Poetry / March 2012 (Issue 16)

Three Poems from Letters to Samārā

by Vineet Kaul


Dear Samārā,

Tonight, I sip Arjuna's indictment of doubt,
"I do not know whether it is better
to conquer or be conquered."

Between shores of my salt and a city of sin,
my roots revised into driftwood, float on a river of tryst.
My wine is not water fermented by the will of God
but my bread is the kneaded flour of sacrifice.
My mantle of sighs covets the amour
pouring at my quill's delight;
my wayfarer's scribe sculpting papyrus with words;
the bottomless concaves of indigo-etched paper pores
measure the distance between my heart and home.

There are owl-eyes leering at my swirls of ink,
their iris affixed, sclerotic-tight, downward slant
like chandeliers, upside-down from ceilings,
forlorn with their view of the world – whispering:
"You left home to find what you left when you left home."

Prejudices perched on the jury bench goad oaths
from my heart-sheathing palms
to invalidate their judgment of You & I.
They will not call this the greatest song of love.
At every blink their eyelids crash with mallet-thuds.
A question posed, another verdict forged.
They are bound by the demeanor of their eigenlicht.

Is our love not impaled on circumstance?
Our circumstance not swindled by time?
Our times not inflated with punctured souls?
To those souls encumbered in morbid fright –
unknowing love to be the only manner to unlearn life,
what more could I propose beyond you and I.

We've known angst to be more than a German word;
we've pitted tongues to outshine a kiss' Parisian mirth

but we are neither Tristan & Isolde,
sailing on stale-winds of fate,
fouled by the disparity of black and white,
itching to reunite beyond death’s grey mist in after-life;

nor Orpheus & Eurydice,
resonating notes sans a Persephone
with eyes of stone to melt to tears,

just me making the error of I,
looking back on what you once bestowed.

Perhaps Eloise & Abelard,
strangled by the strange stories our silence holds,
louder than the clamour of big city chores;
more callous than the din of forged laughter.
Abstinent future, astringent past –
our tale in burning letters told.

While questions cock their titled brows
and answers shrug their shoulders cold,
Fate, lizard-like, crawls between moth and flame hissing
"Love is the ardour of life. Death shall not unite you
with what your heart beholds."

So I weep love's unseasonal rain and, disgruntled,
suckle on living smoke. I'm only armed
with portions of your voice drawn
from the ashes of our song, now cleaved into an urn.
I clutch that urn tight.
I burn with that song each night.
But the only demise is the failure of words.

Once more I turn to what I know.
Once more I turn to what I hope.
My regret is the grave without a corpse.
Our love is not a losing bet.
In these freckled lawns of scoured glass
just the melody of your name can make the grey clouds sweat,
even a memory of you can make the flowers grow.

Tonight, I read into love and existence
as the wisdom of Krishna's karmic smile
"In the illusion there is no liberation
and in the existent there is no close."

                                                                         Genuinely Yours,

Dear Samārā,

I still sweat for those summer afternoons
that smeared me into amaltas
                                                like moss
                  sunrays speared through branches
like assegai
                  those skies knew how to ride
the paddy bird's back

clouds sprinkled sparse like salt
                              in nani's diet
introduced you to the greenest shade of sight

cups whistled vapours at their own organic delight
fields chimed with echoes
                       of vernacular hollers and songs

my temperance is often baited
                            with dreams of that clime
where a morning stood valiant
on the gutted corpse of night

where I conquered mango trees
                                                  as a child
      at the cost of scraped thighs
how I screeched like cop-cars on the tail
                                                                 of timorous squirrels
chasing them from their flower bulb heists.

when the rustle of hedgerow
                              jolted me to a side
where the dew kissed my cheek
              like I was its only child

There brothers met brothers
                               with love burning their pride
         the family tree thronged
deep rooted in its soil
But when the dirt roads snaked
                                       into the horizon of oblivion
little did I know that I was
                                           at the other end of tonight.

Tonight I feel the air thicken
                                           each time the ceiling sighs
              in this conurbation
even the scriveners are dishonest to their device

men suckled such the earth's bosom
                     they reduced it to flat plains of asphalt
their tarmac tongues still
                                        hunger for more

I pine for virgin mangoes
                                       one nightfall at a time
trade the kiss of a dew drop
for the flesh of scraped thighs
                    here where I lie
four strangers will gather to dine
when the evening  dissipates into
             gutted stench of sunlight

the underbelly of this metro will turn
                                                           into a bottomless pit
its darkness ingesting my shadow,
                                           its silence my mind…

                                                                           Genuinely Yours,


Dear Samārā,

I remember how at the junction of each faceless night and pallid moon
Amma would recluse in the verandah staring at the heavens
with eyes of a crow.
Mediating memories, her sight traced
                                                            a silhouette on the ethereal horizon of dusk
as if the sky held out its hand asking her to dive into a lap of lapses;  
in caves;
              the darkness of which was beyond the realm of others to explore.

He welcomed her into a house she knew like the back of her hand
to explore each room in her memory
                                                          and savour each memory in their room.
Amma entered a room the day I was born:
                                                                   cluttered with gifts, laughter and toys
still somewhere in our attic
                                            shrivelled stale like rusted roses on a graveyard floor.
She sifted through her sentiments one trinket at a time. Cleaning a mess
was her expertise but some clutters, she said,
                                                                         were made for preservation.

She walked through another door
ripe in time for aarti
                                  hearing her old voice stir with hymns her saints to life.
The ones she ascertained bodily
                                                     and believed
to always hold good their promises.
                                                                          They did, sometimes.

Like that same night conducted to harness the heavenly light
to shine on my calling to foreign shores
                                  at the nether end of the blasphemous black seas.
Her folded palms whispered anxious prayers,
insisting hope for my safety,
                                            beseeching safety for her hope to kiss my face again.

She bumped into the night
                                          flooded with dreams melted into tears
her youth at sea clung to the buoy of  Abba’s bed
watching him sink in the white hospital gown like a swimmer
searching for the walls of the ocean.
                                                          He gasped,
                 still as handsome as their first spring:
pride curled up in his moustache,
                                                  strength at the ledge of his shoulders,
silence resonating in his once thundering voice.

She held on to him
                                as if he were the arm
of a man trying to snatch away her purse.

He pointed at twilight repealing allegations
of deserting her to the accord of her own strife. His stare hinted at
the far window of dusk
                                      the minutes before he knew he would die.
His last moment spent gazing at her
                                                         with a wisdom
beyond the deliberation of any but true lovers,
hoping that she could save him,
                                                    knowing that through her
he would continue
                              to culminate  in what he was leaving behind.
Alive in the light of her eyes was
                                                     the smile that he smiled that last time.

Attentive as anesthetised, her consciousness left
                                  for every rendezvous with her lover on those nights.
            Abba dwelled
                                   in those moments of twilight
that are found and lost in the blink of an eye.
She savoured his touch
                                   one shiver at a time.
A lover that tasted the salt of earth until one day
                                                  he filled the space in the soil with his bones.
His silhouette in the sky
                                      and her shadow in the verandah
  quantified the interval
                                      between memory and reality
as a distance that would take light-years to measure.

Those nights she would promenade till dawn,
                                                                         wheezing sighs,
strange and distant from the Amma I had known.
What I knew was
                             that she told no one how it hurt to inhale.
Removed from the removal of removals,
removed from recognition;                             she floated
like his empty urn on the Ganges
                                                     yearning for the soot of his bones.

Each night when her eyes ventured at dusk they returned
                                                in a trajectory of stop motion.
I watched her entire life pour
from the skies in the time she took to turn her gaze to mine,
                 still wheezing, she smiled
                hoping one day I would save her.

                                                                                         Genuinely Yours,
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