Our street of smoke and fences, gutters gorged
with weed and reeking, scorching iron grooves //
of rusted galvanise, a dialect forged
from burning asphalt, and a sky that moves //
with thunderhead cumuli grumbling with rain, ….
— derek walcott, Tiepolo’s Hound, Book One, (II).1
Ten years on, I came searching for
war signs of the past
expecting remnants — magazine debris,
that mark bomb wounds.
I came looking for
people past, skeletons charred,
that once housed them.
I could only find whispers —
whispers among the clamour
of a small town outpost
in full throttle —
sketching outward signs
of normalcy and life.
In that bustle
I spot war-lines of a decade ago —
though the storylines
are kept buried, wrapped
in old newsprint.
There is order amid uneasiness —
the muezzin’s cry,
the monk’s chant —
merging in their separateness.
At the bus station
black coughs of exhaust
The roads meet
and after the crossroad ritual
skating along the undotted lines
A porous garland
with cracked beads
adorns Tiger Hill.
Beyond the mountains
are dark memories,
and beyond them
no one knows,
and beyond them
no one wants to know.
Even the flight of birds
that wing over their crests
don’t know which feathers to down.
they fly, tracing perfect parabolas.
I look up
and calculate their exact arc
and find instead, a flawed theorem.
* * *
she has no english;
her lips round / in a moan ....
calligraphy of veins ....
— merlinda bobis, ‘First Night’
My syntax, tightly-wrought —
I struggle to let go,
to let go of its formality,
of my wishbone
desiring juice — its deep marrow,
muscle, and skin.
The sentence finally pronounced —
I am greedy for long drawn-
out vowels, for consonants that
desire lust, tissue, grey-cells.
I am hungry for love,
for pleasure, for flight,
for a story essaying endlessly — words.
A comma decides to pr[e]oposition
a full-stop ... ellipses pause, to reflect —
a phrase decides not to reveal
her thoughts after all — ellipses and
semi-colons are strange bed-fellows.
Calligraphy of veins and words
require ink, the ink of breath,
of blood — corpuscles speeding
faster than the loop of serifs ...
the unresolved story of our lives
in a fast train without terminals.
I long only for italicised ellipses ...
my english is the other, the other
is really english — she has no english;
her lips round / in a moan —
oval, rich, nuanced, grammar-
drenched, etched letters of glass.
* * *
for Arjun Kalyanpur
Onion-pink aorta transforms
crimson-red — tertiary twigs
split, as installation art revolves
on its axis. They pose
as radiant organic sculptures,
made even more stunning
by teleradiology’s intense probe.
Five-beat rate scans —
magical images of living organs
from rural health clinics faraway
from city’s glass-and-steel labs.
Coral-shaped aortas rotate 360°
in perfect Brownian motion
on vertical hi-res lcd screens —
scanned images of the diseased.
They are beautiful however —
illness radiating inner beauty —
hidden architecture, looped,
dancing in secret helixes.
Teleradiology Centre, Bangalore
* * *
for Janet Pierce
at mid-day, shadow-dance on
flint-speckled sand dunes
the oily plaits of
bronze-toned fisherwomen, curl —
diced fresh fruits tumble —
honey-topped with coconut,
muesli and curd
rimmed with salt — stings and blanches —
heat of ocean sun
beach umbrellas, flags,
towels, table-cloths flutter
with wind’s roving tide
shacks stacked side-by-side
heavy with dub-bass trance mix
compete for custom
topless bodies burn —
white to flaky ugly brown —
sun scorching secrets
skin smarts, sweats — acrid
air crackles the deep heat of
the slow salving salt
studio’s chill cool
air melts blues — deep blue belies
the red heat outside
deceptive slow pace
subtly streams into my blood —
sparking life from death
* * *
for Chandrahas Choudhury
In Room 4, the safe
embedded in the wall
has not been opened
in a 150 years.
It has seen history,
life changing, aging —
but no one knows
what lies within.
The keyhole looks worn —
of attempted break-ins
But what is inside? —
the first owner’s ashes,
her will, wealth, gold; old
currencies, lover’s relics?
Perhaps, it is best
kept as a mystery
in a world where
there is so little of it.
A spider runs across
weaving silver strands —
her own signs
of protection — a web
Flies buzz around
in an annoying tenor.
Wall’s peeling lime
flake off, whitewash —
failing to conceal time —
lose their glue.
A train of ants
at the keyhole’s gape.
Some tunnel in, but
even after days on end —
I do not see them
emerge out again.
Gratitude Heritage House,
* * *
RAGHU RAI PHOTOGRAPH
On a river-bank, abandoned clay-idols
of goddesses wait for their last rites.
An old widow clad in a white cotton sari
looks on, awaiting a similar fate.
A cow, half-hidden behind a gigantic tree,
her bovine-head resembling a decapitated
hunting trophy, nailed to the trunk.
Everything is calm — the river rippleless —
a boat plies on, lazily. An emaciated
boatman rests on his long bamboo-oar,
waiting for the meagre wealth clay deities
provide once they dissolve — an ungodly
immersion in the polluted river. Death, life,
ceremony, sacrifice, serenity, ferocity —
frozen meditatively still, find umbrage
under the scant-leafed large old tree.
Kolkata, misted on the horizon
across the river’s far edge, looms sprawling —
entirely unaware of a captured drama
waiting to unfold at the city’s periphery.
* * *
[the above poem have been reprinted with the permission of the author, Sudeep Sen, from his new book, Fractals: New & Selected Poems | Translations: 1980-2015 (London Magazine Editions, U.K.)]
Sudeep Sen’s prize-winning books include Postmarked India: New & Selected Poems (HarperCollins), Rain, Aria (A. K. Ramanujan Translation Award), The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry (editor), Fractals: New & Selected Poems | Translations 1980-2015 (London Magazine Editions) and EroText (Vintage: Penguin Random House). Blue Nude: New Poems & Ekphrasis (Jorge Zalamea International Poetry Prize) is forthcoming. Sen’s works have been translated into over 25 languages. His words have appeared in the Times Literary Supplement, Newsweek, Guardian, Observer, Independent, Telegraph, Financial Times, Herald, Poetry Review, Literary Review, Harvard Review, Hindu, Hindustan Times, Times of India, Indian Express, Outlook, India Today, and broadcast on bbc, pbs, cnn ibn, ndtv, air & Doordarshan. Sen’s newer work appears in New Writing 15 (Granta), Language for a New Century (Norton), Leela: An Erotic Play of Verse and Art (Collins), Indian Love Poems (Knopf/Random House/Everyman), Out of Bounds (Bloodaxe), and Initiate: Oxford New Writing (Blackwell). He is the editorial director of AARK ARTS and the editor of Atlas. Sen is the first Asian honoured to speak and read at the Nobel Laureate Week. The Government of India awarded him the senior fellowship for “outstanding persons in the field of culture/literature.”