Author:

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.

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.

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.

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

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?

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.

Ode To Drowning

is it or is it not
the cold monsoon
bearing the shape
of my dark lord,
speaking of his cruelty
his going away?
— Nammalvar

i.

This is an ode
to be sung
in the latest hour of night

when the rain clouds
have gathered
over shingled roofs

and blue-skinned gods
with magical flutes
seduce the virgins to dance

For there is no love
without music
No rain

without peacocks
perched
in branches

of sandalwood trees
with plumes
of angels

and voices of thieves
pleading for their loves
to return

ii.

If rain signals
the lover’s return
then I am lost

in the desert
burning
like the brain fever bird

looking for images of you
through mesquite
and teak

Because there’s no sign
of you
or what I know

to be as you
only clouds adrift
in a vanquished sky

like vines
of throbbing arms
and mouths

drinking at the shore
intoxicated
with the night

iii.

There are as many ways
of yearning
as there are ways for rain

to fall
slow
incessant
gentle
squalling
melancholy
warm

It’s that old idea
of drowning
in another to find the self

the compliance
that water gives in form
and depth

to something else
But what if the humming bees
are quiet

and the garlands of jasmine
have been laid out
to dry

How long to wait
for everything to turn
heavy with flower
immodestly green
washed of dirt

iv.

It’s desire after all
that spins us
Demands to be praised

as though it were new
like the stillness
before the first monsoon

when the hymen
of the earth
is torn into

and the brazen smell
of damp
fills the air

Must there be surprise
after we’ve thundered
and rolled

and appeased our thirst
when the silence returns
again

In truth
isn’t it a waiting
that never ends

like the chasm between
the cycles of the world
Between separation

and union
longing and abandonment
And somewhere

between the waning
isn’t this what
we’re left with

the music
of uncertainty
the aftertaste of rain

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.

Contract

Dear Reader,
I agree to turn my skin inside out,
to reinvent every lost word, to burnish,
to steal, to do what I must
in order to singe your lungs.
I will forgo happiness
stab myself repeatedly,
and lower my head into countless ovens.
I will fade backwards into the future
and tell you what I see.
If it is bleak, I will lie
so that you may live
seized with wonder.
If it is miraculous I will
send messages in your dreams,
and they will flicker
as a silvered cottage in the woods,
choked with vines of moonflower.
Don’t kill me, Reader.
This neck has been working for years
to harden itself against the axe.
This body, meagre as it is,
has lost so many limbs to wars, so many
eyes and hearts to romance. But love me,
and I will follow you everywhere –
to the dusty corners of childhood,
to every downfall and resurrection.
Till your skin becomes my skin.
Let us be twins, our blood
thumping after each other
like thunder and lightning.
And when you put your soft head
down to rest, dear Reader,
I promise to always be there,
humming in the dungeons
of your auditory canals—
an immortal mosquito,
hastening you towards fury,
towards incandescence.

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.

Lament —I

When I see the houses in this city,
the electric gates and uniformed men
employed to guard the riches of the rich,
the gilded columns and gardens,
the boats on water, I wonder,
how to describe my home to you:
the short, mud walls,
the whispering roof, the veranda
on which my whole family
used to spread sheets and sleep.

The year I came to find work in the city,
my wife painted our house white
so it would be brighter than the neighbours’.
I beat her for her foolishness.
The children are hungry, I said,
the cow is old,
the money collector is after my blood,
and you steal like a magpie—
half a month’s wage—to decorate
your nest like a shiny jewel?

The monsoon finally arrived the year I left,
dripped through the thatch,
peeled paint off the walls.
The wells grew full and overflowed.
The farmers rejoiced in the fields.
My son sat with his mouth open
catching drops of water like a frog.
My wife clung to the walls and wept.

When I fall asleep on the pavements
in this city, I try to imagine my wife’s skin
against mine, the kohl in her eyes,
the white walls, the whole village sky
bearing down upon us
with all the weight of the stars.
I think of returning to that life,
but mostly I try to remember
how the world was once.
I want to open my mouth like my son,
and swallow things whole—
feel water filling all the voids,
until I am shaped back into existence.