A visit real-surreal - Duane Vorhees

Duane Vorhees
It was a Thursday afternoon in Kolkotta. So hot that Thailand my home actually seemed cool in comparison. So hot that even the temples were all closed. So hot the beggars and politicians gave their handouts a holiday, April 13, 2017. I was just a poor poet passing through, on my way to an Art Confest at KIIT University in Bhubaneshwar to share a weekend of inspiration and discovery. Kiriti Sengupta, the local impressario of verse, organized a small get-together of just a few of the city's rising poets to meet and entertain each other over coffee, like troubadors and princes used to do. Kiriti, a dental surgeon during the day, has the jovial smile and warm hospitality that belie the old American vaudeville joke ("Why do dentists seem so sad?" "Because they are always looking down in the mouth." Drummer's rimshot punctuation.) After introductions and small talk, he opened the day's proceedings with a couple of self-deprecating poems, including this one.

A man dressed soberly...

almost like me

I know assessing brands

a small earring on his right lobule
sorry, earring sounds

I'll say a stud rather
with a rare white diamond in its center
you know, I can identify diamonds
as I'm trained

almost like me
a man dressed soberly

It was here that I noticed the start and the buzz among the attendees, as we were joined by a silent yet attentive presence. I was later informed that -- in Kiriti's phrase, "the unputdownable" -- Rabindranath Tagore had decided to inspect his legacy, his dazzling Nobel medallion ashimmer in the humidity, his benediction a shawl over all.
I was then looking at his long hair
tied up at his back
his hair was kempt
I understood

people often accuse me of being poky
I go and meet men with long hair

it was no exception today
I approached him
with a smile on my face
I was about to speak...

he said
I have failed to become a poet

And Tagore was visibly moved, nearly to tears, his fists clenching, his temple veins abulge. His forehead aflame,
he moved away
he didn't wait for anyone
and I kept looking at his long hair

I was sure
the man didn't notice my hair
unintentionally ...

And, as was his wont, the bearded performance artist/musician/poet/visionary among us, Inam Hussain Mullick, unleashed a string  of haiku and harmonica expletives.

salt astronomy,
my woman loves me rough, raw,
moonships and jazzsmoke.

prayer bloodfires bluetusk fountains,
muskdoes script a night.

At the sound of "tusk" the room began to sway, as Ganesha, summoned, joined the gathering and began dancing through the coffeeshop arminarm with Tagore. They danced. Oh, they danced!

the lithesome leaf's pulse--
our amorphous curlicue
blithe earth, no ado

And then it was the turn of the smiling, almost shy Diaspora scholar, Amit Shankar Saha.

Where I come from
is a moth eaten memory,
a torn piece of sepia smell
snuggled in a Jewish bakery,
a faint taste of demented voice
folded within eight and seventy,
and a stale breath of a river
where every year my goddess disappears.

It was at this point that, furtively,  Samar Sen nearly entered the room, despite all his painful disavowals of poetry as unnecessary luxury. But before he could enter fully into the festivities his conscience did get the better of him. He quietly withdrew, almost unnoticed, as Tagore and Ganesh delicately pranced.
And Amit hurled another pronouncement into the mix:
Your eyes become fish
and my hands become depth,
I dip in to fetch
the sky caught in the net,

the moon becomes a lie
and stars mirages,
my hands cuddle the bones
of silverfishes' breath,

sand and shells all sleep
when night wakes me up,
a fisherman resurrects
to hook the flooding death.

And Inam resumed his endless shortlings:
your coconut oiled hairmerge
sunbelts the hormones.

And the air became suffused with incense and the reedy sound of veena. And Saraswati arrived at last, with her generous soma pot and swan. And the party started rocking to Inam's "Haiku for Leonard Cohen":
A long requiem, Leonard,
Frenetic — tears gush at daybreak;
Grief’s duet, dark.

Though the young Kushal Poddar, ever the efferevescent enthusiast, couldn't help reminding us that Cohen had labeled himself in a song "a lazy bastard in a suit." And Kushal decided the time had indeed come for social commentary, and the room hushed, even Ganesha, as he recited.
During the fall
her flesh didn't
unfold the petals
of her within
nor her left brain
tricked her to be light
nor she learned
how to take flight.

Her clothes remained
with her abductors.
And she fell hard
with the same thud
a bunch of newspapers
drop on the pavement.

Aparajita Dutta made her response, in that amazing way she has of combining sexual with intellectual penetration, added her characteristic perspective on the perils of "Pro-Creation":

I was allured to that sperm,
An idea, cerebral and propitious
like the ant-hills of Valimiki.
Promises embellishing those words
curved delicately as you penned them down
your ink ejaculating a star
which will once shine in your name
and be the lexicon of your intellectual exploits,
Infiltrating my barren bosoms with lactogen.

I fell in love with the vision of that foetus,
Hormonal excuses sacrificed in that bibliography,
Your pedagogy, I knew would create

A revolution ...
A critical review, citation, compilation!!
Insecure and desperate I was
to feel the man who created that sperm;
Sculpturing the promise of life
an abysmal cognizance --- theory and activism!!

I turned down the ashes and brushed my fire;
A melancholic draft breeding my desire---
That sperm—
My blood refused to break
a monotonous surname;
Perhaps an addition
you recognized, garnering the references
of a promised motherhood---
My children justified the union
They never knew the black hole of style sheet
and faced the file that would print me
In love-making; while you explored your brawn,
Testing my nerves-- their impulse to deliver and withdraw,
And I obeyed like a patient,
Undressing my skill-sets --- you examined them
Each one, with your jagged methodology,
Before you made love to me;
Fondled my ideas, the swollen nipples
of sentences, paragraphs and fonts.

Then I was impregnated ---

And just then an impassioned Begum Rokeya came in from Lady Land and, with tears, embraced Aparajita. Who nevertheless continued her discourse, unfazed, her metaphorical bells jingling and tinkling with every movement, her Kamadenu eyes aflame with unbridled emotion.

I feel the baby's snarls as you sleep,
with women we can never know;
I feel the baby's worlds as you sleep
with women and their tags devouring your semen;
Our baby grows in me unlike them
who feasted upon your fleshy love;
Girlfriend, wife--- such unfortunate,
Deprived of our infinite intellect.

So, tonight I shall not be alone.
My body is now
Your writer's retreat,
A doctor's lab
where our baby grows in my care
and together we shall give birth,
You and I both wailing in labour,
For the baby who shall show the world
Something new.
Others shall come forward
As here, you sacrificed your women,
and I, my lust for your surname.
So together, we shall wail in labour
Of publication with me, your co-author.

And Inam punctuated the air anew.

It rainsuns yonder the oriel window,
She angelwinds the Tarot,

Breathes postwar — the dirges inshore,
Awaits a paramour.

She reveries in cointreau, feeds a serow.

And Kushal, refreshed, rejoined the poetry joust (as all the Bengali spirits rushed en masse to the cafe door in hopes of keepng wicked Warren Hastings from again prying away the homeland's wealth. He eventually surrendered the field, but only after grabbing a handful of cups and saucers and more good poetry than he deserved.

My mother has a breathing island inside;
choked stream all around.
At night leaves glow.

Inside her head a rain frog
seeks a tree to call for a higher mate.

Inside, my dead body seeks
the cold of a dissection table.
My arms far splayed,
I am the God for autopsy.

Inside, the outdoor of our city
awaits Spring. Outside,
her inner blindness seeks my eyes.

And Saraswati and Ganesha, and Rabindranath and Begum, all, infused the essences of KiritiKushalInanAmitAparajitaDuane, and the coffee shop danced and swirled, the world swayed and shook. And the afternoon waned away, and even the poets realized that daily duties, tasks, and commitments have authority, and even the fomenters and creators of profound wisdom and artistic expression knew they must on occasion tend to other matters otherwhere. And the swarm of us adjourned, though refreshed and renewed.

Yes I have been to India. To that crazyquilt sari of piecemeal continua. This corner of culture remnant here supraimposed with that antic pocket there—all portions piled on, fu/ture/past juxtaposed and jangled, the mangled jazz of sitar/synth. In all this harem, whose hair is being plucked?

Yes I have been to India. Traced the serial Gandhicide graffiti through each election warren and heard the turbaned urban politicos scrawl their slogancreed upon eager puppetdom. And thus learned that here, like home, the public part of man is apportioned mainly between play and display—performance shivas into form.

Yes I have been to India. Aboard a portable bedlam chugging from the station, a neverend circus of practiced infant beggary—already, no gesture out of place, a persistent pantomime of persuasion and despair (yet my only alms a stone stare and stubborn refusal to be moved, and my sad wonderment at how the heart can harden so, and how soon.) Meanwhile, the Hooghly dawn unfolds in pinks and peach…

And all emerges from India. And all merges there—pedestrians, pushcarts, palanquins, pigs pressed together on the pavement with the trucks, trikes, bikes, and buses—like the constant blendings of ancient gods and newer fads. The whole universe, in India, remains submerged except for heat and mosquitoes.