crashed against the rocks as if it had a secret to share with her but couldn’t.
In that wee light, impressions the rains had made last night were in silhouettes.

Devastation was a small word for the trail the waters had left behind.
Ila wasn’t thinking of the visible damage last evening had made.

She eased her grip on the empty wineglass that she was holding. Brought it really close to her eyes to check why the last traces of red wine refused to come to her. She struggled once more, but the last few drops just wouldn’t obey. She smiled at their audacity. She hadn’t smiled in the last twenty hours.

Her manicured hand wore a ring with a solitaire sitting on it proudly.
Ila removed the ring and tossed it into the wine glass.
The ring looked nicer in the wineglass, she thought.
She murmured, “Bye Rohit ”.
Ila looked down from where she sat and tossed the glass with the ring in it. Watched till it reached the ground.
From that height, she couldn’t tell if it shattered in silence.
Diamonds and waves crash but don’t shatter.
Dreams go in silence and no one hears them crash.
Possibly, dreams, diamonds and waves have nothing in common.

Ila had considered jumping. Ending her life with that one last jump.
Perhaps she had been sitting on the ledge for too long through the storm.
The alchemy of desires changes when you walk through a storm and she just had, alone.

The miscarriage was gnawing at her nerves, her womb, her heart.
That was last evening. Coping with it alone, was war.

Rohit, her boyfriend, was under the impression that the baby had been aborted. He was away sailing somewhere in the Pacific since March.
This was late June.

Ila was 36 and she had wanted that child.
She was certain that her life wouldn’t morph into any cliché.
But destiny has strange ways, biology doesn’t. The most natural outcome of amorous nights of belonging to your beloved caught her unawares one morning. She had made several trips to her doctor just to be sure.

Rohit had guffawed when she declared she was pregnant. All he had spoken was about breach of trust and contraception, while sipping his beer. Moments, a few dinner plates and slammed doors later, he had stormed out of her home with his cellphone, car keys and wallet.
Had texted two days later, asking her to abort the appendage.

Ila gave out a short laugh as she recollected her memories. She tried changing her posture. She wouldn’t jump. Gingerly, she moved closer home, careful not to let the breeze affect her choice. When you give up on the idea of killing yourself, life becomes even more precious.

A pressure-cooker whistled in a kitchen that rose early. Joggers appeared, attempting to tame the city’s puddles. The newspaper boys wrapped in yellow and blue plastic were the knights on shining bicycles. The storm had left. The maximum city had erupted at the cracks.

She stepped back into her apartment with a dash of green-grey algae on her elbow and shin. She looked for her mobile phone. The only glow around as it sprung to life at her touch.

A polymer push-button phone purred to life in Nikhil ’s apartment, away from where Nikhil was. He was sure that the phone would stop ringing by the time he had his hands on it but realized that the caller was determined. He wasn’t surprised when his wife wondered aloud  who could be up that early. Nikhil  was not sure; it was not even seven in the morning.

***


There was a reason why Nikhil never avoided Ila’s calls.

Back in college, Nikhil was always nervous on the morning of an exam and to add to the anxiety, once, a breathless Ila had called him minutes before he was to appear for one. She said she had been in an accident. A spontaneous practical reaction – that he could not be of help –  had taught him a lesson for life.

His exam had started and Ila strode  into the  hall. She told him he had neither integrity nor a spine  and added that  he should stop calling himself her friend.  Then she wished him luck for his exam after apologizing to the invigilator and  drove herself to a doctor. That was the Ila, Nikhil knew. He never let her down  after that.

Ila’s voice  brought him back to the present.


***

 “Can we talk?”

Nikhil did not respond.

Ila  : Are you lost in thoughts or is Smita around ?

Nikhil :  Yes ? …Yes.

“Even better, take her permission…  I need you here, when can I see you?”

“I was thinking if you could…”

“Ok …forget it.”

“ It’s that building by the…?”

“1305 , Blue Mountain, ‘A’ Wing.”

Nikhil:  Smita, I need more sugar…

Ila : Morning cup of tea with a loving wife …you were always the lucky one bozo.

Nikhil :  And a lovely daughter, don’t forget. 

Ila :    Who knows, maybe we would have had a son…

Nikhil fell silent. His wife passed him the ‘Sports News’ page of the newspaper. His morning staple.

Ila : I don’t miss you Nikhil ...hope you know that.

Smita : Some more tea ?


***

Ila hung up. He stared at the phone for a moment.

Smita: Was it her?

Nikhil:  Ila … that sounds better.

He got up and finished the tea in one gulp, then took out a fresh towel, gave  a cursory pat on Smita’s shoulder and went straight to the shower.

Smita : You are going to meet her ...I mean Ila?

Nikhil : Yes  … don’t worry if I am late.

As Ila tossed her phone on the couch in the drawing room, she looked for something above the air-conditioner. There it was. A pigeon’s nest.
Two fledglings cozy in her old scarf, snug inside an empty carton of cinnamon cigarettes, now a little soggy with last night’s rain. The pigeon made gurgling sounds. Today, she looked more perplexed than usual.
Ila responded with a gurgle to thaw the brave young mother’s stupor.

“..And I am asking you  this one last time now--can I be their God-mother?” The pigeon blinked. Ila smiled.
The two helpless chicks huddled together. Pretty ugly creatures.

Ila wondered how her baby would have looked. A messy multi-cellular red ball of hope had left her belly much before the stipulated nine months. It had lived in her womb. She had held life within and inside her. She fought her tears as she gave a flying kiss to the pigeon.

Nikhil drove on, his lips repeating her address.  He hadn’t met Ila in years. That one phone call compressed the distance worth light years into a 18.3km drive. His mind wandered to the driving lessons he had given her long back and their day together in a lock-up, after a minor accident.

A sharp honk brought Nikhil back to his driving. The traffic light had turned green. The rush-hour traffic has no time for nostalgia.

Ila rummaged through her wardrobe. Her clothes felt way too designer or sexy. Finally, she found something friendly. In the bath, her fingers  played with the loofah while the big geyser took forever to assure warm water. Meanwhile, she found something stuck to the sole of her feet: a visiting card. Her mind raced to why the card looked familiar.

 One evening, high on  single-malts at the Hilton, Ila was made an offer by the creative-director of a rival company, with higher pay, perks and power to kill for. Ila had smiled through the entire conversation, pretending to not understand. The moment he left her side to attend to a call, someone accompanying him told her about the catch in his offer, “His wife needs to be pleased!”
Ila raised her glass to salute this piece of news. After a quick bottoms –up,  she walked to the dance floor,  and kissed the creative –director’s wife, on the mouth.

That night, Nikhil had called her a taxi. Only he could tell that this wasn’t to impress anybody but to ward off the creative director who had been hitting on her all evening.

But Anshuman, her then-boyfriend didn’t quite get it. She had narrated everything to him while he was glued to popcorn and Spanish football league on the TV screen.
He broke up with her the very next day.

***


Dressed in a flowing long skirt and a lime-green linen kurti, she emerged out of the bath toweling her hair vigorously. She stopped short as she noticed a man at the window, the window-cleaner, appointed by the building’s ‘society’.
She yelled at him in an unchaste mash-up of Indian languages of the region.
The man copiously apologized for attempting to throw away the pigeon nest.
Ila and the mother pigeon exchanged a knowing glance. Ila got closer to the window with her lighter. The threat was clear. If he didn’t want the rope harness to get burnt, he better be careful of what he threw out of her window.
Her slay-mode had worked.

She felt stronger as she opened the door for Nikhil, almost magically. Ila always recognized his footsteps. His boyish good looks and laughing eyes were just the way she remembered. Powder-blue linen looked nice on his proud shoulders. She wondered why her face lit up each time she encountered Nikhil. He stood at the door, awkward.

He looked at her, a cursory gaze. Avoided her eyes as if that could conceal the rush he felt. The void that became more apparent each time he saw her. She waited for an embrace by the threshold but there are times when a threshold is breached only with conviction. Neither had any, not at this moment.

She didn’t realize that some music was playing somewhere till the music stopped, betraying a silence that lurked into the awkwardness of the moment. Nikhil extended his hand. It held a brown-paper bag, she promptly dug into it.
Vada-pau and lots of green chilies. Nikhil, without making eye-contact, spoke “It rained so I thought maybe this is what you…”

She nodded and something in that nod welcomed him into her apartment.
A space that was spare but not sparse. Nikhil rehearsed a few lines in his head. He wasn’t sure that he knew what would happen next.
Her cellphone tore into the silence. It was Rohit.

Of all days possible, Rohit chose this very moment to tell her that he missed her. Ila took a make-believe drag from Nikhil’s unlit cigarette. In seconds, she stubbed it on Rohit’s claim that she loved him too much to not forgive him. She smirked, looked at her unadorned ring-finger. She missed the ring, yes. About Rohit, she wasn’t sure. She was certain that of all the people in the world, he was the last person whom she wanted anything from. She needed his signatures to close some joint accounts in their bank, that’s all.

The cold detachment in her voice told Nikhil that he shouldn’t be in the room now. The vapours of a relationship dying are unbearable. Nikhil looked around at an-imaginary-something. In his head, he even heard her say on the phone “I love you Rohit”.
Maybe, maybe not but Nikhil’s  imagination had already raced ahead.
It was restrained by a touch. Nikhil felt much more than the unlit cigarette on his shoulder. She planted it right back in his shirt pocket.

Ila      : Yes, that was Rohit

Nikhil:  Some ginger-tea with vada-pau?

Ila : Actually I don’t know him I think…

Nikhil:  Yet, you decide to have his baby?

Ila hadn’t seen this side of Nikhil. She stared.

Nikhil:  News travels …

Nikhil sauntered into the kitchen like fragrance wafts in from summer blooms.  She watched him fidget, standing near the kitchen counter.
His quest for a pan and tea-leaves seemed to go nowhere. Ila relented.
She parked him on a bar-stool, spun it around a few times, till she found his smile.

Ila      : How old is Anshu now?

Nikhil :  She turned four last month, you remember her name?

Ila      : Is she as pretty as her mother?

Nikhil :  She doesn’t look as bad as the father.

Ila       :  Thank God for small mercies ! Sugar ?

Nikhil  :  Usual.

Ila        :  I don’t know how my baby would have looked like.

The electric-kettle whistle seared through the image in  her head. She felt his breath giftwrapped in a dream on the arch of her slender neck. Her silver ear-rings nodded, certain about this man but she didn’t always agree with her earrings. She wasn’t sure if she could cope with intimacy at this point.

Ila       :  Keep away… married man!

Her reaction made him move away from her guarded body. They looked at each other for a moment that seemed like a year. She volunteered a smile. He stretched his arm for a packet of Oreo, on the third shelf of the kitchen panel. A packet of cookies between them ensured that they remained just ‘good friends’.

As he poured tea in their respective cups, she extracted a bottle from a drawer, full of pills.

Nikhil : Why are you doing this to yourself?
Ila :  I can’t be strong all the time.
Nikhil : Maybe you should get them in brighter colours…


***
Ila : What would have happened Nikhil if I had died and my baby had lived ?
Nikhil: Shut up!

Ila      : Marriage has been good for you partner…
Nikhil laughed.
Ila      :  It’s been a while, isn’t it ?
Nikhil: What ? sex ?
Ila      :  Since you laughed like that ?

Ila slowly left the kitchen. She didn’t feel like waiting for the answer. He didn’t follow her. He joined her a few minutes later; girls need time to gather their thoughts.  He sat next to her, quietly. She didn’t move away.

Ila : Don’t you have coll...I mean office?
Nikhil : We have met after what like now ...seven years!
Ila      : Stop counting!
Nikhil: Ok, so you ...and your office?
Ila      : No office.
Nikhil : Breakfast?
Ila      : No.
“Walk?”
“No”
“Scrabble?”
“No”
“ Football?”
“No”
“Maths?”
“No”
“Hide n’ seek?”
“No”
“Book cricket?”
“No”
 “Beer?”
“No”
“Wine?”
“No”
“Music?”
“Yes”
“Long drive”
“Yes”
“Love?”
“Yes?”
“Baby?”
“Yes?”
“With me? ”

For Ila, time stopped. She found herself tipping her head in a quiet nod.
The rains started afresh. The windows looked charming, drenched in the voluptuous monsoons.

Nikhil got up, started to shut the windows, the doors, drew the curtains. The day was overcast. He plucked a music CD from one of the drawers.
Ila was sitting on the floor, her head over her knees.
Her heart skipped a beat as she felt Nikhil’s hand on her forehead.
She was still. She heard him walk away. And walk back to her, this time he had a glass of water in one hand and a tablet.

“ Go on ...take it. We all can do with some help some time.” Ila obeyed.
She heard a metallic clink. He had taken his car keys out and found her set as well, for the house. Slowly, he got her on her feet and wrapped his raincoat around her.

Nikhil : Shall we?

She looked at this Nikhil as he looked only into her eyes, before scooping her up. They left the main door with her draped on him. She couldn’t believe an interface with the world in this amorphous form. She tried to protest about this abduction but he didn’t reply. First the elevator, then the parking lot, the car, he opened the door for her each time. Her girlfriends would never believe that she had known one man all along, in our times, who would do that, always.

Ila faintly protested.
Nikhil:  You were never such a coward.

Nikhil drove. Ila felt the years wash away.
Nikhil hadn’t yet looked at her.
The silence was as comfortable as a sunset on the shoulder on a January morning.

Nikhil : You remember Chandni tea stall?
Ila       :  Of course…
Nikhil: I was there last week, alone.

Ila was quiet.
Nikhil: I found this girl there.
Ila looked away.
Nikhil : She is this little..I call her Chandni.
Ila said nothing.
Nikhil : You can call her what you want
Ila : Meaning?
Nikhil : That is for you to find out…

Ila looked at the rain.
The breeze against the windscreen made the raindrops walk up.
Nikhil : She is about a month old, and I want her for us…

Ila put her right foot on his left foot.
The clutch relented, she changed the gears, Nikhil pulled over.
Nikhil : “ I want us a baby, Ila.”
Ila stared at the wipers, insistent for a yes from her.

The south-west monsoon persisted in its journey eastwards.
The rains washed away the salt. Ila and Nikhil headed for that tea and that one gift together, which made life more worthwhile than just love could ever make.
                                                                   
***

2/21/17

Poems | Ranjit Hoskote

Photo : Lee La
                  

Printer
Francesco Griffo, inventor of italics

Follow his shaking, roasted hand: he sets chisel against wooden edge,
points burin at plate, strikes lead against wedge, lays kern against grain,
and so through the night rams out the ringing cavalcade of words.
The ink rains down in neat lines, an orchard’s planted on the sheet:
psalms, verses, prayers grow; he prunes them all with wayward grace.
As the page burns bright, the typesetter’s eyes grow rimmed with red
from staring at tight, infinitely small and mocking margins.
His reined lust explodes in hot metal, then fine brocade:
most mornings, he ends up drunk in a canal,
bruised from a brawl. One day he will swing
from a hangman’s rope, singing to the last:

Yes, in three languages Yes, I announce, I declare, I proclaim it:
I was manic enough last night to smash through all the typefaces,
to drug every font, and now in my own sharply cut sans-serif,
I’ve slugged this by dimming candlelight for today’s edition,
this crazed compositor’s invocation
to a dawn that will break over Venice without his help:
Where I’m going, there’s blazing horror and no gentle restoration,
pitch the only ink, flame the only imprint
and icy darkness my Lord High Censor.
Find harbours, all you galleys that sail out
of my mind’s bedevilled press!



The Atlas of Lost Beliefs

Without waking up, turn to page thirty-seven
in the Atlas of Lost Beliefs
and surround yourself

with apsaras, kinnaras, gandharvas, maenads,
satyrs, sorcerers, bonobos, organ grinders,
stargazers, gunsmiths, long-distance runners,
gravediggers, calligraphers, solitary reapers,
beenkars, troubadours, rababias, ronin,
nagas, pearl divers, Vandals, Goths,
mummers, snipers, collectors of moths,
hobos, dharma bums, bauls, drifters,
djinns, mahjubs, marabouts, qalandars,
griots, mad hatters, speakers in tongues,
trippers, star angels, batmen, punks,
eggheads, buffoons, lay preachers, agitators,
friends of the court, friars minorite, agents provocateurs,
bird-spangled shamans, fainting oracles, screeching owls,
wise men of Gotham, and women who run with wolves

all blessed by the blue hand of a reckless dancer
who spares a thought or two for the world but no more
as she poses, heels in the air, Cossack-kicking on a crumbling reef.




Rain Dance

The dancer wilts,
her early lessons in balance
squandered.

The first rains lift her spirits.
Only much later, as she hears
the reassuring peal of thunder

and the sky empties out
cloud by cloud,
will it come to her:

lightning travels faster.
The news comes late,
the damage already done.



Bactrian Drachma
for Shailendra Bhandare


On one side, a face that’s been kissed, spat on, spun in bright air:
      basileos,
                    tyrant mining dry valleys
                              far from Homer’s wine-dark sea.
                              On the other,
                    rimmed by a halo of worn ass-lip script:
        tratara,
a cave-born echo, never heard the same twice, never fully deciphered.



A Constantly Unfinished Instrument
for Brian Eno


Begin with the creeper.
Follow its rustle
as it uncurls across brick, bark and thorn.

Go out in all weathers, craft a score
from the grunts and growls
that escape the world-beast in its sleep.

Stay the course until you’ve caught
the quick, true surge of the ocean
that’s felt the fire harpoon pierce its hide:

until you’ve heard the ocean flail, lash and roar
through the creeper,
heard it again, and heard it right.


2/15/17

Poem | Nabanita Kanungo

Photo : LeeLa

AGE II

When you left saying,
“If only you were forty…”

It’s 2017;
another five years
for this body
to reach there,
that fortieth league
of an ageless
chasm of words
between us.

If only you were forty,
you said.

But then,
distance would still be
an interminable lie;
numbers defining
the same grief;
ravenous mouths
returning to swallow
a tenderness
drooling
in long slithers
of hunger.

It’s 2017.
I’m 35,
vapid with words,
that do not erase me;
still unquiet with
what I remember
of your faces
peeling off each day,
their brilliant lies,
their carved moods,
their wooden smiles
and hollow eyes;
perfectly fitting
reality’s empty,
faceless
game.

I’m 35, still;
unqualified
for the tart wisdom
of that confession
you made:
It was a mistake.
Two and a half years.
Poetry too is a slight
of silence.
You were fifty three/four,
then?
You still squirmed
at the word
‘fornication’.
You were pure,
born the day
before;
given to
mistakes.
Who knows?
Maybe you
woke up one day
and didn’t like
my teeth
anymore.

If only you were forty,
or a bit above,
you said,
measuring me
with a steel-tape
in your voice.

Perhaps at 40,
one stops picking
lice from truth’s
dangerous tail
and love and stupidity
stand balanced
neatly in an
equation.

40 right-clicks
the body’s
dictionary to
auto-correct
‘love’ to ‘desire’;
‘desire’ to ‘sex’
‘sex’ to ‘fuck’,
'fuck ' to 'masturbate';
40 prefers things
easy,
simple,
straight.

At 40 one doesn’t
expect more
than one’s
share of sadness;
doesn’t expect
those nothings,
another earth,
a silly wish
on silly Valentine's day,
time,
attention,
talk,
conversation,
foreplay;
40
doesn’t
expect.

At 40,
poems are stripped
to their prosaic bone,
it’s bitter marrow,
sucked clean.

40 must mean
a stone’s math
settled in the
stomach’s pit;
a finesse words
cannot have
otherwise;
a knowledge
of practiced
whores,
their lip-biting
exit by the
back-door;
a craft
of death
one hones
with grace,
without fuss.

It’s 2017.
I’m 35.
I still wonder
if you write those
awesome love poems
for the young
and old;
It’s absurd how
you have the words
always—
words that buoy
your time on
a fancy new boat,
a body you don’t wish
was forty years old,
because it is
forty years old,
perhaps a bit
above,
perhaps a bit
below.
Who cares?
It’s not a mistake.
You must be
fifty eight/nine,
now?
long past
this mistake
of my then
33-year-old
body.

I'm still 35,
a forger of dreams
and poems;
still in envy of your
felicity of words,
those dark,
quick wings
on which you
flew away,
never turning
to see
how I’ve aged
to infinity.

Stars hence,
I would like
to meet you
at the edge
of dream,
strip myself
of years,
the thousand
layers
of dead skin,
memory,
words;

I would like
to see
if you recognise
this mistake,
this body,
closed,
sealed,
addressed
with
your
eloquent
apology;
and sent
nowhere.

I would like
to feel
you drink
of it again
for, it would have
turned into the
flawless grief
you wished it was
back then;
it would
have turned
forty,
a bit above,
maybe.

If only you were forty,
you said,
when you could have
done so much
better;
you could have merely
said,
The game
is up.
It’s over.

Poems| Paulami Sengupta

Photo: LeeLa





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ভুল হয়ে গেছে
ভুল হয়ে গেছে
তাই চক্রাকারে ঘুরলাম স্টেডিয়াম।

ধু ধু খাতা পেন
লোকজন, ছাতা
এরপর লেবু চামচের রেসে যেতেই হবে
তার পরেরটাতেও
তার পরেরটাতেও।



শরীর

ঘুষঘুষে জ্বরের  মতো নামছে সিঁড়িগুলো
ভাবছি এটাই সত্যি
আমি ও আসফ আলি রোড
উভয়ই কাবু
তপ্ত অশরীরী ব্যস্ততায়।

কিন্তু শরীর আছে
দেয়ালে দেয়ালে পোস্টার
মৃত তরুণীর
নিমীলিত চোখ আর সবুজাভ তক
কি করে চিনব তাকে।



দ্বীপ

ঝমঝমে সবুজে ভিজে গেলাম
ইট কাঠ ভাঙ্গতে পারি
তাই পথে পথে বৃক্ষদয়
এমনকি মেঘও সতরকভাবে নীচে।

আরেকটু দৌড়লেই
শান্ত হব পুরপুরি
বালি ভেঙ্গে অনেকক্ষণ দৌড়লাম
নারকেলের ডালে আছড়ে পড়লাম
ঢেউএর মত।

এখন সমুদ্র ও রাগ
দুই স্রোত মুখমুখি।



নাইট আউট

নিজেকে ধোপার বালতিতে সেদ্ধ না করে
কেরোসিনে না চুবিয়ে
বডি অয়েল ঢেলে
বাইরে এলাম।
প্রহরী দেখতে পেয়েছে
শা্মপু করা চুলে খুশকির মতো পরাজয়
আর আঙ্গুলে ফুলে ওঠা রোয়া রোয়া ভালো লাগার বিষ।


2/10/17

Poems | Khaliq Parkar

Photo : Khaliq Parkar 

Multani Mitti

Long before
my aunt from London
came visiting with chocolates
and
Body Shop Body Butter

My father
would treat himself
on Sundays
to a Multani Mitti
face-pack.

My brother and I
would watch amazed
as muddy patches on his forehead
dried
into flaky skin
a bit like
The Thing
from our Fantastic Four comics.

While furiously rubbing
walnut Scrub Face Wash today
I was reminded of the Sunday morning
when I felt the sticky mud
on my cheek
turn back into dust

And wondered how far away
Was Multan from
Bombay.


Track Record

They told me
to go running everyday.

"It triggers endorphins" they said
with benign smiles
that came from an indulgent experience.

So I went down
to the university grounds,
with its eight hundred meter track
made of bumpy clay.

I ran with heaving lungs
distracted
by the undergraduate trio
in their pink shorts
and the scowling emeritus.

I looked down
at my new shoes,
and saw big black ants scatter
from under my lightly thumping
pliant soles.

It has been a month now,
and the trio have disappeared,
their schedule probably disrupted
by exams.

I am yet to feel
the promised endorphins,
but have calmer lungs,
a lighter stride,
and my latest track record
is thirty-seven ants
in fifty-three seconds.


Photo : Khaliq Parkar 

Erato

The little pauses,
like pips
between your teeth.

Every segment of the orange,
a pocket of translucense
we pull away
from the skin.

Little strings of white
remain attached
to the other ends
of our conversation

2/6/17

Letters from Sri Lanka #2 (New Voices) | Sophia Naz

Photo : Sophia Naz

 “We are all guilty of gouging out two eyes for a third”
   - Imaad Majeed, from Thambi Vamsa

I have been invited to attend a monthly gathering of poets at the Hansa Cafe in Colombo. The gathering is called Poetry Pilau, Pilau referring to the dish that a Hindi or Urdu speaking person would pronounce as Pulao. I found it apt that the way it was pronounced in Sri Lanka could also mean ‘ give me a drink of poetry. ’ Indeed, I was about to be immersed in verse from some of this Island nation’s up-and-coming poetic talents.

The young man in his twenties who has introduced me to this gathering is  Imaad Majeed. Imaad is a force of nature; poet, rapper, singer-songwriter and  digital artist, as well as sub-editor/writer at YAMU, a review based site about restaurants in Colombo, director at Kacha Kacha,  a crowdfunded, independent platform that features performances by poets, rappers and singer-songwriters in English, Sinhala and Tamil, at bars frequented by the working class. Imaad’s innovative work ranges from the epic and in-depth examination of his country’s fractured history and politics to experimental, ephemeral poetry videos including one in which he combines Muslim prayer with Buddhist ritual and writes a poem on the water so that it may evaporate and fall as a fine mist upon a mosque that is due to be demolished. In another video he is performing nude, albeit discreetly covered by his guitar.

This  video  below is from a larger work called Thambi Vamsa, which was inspired by music from the Beat Generation and by the rap-poet Krisantha Shri Bhagyadatta, who is also the originator of Poetry Pilau. Thambi Vamsa is a twist on the word Mahavamasa, and explores the origin of Muslims in Sri Lanka, how they are perceived and the clashes they have experienced.



Of particular note is Imaad’s long-term project '1956'. Imaad explains that it is "a recognition that there are many language games and it will not satisfy us to legitimize one over the other. That would be a politics of terror. That is a politics of forcing others out of the conversation. But for ourselves we will want to rearrange the conversation so that we continue to have a voice.”
 1956 is a work in progress. Excerpts are featured here.

Mishal Mazin,  one of the poets present at Poetry Pilau, is also the co-founder of Colombo Poets, a community of poets that aims to encourage budding talent by bringing their spoken word and contemporary poetry to an appreciative audience. Mazin’s work is rooted in and richly evocative of Colombo  as is evinced in this poem, set in the bustling downtown known as Pettah.

On Pettah

Concrete maze, compact
Commercial conduit, with
Sporting Times pitstops
Running along the tarmac.
As far as there's people,
Who want money and peace.
The air smelt of half an illusion,
Of sea salt, and side-alley piss
A wall raised for the zombies,
Divides the horizon from
the ships, and their riches,
The sea is for the
sophisticated, and for us,
There are corner stores,
at every corner, a drunken,
4 PM no-good doer, slapped
Twice, for sparking a fray along
With his cheap tobacco
Beetle juice munching,
Loose shotgun mouth,
One's telling him to fuck off
The other's still trying to
Mumble a tale, political,
No points to his self esteem,
On his eyes, brown sugar,
Still mumbling, mumbling.
Jesus, Ganesh and Buddha,
Having a little chat over it,
Orange bearded and thasbi,
Buying jasmine flowers,
for a wife, or mistress might-be
At the corner of a temple.
Coppers here, coppers there
Coppers roaming everywhere,
Main Street was covered, even for
The biggest drug smuggle, yet
The thugs were on the billboards,
Smiling, and the coppers didn't notice.
Port-side bars, and beer stops,
wine stores at a six-to-one
Ratio to kadés, open on overtime,
And everyone's thirsty, so
The coppers are going home,
The sun can't bear to watch,
So it goes down too, ashamed,
lifting with it, first padlocks
Then all the roller gates,
Click open, the crows flock in
To sell, compel and threaten,
An air of tension, like a fight,
Waiting to happen, stare downs
By lost pedestrians, tuk tuk
Tough guy with tattoos and
Bread winning women,
Children, so many children,
Barefeet and hopeless,
Watching men in big cars,
Go shopping, tend to slots,
men on billboards, and the
Gold stores gleaming with
smiles, genuine laughter
And not a care was given,
To the children, of the sun,
As they played cricket,
Today, tomorrow, and
The day after, until their
Dreams had slipped
Through all the cracks,
In the pavements, and
They will not ask
Why?

You can hear Mishal Mazin perform “On Pettah” at the Pettah Poetry Fringe Festival




Also hailing from Colombo, Nawya Ponnamperuma is a 20 year old Spoken Word poet. Her writing is airily minimal but no less evocative of the city:


I don't belong to the night.

Nor day.

I don't belong, I am flimsy.

Like 4pm to 6pm.

I am the rushed hours.

The happiness of a foot out of a shoe.

The pastel skies.

The baked bread waiting for a home.

Aanisha Cuttilan is a 21-year-old student of Business Management who writes in her spare time and tends to draw inspiration from personal experiences. She is  an editor on the site icommas.com that showcases poetry, prose and spoken word written by the youth of Sri Lanka. The themes of her writing include love, culture and women's rights. Her poem “Hands” is about the agony of rape but it is ultimately a poem of survival, grace and transmission of strength and self-worth to other victims of sexual abuse.

 “Though scars run too deep
You must not forget, beauty flows endlessly”




Benny Lau is  the nom-de-plume  of a young Muslim poet  who comes from a conservative family that would not approve of his “writhings.”  Speaking about his influences, he says, “ I really only got into experimenting with writing 'poetry' after attending a seminar on Burroughs with one of my teachers Richard Doyle. We were working on a zine to send to the 50th anniversary celebration of Naked Lunch in Paris. I used to dig through the Naropa lectures on archive.com often and those were way more inspiring than any intro to creative writing class I took.. After listening to Allen Ginsberg's lectures on expansive poetics / reading Charles Olson's essay on projective verse, in 2009/10 I started writing 'poetry' and have been writing since.”

Benny’s lines are dense, with wonderful conjugations like “anthropouring” jostling with the ubiquitous digital flotsam of our smartphone-infested lives. One can almost feel the beaded sweat on a packed train conjured here:

Coastin ta ta yay bay!

Thick turmeric gasp bloodied evening, smoking a gold leaf, clutching rosary
wrapped around wrist. Trains rattle past, anthropouring, every pore scene, sweat, dust,
sea breeze, easing cramped quarters ever so slightly.
Harking back, train rides to Galle, legs dangling, foot board,
delighted, get the fat out of Colombo, trace coast all the way to Arugambay,
Train-bus-Pilates, pissing plain tea, smoking joints, under cover, parked buses, random
stations, eating peanuts, salty skin chilli crusted flaking finger tips, swinging banyan roots,
breeze up sarong.

Taste of milk toffee lurking on tongue, stuck in Procrustean seat, head leaning grimy
steel tube railing window. Dozing, drooling, body odor of mustachioed, early thirties,
collared ‘Reborn’ t-shirt, navy blue pants, gentleman. His face dignified, a kind of
realness, rarely found in city folk, oozing out of Buddhist temperament, unassuming,
compassionate, eyes avuncular, lanky legs tipping into his territory.
<’tag location’> <popup-spam-‘lose weight fast’> bookaroomnow in
Monaragala> <message failed to send. Click to resend>


Water buffalo-egret trance, paddy field motion blur, odd dog
almost hit by more than one passing car. Not too far now,
arid, thickets, thorns, thickets, wood apples, tamarinds, cactus blooms, elephant dung,
<2 new notifications>  white sand, cerulean wash, frothing cusp.
Hour long smooth road spat out speed bump, hold on,
roadside rapture, spurt of forest, a shade of satisfaction
Here now quite soon, too many peacocks to not notice,
too many notifications to not peacock,
Kataragama, Dionysus birthplace, wincing
in dry zone twilight dusty afterglow
Spot a leopard, focus, naked camera-novelty,
spit out story #nofilter for lent ears, sharing quirked
in filtered #remembrance, grey matters.

It was my distinct impression that there was a renewed interest in poetry happening all around me. In addition to the publication of the anthology New Ceylon Voices after a gap of 32 years, there are a number of Fringe poetry festivals exploding all over Sri Lanka;  in  2017 the Cockrell Fringe Festival took place in Galle, around the same time as the Galle Literary Festival. The director of the Cockrell Fringe Festival is the irrepressible Grace Wickramsinghe, whose debut book of poetry, titled Closure, was shortlisted for the Gratiaen Prize, which was instituted by Michael Ondaatje in 1992 with the money he received as joint-winner of the Booker Prize for his novel The English Patient. The Prize is awarded annually to the best work of literary writing in English by a resident Sri Lankan. In the video below, Grace reads the poem “Che Sera”  from Closure.



Stefhan Sebastian is the consummate spoken word poet  reciting a poem from memory at the Pettah Fringe Poetry Festival; he speaks of his hands “ Like a blind god reading braille”



This is a poem Stefhan read in reaction to a man who had just performed an offensive anti-Muslim song:

Search me and see;
There are nothing but words holding this man together.
I stitched them into the seams,
I stitched them into my being,
and in-between the spaces between the places in-between creases indivisible and unseen.
Between the street light and the shadow.
Between the horizon and the sun.
Between the tea cup and the monsoon.
Between the left and right side of your spine.
Between the stone and the wave.
Between the wolf and the sky.
Between the dream and the page.
Between our tongues and the tangle.
Between my eyes and my hands.
Between my thoughts and my thoughts of thoughts.
Between the sheets and the smell of you.
and in every dialogue between me and me.
These words are all I have,
so tonight, I am taking these words back.
…. And we…
We are the living breathing custodians
of a living breathing language.
Born twice,
of flesh and blood,
and purely articulated thoughts.
Made of mostly empty space and solid intentions,
wielding heavy words in light voices,
in the face of those hard and hollow,
that would loudly wield empty words against us.
And we demand these words be returned to our custody;
The youngest sons of the first man who said ambition was like dreaming.
The youngest daughters of the first woman who said loving was like falling.
Who know that home is a fireless warmth
and the chill of more deaths than winters.
That they being returned to our care
will allow us to return to:
killing our sleep to craft them,
sleeping to dream them,
and waking to share them,
as we walk down a lifetime of pages
lined with these words.

I was delighted to encounter these young and fearless Sri Lankan poets who are informed by their culture yet incisive in their criticism of it. They are constantly  challenging State narratives, gender, race and class stereotypes, their language is by turns, taut and tender, expletive ridden yet suffused with a distinctly South Asian lyric quality.  They are navigating the many streams that make up their linguistic heritage with grace and finesse and leaving some fine poetry in their fierce wake, as Nawya Ponnamperuma so eloquently states:

I am part brown heritage and part white influence.
It came through the sterling and seduced architecture, lifestyle and my ancestors.
I am part-tea, dancing my way to palates overseas through seven regions.
I am the middle of the earth.
I am curvy letters that have tickled rocks,
My ethereal roots fall from branches downward
I am drumbeats drumbeats drumbeats and a thousand dance forms
Serendib, a teardrop, a  pearl.
My story began with liberated naked women and men who wore pounds of gold.
We built ships for Egyptians.
Never reeked of greed but smelt of cinnamon,
We knew love...before the son of God.
We drank with cupped palms,
And fought with fists. We didn't hide behind a rifle.
We engineered. Mastered. Flourished.
We were taught to acknowledge the clergy
Hold a sheaf of Betel the right way.
We are made of folklore
And a grassroot of colourful celebration.
You were white skin and everything beautiful.
But we were glorious and this!
Is our
Common wealth.

~


2/5/17

Poem | Indran Amirthanayagam

Artwork : W. Jack Savage


The Just War

Let us end these border disputes,
war histories, taught in school books,
passed from father to son, mother
to daughter, gender irrelevant;

move the argument forward
and stop the eternal feeding
of hurt and retribution.
Writers from the guild, friends

across the divide, are saying:
calm the temperature, trade
needs stability, common wealth
is the question, and saving ice caps

from melting, and offering light
and heat to our peoples without
destroying rivers and trees.
Let us start with humor

then, joking, this meditation
on their flag imposed
on another flag
from the continent, to bother

and insult; let us remember
how we enjoy the poetry
of the other, share the fruits
of the Humboldt Current,

how anchovies fall
into our nets, and
our cuisine is celebrated
in the other’s capital.

Let us move beyond
Infinite repetitions of
war heroes and national
days and talk of ties that bind,

common sea and air,
mountains, not the territorial
ambitions of ancestors:
one planet these days

heating to boiling. Let us bury
the sunken fleet into history
and cross the border, eat sea bass
and parrot fish in Santiago, sip

from Vallejo’s chalice, the green
notebooks of his friend Neruda,
remembering what bring us still
to battlefields of Catalonia and Granada.

Indran Amirthanayagam, November 25, 2012

2/4/17

Poem | Sumana Roy

Tree Porn



Porn doesn’t demand merit.
But so don’t many things, including birth.
Sitting under this tree, this collector, this granary,
your lust grows like an alien muscle.
You think of abandonment, of your asthma,
of the indifference of nostrils to porn,
of mouth to mouth.
Ah, that is why there is no tree porn.

Thoughts move like inventions, like lies:
Pornography is so provincial, it’s like a tendril,
soft, looking for support, forever foreign.
For porn subverts all kinds of self reliance –
you are dependent on the actions of others,
like a gardener’s watering can or rain.

You think of migratory birds and their cycles of blind return –
how those invisible paths are unwound like bandage every winter.
In that thought is the hint of arousal, until you return to the tree.
‘Tree porn is so vegan.’ You prepare the line like a meal.

Bare trees aren’t nudes. Porn demands such invisible note taking.
It needs fortitude, it needs movement. It needs inflation.
Where are these in a tree? Importance is waterproof. And so is pornography.
It rises and settles, like clean air, losing everything, even its aged anarchy.
There’s no background music, no grunt or groan.
Only wind, moving like a letter, it crumples and teases.
The tree’s indifferent to hypnotism,
it doesn’t care that the end is always about turning into a boat,
to reach ashore, to dress and undress, without manners.

Only humans need porn, this excess, this unnecessary.
The tree doesn’t need mystery, becoming log is pornography.