Author:

The Affair

These days men on curbs are curved
Like farm tools or bits of wire,
Like unruly saucers of tea flung
Into the trees, the walls, the breeze.

Houses are shifting too —
Up and going on emerald shoes,
Colliding on streets, spitting
Bits of brick and splinter on our sleeves.

This one holds a wife
Standing at the bleak stairway of a dream,
Grappling with her wedding veil;
With mothballs and pearls and girls.

See, the husband is rising — a shipwreck
Disappearing against a photograph
Of beaten love. He’s separating pink
From dark, fodder from cloud,

Movement from half-movement.
We can throw away these things:
The sweat, the chests, the hair,
The dead weight of despair dropping

Into the living rooms of our lives;
The broken furniture, the cracked foundations.
I claim you back, the wife says to him.
She claims him back.

But what of this youngest one
Inching along the sinew of the floor?
He knows nothing- little kernel of snail —
Except to unfurl along his silver trail.

The Art of Losing

It begins with the death
of the childhood pet –
the dog who refuses to eat
for days, the bird or fish
found sideways, dead.
And you think the hole
in the universe,
caused by the emission
of your grief, is so deep
it will never be rectified.
But it’s only the start
of an endless litany
of betrayals:
the cruelty of school,
your first bastard boyfriend,
the neighbour’s son
going slowly mad.
You catch hold of losing,
and suddenly, it’s everywhere –
the beggars in the street,
the ravage of a distant war
in your sleep.
And when grandfather
hobbles up to the commode
to relieve himself like a girl
without bothering to shut
the door, you begin to realize
what it means to exist
in a world without.
People around you grow old
and die, and it’s explained
as a kind of going away –
to God, or rot, or to return
as an ant. And once again,
you’re expected to be calm
about the fact that you’ll never see
the dead again,
never hear them enter a room
or leave it,
never have them touch
the soft parting of your hair.
Let it be, your parents advise:
it’s nothing.
Wait till your favourite aunt
keels over in a shopping mall,
or the only boy you loved
drives off a cliff and survives,
but will never walk again.
That’ll really do you in,
make you want to slit your wrists
(in a metaphorical way, of course,
because you’re strong and know
that life is about surviving these things).
And almost all of it might
be bearable if it would just end
at this. But one day your parents
will sneak into the garden
to stand under the stars,
and fade, like the lawn,
into a mossy kind of grey.
And you must let them.
Not just that.
You must let them pass
into that wilderness
and understand that soon,
you’ll be called aside
to put away your paper wings,
to fall into that same oblivion
with nothing.
As if it were nothing.

Aj, Age 15

I once chased my brother
Down to the edge of the sea.
We ran past sheets and towels
Spread like sky on the beach,
Between strips of cloth,
Drying chilli and tamarind.
Past slums shackled to the shore –
A maze of thatch roofs and cowdung
Caked walls. And then I lost him,
Searched loudly for him, called his name.
Said, Come out or else –
All the usual tricks.

A woman cleaning rice on her knees
In a blouse done up with safety pins
Pointed to a hut with a single weary finger –
Where he was hiding with a water buffalo.
The low blue lights of the television flickering.
He was inside, laughing so hard,
Shaking his head back and forth,
I thought the joy would come tearing out from him.
Afterwards, we sat in something like silence –
His rare chubby hand in mine,
Listening to the breath of living water.

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.’

Turning Into Men Again

This morning men are returning to the world,
Waiting on the sides of blackened pavements
For a rickshaw to carry them away
On the sharp pins and soles of their dancing feet.

They must go to the houses of their childhoods
To be soothed. They must wait for the wheels
To appear from the thin arm of road.
They must catch the crack in the sky

Where the light shifts from light to dark
To light again, like the body in the first stages of love;
Angering, heightening, spreading:
Bent knees, bent breath.

Now they are moving, changing colours.
Women are standing at the thresholds of doors
Holding jars of oil, buckets of hot water and salt,
Calamine, crushed mint and drink.

Some crawl into their mother’s laps,
Collapse against the heavy bosoms of old nannies,
Search for the girl who climbed with them
To the tin roof for the first time.

Inside, in the shadows of pillars,
Fathers and grandfathers are stepping down
From picture frames with secrets on their lips,
Calling the lost in from their voyages.

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.

Love In Carlisle

Girls were crying yesterday in their ball gowns;
Holding each other up like poles of wilted beanstalks.
I wanted to carry them into the streets.
To the unused railroad track in the middle of town,
Unwrap the past and lay before them
A fragile girl I once knew, walking toward love
In a thin, determined way. That she should live here too —
In this town of carefully-guarded houses
And old ladies in rocking chairs
In fake pearls and printed button-down dresses.

Girls are crying in their ball gowns and boys
Are holding them up and taking them to the streets,
To warehouses or backs of deserted pick-up trucks.
A troubadour waits on a wooden porch
For the faultless girl, to speak her name,
Undress her, give noise to her that is new and violent.
The old ladies form a line and hold photographs
Against their faces where the skin used to be unbroken.
They step out from their dresses and kick off their shoes,
Cross over the barren tracks in their solitary dance.

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.

The Art of Losing

It begins with the death
of the childhood pet –
the dog who refuses to eat
for days, the bird or fish
found sideways, dead.
And you think the hole
in the universe,
caused by the emission
of your grief, is so deep
it will never be rectified.
But it’s only the start
of an endless litany
of betrayals:
the cruelty of school,
your first bastard boyfriend,
the neighbour’s son
going slowly mad.
You catch hold of losing,
and suddenly, it’s everywhere –
the beggars in the street,
the ravage of a distant war
in your sleep.
And when grandfather
hobbles up to the commode
to relieve himself like a girl
without bothering to shut
the door, you begin to realize
what it means to exist
in a world without.
People around you grow old
and die, and it’s explained
as a kind of going away –
to God, or rot, or to return
as an ant. And once again,
you’re expected to be calm
about the fact that you’ll never see
the dead again,
never hear them enter a room
or leave it,
never have them touch
the soft parting of your hair.
Let it be, your parents advise:
it’s nothing.
Wait till your favourite aunt
keels over in a shopping mall,
or the only boy you loved
drives off a cliff and survives,
but will never walk again.
That’ll really do you in,
make you want to slit your wrists
(in a metaphorical way, of course,
because you’re strong and know
that life is about surviving these things).
And almost all of it might
be bearable if it would just end
at this. But one day your parents
will sneak into the garden
to stand under the stars,
and fade, like the lawn,
into a mossy kind of grey.
And you must let them.
Not just that.
You must let them pass
into that wilderness
and understand that soon,
you’ll be called aside
to put away your paper wings,
to fall into that same oblivion
with nothing.
As if it were nothing.

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.

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.