Poetry: Saravanan Mani

Saravanan Mani
Those Who Don’t Count

The buses are nice. Clean, new and patient.
Your people are nice. They offer a smile and seat.
When I apologize for being in their way, they nod politely.
I balance a grin on my crutches as I ascend the bus, firmly waving away a helpful hand
I can’t afford to be rude—
A grateful wretch, people don’t mind;
Even if inconveniently visible.

My magic power is getting a seat,
Friends tell me that it does not count–
Of course, people are nice to me.
My conspicuous girth broadened by
tripwire weapons that cause others to stumble, frown and apologise.
My tense jedi awareness palpable with cautious skepticism
wondering which shiny bit of the floor will bring me to ground.

The crash and the enjoined embarrassment of explaining that it was alright
I'm fine; please don’t help me–
unable to explain why I can't get up using my hips and knees and feet and calves
when they hook their arms from under my pits
and rob me of the unsurprising upper body strength.
No, if you hold me there, I can’t leverage my body weight to rotate up
You might as well sit on me, just as helpful.
But I must smile, grin, grimace,
because the fussing is kind, it means well
my large obstacle body hopes that I had crashed harder
and be worth the fuss.
Their best shot at balancing me on my almost decorative feet,
is to step back, help me help myself.
Instead, I play my part in the morality play,
the good help the weak
And them decent folk are recognized with thanks.

All my unworthy vitriol simmers towards those who do not deserve it,
shameful in my skin and thankful that it didn't happen more often,
Or in a more crowded place, or on a train where they could hit an emergency button.
Explaining how I slipped with guilt and smiles,
Grateful
for being allowed to participate in their world
which they've graciously opened with their level train boarding
and buses flush against the pavement
and buildings with lifts on every level
and street level traffic light crossings near overhead bridges
and lifts to overhead bridges.

There are other kinds of discomfort,
When I run into others on wheels, a momentary solidarity shattered
At least you are better, says an uninvited voice
and less of a burden, than the pitiable ones
who wheel around with eyes glazed over.

Their curiosity irks me–
It will be much easier seated,
why you don't get wheels?
Is there a need to exert so much? (There is nothing to prove.)
You want to rant to those who already know,
About the difficulties of getting a cab, a door, or a job
Or navigating sudden hills with sharp inclines
instead of ramps accessible only in name,
About the bus that skips you when crowded
and the courtesy of others which comes coated in a grim shadow of annoyance
Of thoughtless shops hidden in levels that need access to a garbage lift, and–
These words die soundless in my throat,
Things that sound so angry and unhappy, and ungrateful.

Can I appreciate the beauty of the things that are,
While angry for the things denied?
Must I be thankful without complaint, a model cripple
Blessed with a great life, now greedy and self-entitled for more?
Is the risk of tumble down the world’s oldest set of underground escalators
Any better than sharing a service lift with a pallet stacked with bottled drinking water?
Angry accusations that people mince and never say,
they don't need to because I know it is all true.
***


Two-Sevenths

If I asked you to bake a cake–
Not just a collision of sugar butter eggs and flour
But a thing of wonder that springs from perfect emulsions and skillful inclusions
In a batter that is better because you knew what matters
Most in the perfect piece of cake;
And that cake I asked you to bake,
If I asked you to drive a knife through its heart
And equally wedge it into seven pieces of unmelting glory
Only to leave you two slices. Would you be happy?
***


The Good shirt

Do you have a shirt that you know is a good shirt?
A shirt that is good and is good on you and makes you good in it?
Nobody else has to know, but everyone seems to that you are having a good day. 
Good that wraps you in a feeling beyond the grasp of a few words–
Like the glistening brilliance of a sunset trapped in a droplet of spilled wine
–a feeling close to perfection.
But you nevertheless call it good, because adjectives like pretty or beautiful – even if it totally is – make you uncomfortable.

The kind of shirt you imagine wearing to your Grand Premiere as you descend down the stairs, with a sparkle in your eye and a smile touching the corner of your mouth.
But you worry it would look garish on a red carpet after the cameras have blinked.
You fear it would look boorish at a party before a second round of drinks.
You think it regal, although you know that kings would not come near it.
The kind of shirt that is too good for the Friday dinner with friends,
or the Sunday lunch with family.
But not nice enough to raise a toast or address a gathering in.
The kind of shirt that would attract attention if you fell wearing it.
The kind of shirt that’ll make sure you fall to get the attention.
The kind of shirt you hope people don’t notice you wearing.
A shirt that hangs quietly like a forgotten vampire; perpetually waiting, unsleeping, lurking in the closet, hoping to get close around your neck again.

I have a shirt like that and it is my favorite shirt.
I bought it for my brother’s wedding. I didn’t wear it then.
I have since attended 3 weddings including my own and none of them were graced by it.
I have worn it 4 times in 9 years.
The Last Time was exactly 2 years and a week ago. I have a photo with a date stamp to prove it.
It was a cold day where it remained hidden under a gray unremarkable coat.
An ugly coat.
No one can see it, but you can feel it holding you up like confidence.

It is not the most expensive shirt you own,
Just expensive enough not to be cheap.
It is a fancy shirt. Fancy enough to be called ostentatious.
Eyes roll to you and at you when they see it shimmer.
It is 100% cotton you say, with pride and embarrassment, as if that explains everything.
You are not sharing information; you are evoking adoration – calling to believers.
It is not that the shirt is the most interesting thing about you.
But the moment it rests perfectly on the imaginary line that separates your shoulder from your sleeve – you know it is good.

The kind of shirt you would never admit liking to anyone.
The kind of shirt that you didn’t know you liked.
It remains closeted, awaiting this special moment where wearing it would go unnoticed, and that thought kills you.
Not a lot, just a little. But enough for you not to wear that shirt today.
Maybe, tomorrow.
***


To Wake Giants

A thousand thousand neurons fire to move a single thought;
A human hand reaches for some clay
… imagined and shaped and baked and coated …
to a perfect facsimile of a dainty cup filled with water
heated to the perfect moment before it turns state,
And reduced to ten degrees under after the boil
touched with the right leaves snatched and dried and crumbled
in the right moment, altitude, order, soil.

A gurgle of strange sustenance never intended for a human stomach
finds its way warming the beast, waking her up.
***


Bio: Saravanan Mani is an English teacher with a keen interest in literary and popular culture. He enjoys encouraging his students to write and publish, while almost never getting published himself. His inspirations are diverse, from the nail-biting suspense of Henrik Ibsen to the compelling human tragedy of David Simon. He wrote his doctoral thesis in the field of ethics and TV viewership and promptly returned to teaching high school students. As an aspiring writer, he thinks all fiction is speculative. He lives in Singapore with his wife and daughter, who all like spider-man, albeit to differing degrees.
 

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