Author:

Ode To The Walking Woman

(After Alberto Giacometti )

Sit –
you must be tired
of walking,
of losing yourself
this way:
a bronzed rib
of exhaustion
thinned out
against the dark.
Sit –
there are still things
to believe in;
like civilizations
and birthing
and love.
And ancestors
who move
like silent tributaries
from red-earthed villages
with history cradled
in their mythical arms.
But listen,
what if they swell
through the gates
of your glistening city?
Will you walk down
to the water’s edge,
immerse your feet
so you can feel them
dancing underneath?
Mohenjodaro’s brassy girls
with bangled wrists
and cinnabar lips;
turbaned Harappan mothers
standing wide
on terracotta legs;
egg-breasted Artemis –
Inana, Isthar, Cybele, clutching their bounteous hearts
in the unrepentant dark,
crying: ‘Daughter,
where have the granaries
and great baths disappeared?
Won’t you resurrect yourself,
make love to the sky,
reclaim the world.’

The Day We Went To The Sea

The day we went to the sea
mothers in Madras were mining
the Marina for missing children.
Thatch flew in the sky, prisoners
ran free, houses danced like danger
in the wind. I saw a woman hold
the tattered edge of the world
in her hand, look past the temple
which was still standing, as she was —
miraculously whole in the debris of gaudy
South Indian sun. When she moved
her other hand across her brow,
in a single arcing sweep of grace,
it was as if she alone could alter things,
bring us to the wordless safety of our beds.

Girls are coming out of the Woods

Girls are coming out of the woods,
wrapped in cloaks and hoods,
carrying iron bars and candles
and a multitude of scars, collected
on acres of premature grass and city
buses, in temples and bars. Girls
are coming out of the woods
with panties tied around their lips,
making such a noise, it’s impossible
to hear. Is the world speaking too?
Is it really asking, What does it mean
to give someone a proper resting? Girls are
coming out of the woods, lifting
their broken legs high, leaking secrets
from unfastened thighs, all the lies
whispered by strangers and swimming
coaches, and uncles, especially uncles,
who said spreading would be light
and easy, who put bullets in their chests
and fed their pretty faces to fire,
who sucked the mud clean
off their ribs, and decorated
their coffins with brier. Girls are coming
out of the woods, clearing the ground
to scatter their stories. Even those girls
found naked in ditches and wells,
those forgotten in neglected attics,
and buried in river beds like sediments
from a different century. They’ve crawled
their way out from behind curtains
of childhood, the silver-pink weight
of their bodies pushing against water,
against the sad, feathered tarnish
of remembrance. Girls are coming out
of the woods the way birds arrive
at morning windows – pecking
and humming, until all you can hear
is the smash of their miniscule hearts
against glass, the bright desperation
of sound – bashing, disappearing.
Girls are coming out of the woods.
They’re coming. They’re coming.

Girls are coming out of the Woods

Girls are coming out of the woods,
wrapped in cloaks and hoods,
carrying iron bars and candles
and a multitude of scars, collected
on acres of premature grass and city
buses, in temples and bars. Girls
are coming out of the woods
with panties tied around their lips,
making such a noise, it’s impossible
to hear. Is the world speaking too?
Is it really asking, What does it mean
to give someone a proper resting? Girls are
coming out of the woods, lifting
their broken legs high, leaking secrets
from unfastened thighs, all the lies
whispered by strangers and swimming
coaches, and uncles, especially uncles,
who said spreading would be light
and easy, who put bullets in their chests
and fed their pretty faces to fire,
who sucked the mud clean
off their ribs, and decorated
their coffins with brier. Girls are coming
out of the woods, clearing the ground
to scatter their stories. Even those girls
found naked in ditches and wells,
those forgotten in neglected attics,
and buried in river beds like sediments
from a different century. They’ve crawled
their way out from behind curtains
of childhood, the silver-pink weight
of their bodies pushing against water,
against the sad, feathered tarnish
of remembrance. Girls are coming out
of the woods the way birds arrive
at morning windows – pecking
and humming, until all you can hear
is the smash of their miniscule hearts
against glass, the bright desperation
of sound – bashing, disappearing.
Girls are coming out of the woods.
They’re coming. They’re coming.

Immigrant’s Song

Let us not speak of those days
when coffee beans filled the morning
with hope, when our mothers’ headscarves
hung like white flags on washing lines.
Let us not speak of the long arms of sky
that used to cradle us at dusk.
And the baobabs – let us not trace
the shape of their leaves in our dreams,
or yearn for the noise of those nameless birds
that sang and died in the church’s eaves.
Let us not speak of men,
stolen from their beds at night.
Let us not say the word disappeared.
Let us not remember the first smell of rain:
It will only make us nostalgic for childhood.
Instead, let us speak of our lives now —
the gates and bridges and stores.
And when we break bread
in cafes and at kitchen tables
with our new brothers,
let us not burden them with stories
of war or abandonment.
Let us not name our old friends
who are unravelling like fairytales
in the forests of the dead.
Naming them will not bring them back.
Let us stay here, and wait for the future
to arrive, for grandchildren to speak
in forked tongues about the country
we once came from.
Tell us about it, they might ask.
And you might consider telling them
of the sky and the coffee beans,
the small white houses and dusty streets.
You might set your memory afloat
like a paper boat down a river.
You might pray that the paper
whispers your stories to the water,
that the water sings it to the trees,
that the trees howl and howl
it to the leaves. If you keep still
and do not speak, you might hear
your whole life fill the world
until the wind is the only word.

Find the Poets

I arrived in a foreign land yesterday,
a land that has seen troubles,
(who hasn’t, you might say?)
This land
with its scrubbed white houses
and blue seas, where everything was born,
and now, everything seems as if it could vanish.
I wanted to find out the truth
about how a great land like this
could allow ancient columns to crumble
and organ grinders to disappear.

Find the poets, my friend said.
If you want to know the truth, find the poets.

But friend, where do I find the poets?
In the soccer fields,
at the sea shore,
in the bars drinking?

Where do the poets live these days,
and what do they sing about?

I looked for them in the streets of Athens,
at the flea market and by the train station,
I thought one of them might have sold me a pair of sandals.

But he did not speak to me of poetry,

only of his struggles, of how his house was taken from him
along with his shiny dreams of the future,
of all the dangers his children must now be brave enough to face.

Find the poets, my friend said.
They will not speak of the things you and I speak about.
They will not speak of economic integration
or fiscal consolidation.

They could not tell you anything about the burden of adjustment.

But they could sit you down
and tell you how poems are born in silence
and sometimes, in moments of great noise,
of how they arrive like the rain,
unexpectedly cracking open the sky.

They will talk of love, of course,
as if it were the only thing that mattered,
about chestnut trees and mountain tops,
and how much they miss their dead fathers.

They will talk as they have been talking
for centuries, about holding the throat of life,
till all the sunsets and lies are choked out,
till only the bones of truth remain.

The poets, my friend, are where they have always been—
living in paper houses without countries,
along rivers and in forests that are disappearing.

And while you and I go on with life
remembering and forgetting,

the poets remain: singing, singing.

Find the Poets

I arrived in a foreign land yesterday,
a land that has seen troubles,
(who hasn’t, you might say?)
This land
with its scrubbed white houses
and blue seas, where everything was born,
and now, everything seems as if it could vanish.
I wanted to find out the truth
about how a great land like this
could allow ancient columns to crumble
and organ grinders to disappear.

Find the poets, my friend said.
If you want to know the truth, find the poets.

But friend, where do I find the poets?
In the soccer fields,
at the sea shore,
in the bars drinking?

Where do the poets live these days,
and what do they sing about?

I looked for them in the streets of Athens,
at the flea market and by the train station,
I thought one of them might have sold me a pair of sandals.

But he did not speak to me of poetry,

only of his struggles, of how his house was taken from him
along with his shiny dreams of the future,
of all the dangers his children must now be brave enough to face.

Find the poets, my friend said.
They will not speak of the things you and I speak about.
They will not speak of economic integration
or fiscal consolidation.

They could not tell you anything about the burden of adjustment.

But they could sit you down
and tell you how poems are born in silence
and sometimes, in moments of great noise,
of how they arrive like the rain,
unexpectedly cracking open the sky.

They will talk of love, of course,
as if it were the only thing that mattered,
about chestnut trees and mountain tops,
and how much they miss their dead fathers.

They will talk as they have been talking
for centuries, about holding the throat of life,
till all the sunsets and lies are choked out,
till only the bones of truth remain.

The poets, my friend, are where they have always been—
living in paper houses without countries,
along rivers and in forests that are disappearing.

And while you and I go on with life
remembering and forgetting,

the poets remain: singing, singing

Another Man’s Woman

My lover has failed to come to the trysting place,
It is perhaps that his mind is dazed,
Or perhaps that he went to another woman,
Or lured perhaps by festive folk, that he delays,
Or perhaps along the dark fringe
Of the forest he wanders lost
– JAYADEVA

If we’d lived in another age,
I’d have been the kind of woman
who refused to cast down her eyes.
The kind of woman
the other maids in town despise
because she forgets to tie up the calves
and split the curds.
You know the kind –
with a tilt in her hips
and hair that slips
continually
from her braids.

But since we live in a world
that’s just reflection,
mere illusions of the mind;
perhaps I can be her after all –
the one whose hips defeat the mountains
with their greatness,
whose breasts are heavy,
close and high –
sandal-pasted;
who walks through moonless nights
with lotus skin and lotus feet
across forbidden boundaries.

I’ll be the kind who sallies out
to wait for love
with musk-kissed hair
and navel bared in a thousand secret places –
past the cowsheds
and the balsam grove,
across the river,
to the garden of hibiscus.

And although the night be dark
and fierce enough to stir
the seven sleeping oceans,
I’ll deceive the forest
like a shadow,
slipping noiselessly past
evil eyes and serpent tongues
and the husband who lies inside
jealous of my devotion.

But if I should reach the river bank
and see you there –
combing another woman’s hair.
If I should see the girdle
loosen from her waist
while you string jasmine
round her supine face.
If you should drink the honeyed sweet
from the petals
of her crimsoned lips –

I won’t question this betrayal,
or ask who this other woman is.

I’ll simply walk
into the darkness
where every trunk
and branch and leaf
looks like you, feels like you,
speaks like you: deep-chested
yellow-limbed
rain-cloud blue.

And later, while the husband sleeps,
I’ll make my way
to the town’s cremation grounds.
I’ll strip away my clothes and dance among the mounds of ash
to command the churning of a storm.
For I have been with you
since you were born
and will stay with you
till you return –
soaked with the lasting dawn.

Love Poem

Ultimately, we will lose each other
to something. I would hope for grand
circumstance — death or disaster.
But it might not be that way at all.
It might be that you walk out
one morning after making love
to buy cigarettes, and never return,
or I fall in love with another man.
It might be a slow drift into indifference.
Either way, we’ll have to learn
to bear the weight of the eventuality
that we will lose each other to something.
So why not begin now, while your head
rests like a perfect moon in my lap,
and the dogs on the beach are howling?
Why not reach for the seam in this South Indian
night and tear it, just a little, so the falling
can begin? Because later, when we cross
each other on the streets, and are forced
to look away, when we’ve thrown
the disregarded pieces of our togetherness
into bedroom drawers and the smell
of our bodies is disappearing like the sweet
decay of lilies — what will we call it,
when it’s no longer love?

Walking Around after Neruda

It happens that I am tired of being a woman.
It happens that I cannot walk past country clubs
or consulates without considering the hags,
skinny as guitar strings, foraging in the rubbish.

All along the streets there are forlorn mansions
where girls have grown up and vanished.
I am vanishing too. I want nothing to do with gates
nor balconies nor flat-screen TVs.

It happens that I am tired of my veins and my hips,
and my navel and my sorrows.
It happens that I am tired of being a woman.

Just the same it would be joyous
To flash my legs at the drivers playing chess,
to lead the old man at house 38
onto the tarred road to lie down
under the laburnum dripping gold.

I do not want to keep growing in this skin,
to swell to the size of a mausoleum.
I do not want to be matriarch or mother.
Understand, I am only in love
with these undrunk breasts.

And when Monday arrives with the usual
battalion of pear-shaped wives who do battle
in grocery store aisles,
I’ll be stalking the fields of concrete and ash,

the days pushing me from street
to street, leading me elsewhere –
to houses without ceiling fans
where daughters disappear and the walls weep.

I will weep too for high-heeled beauty queens,
for sewing machines and chickens in cages.
I will walk with my harness
and exiled feet through cravings
and renunciations, through heaps
of midnight wreckages
where magistrates of crows gather
to sing the same broken song
of unforgiving loss.

What The Body Knows

The body dances in a darkened room
Turning itself inside out
So that skin can face the light in fractures,
Slip like shadow through skeleton walls,
Begin to cry — really — to scream
About the tarnished weight of dreams.

This has been a drift after all.
The body returns to its original place,
Moves from one to the other — creeps —
Tries to flee itself, lone trunk,
Searches for remain of bark,
Hints of what it used to be.

Perhaps an ocean framed in bone,
A pair of birds in early white,
Flying from this dream to the next
Fixing the gaps between memory
And reverberation; binding spine
On vein, feather to lesion.

The body collects its wandering parts,
Leans back through layers
Of thickening water; roots above
Boughs beneath, feet caving in to wonder.
It’s how the world reverses itself,
How the distant sky finds the earth.