Monday, September 13, 2010

Pliable, you and I.

I pass a statue and touch its rudimentary ears.
Later, I see the sentry at our compound wall. He has the thickest moustache I have ever seen, yet I do not touch him.

Human beings are not statues but their ways can be hard as stone.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Eat

This weekend's most memorable image:

I was travelling in an auto to a bus stand; just abreast of us was a man riding a scooter. Attached to the handle at the back was a knot that held some sixty chickens captive. It was interesting, how they were arranged, in what position.

The two legs of each chicken were tied together. The two tied legs had subsequently been tied to those of nine other chicken. In a curious way, the image resembled a bouquet, a single stem of legs from which flowered the heads and bodies of whole birds. There must have been six such chicken-bouquets (60/10, elementary math underway).

The birds dangled, upside-down, inches from the road. I thought at first that they were carcasses because they did not appear agitated. Then I saw one peck at the neck of a contemporary; another stir in an attempt to raise its head above the body-parts around it.

The scooter left a trail of white feathers. I wondered how those birds suffered the impact of blood-rush to their heads.

Veena-players, Soul-stirrers, S.

S plays the Veena (beautifully, with reverence and dignity, I add).

It lies in her room, within an intricate metal cuff that she calls its 'prop'. S does not approach the instrument when she has her period.
The Veena is sacred, she says.

I ask: Who said to you that you are not sacred when you have your period? Who said it first? When did you first begin to believe it?
I ask: If you respect the Veena, if you come towards it with respect and touch its strings with love, are you not performing the sacred, no matter how you are attired or what colour your discharge is?
I say: "Veena" is the name of a woman.

S says: It is a custom. I want to follow it, and I only know to follow it. There are some questions that do not have answers.

S reads this blog sometimes. Don't mind me, S. I like to listen to you when you play the Veena. In my greed, I only wish that your time didn't face such monthly constraints.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Everything points to a monster

'Great sins burn like wood, small sins like straw, those of middling import like hay.'
-L.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Covers her Face with both Hands

This is something I discovered by the American poet Daniel Ladinsky. The line breaks are a little unbearable, but I find the poem appealing nevertheless:

What
We speak
Becomes the house we live in.

Who will want to sleep in your bed
If the roof leaks
Right above
It?

Look what happens when the tongue
Cannot say to kindness,

"I will be your slave."

The moon
Covers her face with both hands

And can't bear
To look.
***
Click on the title for the link to a page with Ladinsky's poems.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Patriarchy

she said the dogs gave her no reprieve
she said, “they hunted me down, then stared and nibbled.”
and she could not understand that bag-like quietness
or why a witness walked past like he had something to wash.
she could not understand why the dogs nibbled when they could have chewed.
her mum tried to allay her angst by applying dragon balm.
(and this was the most decent thing anyone did, mind you)
her mum said, “Nothing happened: be grateful there was no chewing-shewing.”

Her uncle said, “Take responsibility for things.
Know that you are a kind of meaning, that you make yourself mean.
And don’t blame others!"
*
It was from about this time, she reckoned, that she learnt an altered language, one in which she was both subject and agent, with the responsibility to always engender her own damage. The dogs were peripheral, they came and went, but had no account and no debts to settle.

**

Explanatory note:

Forgive me a little. I do not hate dogs or uncles or mothers. This merely came about.

Incidentally, I've been reading some Metaphysical Poetry of late (by John Donne and Andrew Marvell). They're famous for a device called the "metaphysical conceit", which refers to an elaborate metaphor in which two incongruent things are likened:

“Love is a growing, or full constant light,
And his short minute, after noon, is night” (from A Lecture upon a Shadow)

Because these comparisons are unexpected, they sometimes have the effect of startling the reader into insight. But quite often, the comparisons are prolix: the details jar with the landscape and meaning is snuffed out. I think my attempt here jars a bit.

Maybe I'll persevere.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

My father loses arm-hair

all the time.
So that the floor at home is littered with tiny black or white coils of hair.

My hair too tends to fall a lot when I go home. Not my arm-hair, of course, because I can be systematic about its removal (and, uh, sturdy roots and such).

The lady who comes over once a day to clean up after us, then, has reason for disgust. The last time I went home, she stood across from me - beside a wall with two framed photographs of my parents - and struck at her head twice. Then she said "mudi", and pointed to the ground where stray hairs wandered like sheep. I was embarrassed and annoyed. I felt the need to apologise for my hair-fall although the behaviour of my hair, I notice, isn't up to me at all. And anyway, I didn't know enough of her language to express myself.

So I shrugged and smiled.

You remember that scene from The Hours where Nicole Kidman (playing the role of Virginia Woolf) gets nervous and embarrassed around her house-helps?
I feel that way sometimes.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

From 'The Gathering'

"There are so few people given us to love. I want to tell my daughters this, that each time you fall in love it is important, even at nineteen. Especially at nineteen. And if you can, at nineteen, count the people you love on one hand, you will not, at forty, have run out of fingers on the other. There are so few people given us to love and they all stick."

-

"Daddy grew up in the West - he always knew the right thing to do. He had beautiful manners. Which, if you ask me, was mostly a question of saying nothing, to anyone, ever. 'Hello, are you well', 'Goodbye now, take care', the whole human business had to be ritualised. 'I'm sorry for your trouble, 'Put that money away now', 'That's a lovely bit of ham', 'It is your noble call'. It bored me to tears, actually: all that control. The dignity of the man somewhat undermined by his crazed rate of reproduction."

Read Anne Enright. She'll do you in to some place so shabby and curious.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"He thought of himself not as something heavy that left tracks behind it, but if anything as a speck upon the surface of an earth too deeply asleep to notice the scratch of ant-feet, the rasp of butterfly teeth, the tumbling of dust."

- from Life and Times of Michael K

This is one of the few sentences in the book that is conspicuously poetic. It is also one of the longest sentences in the book. I once read somewhere that for a sentence to be legible its length should not exceed 17 words. Coetzee's sentences average 10 words a sentence.

I am fascinated by writing that is simple. I think it speaks of a certain modesty, a certain self-discipline. Too often (and I berate myself enough for this), I find that I become preoccupied with the appearance of a sentence. When this happens, the meaning is lost. There are many big words, and perhaps some intelligent phrases, but on the whole, the sentence sticks stiff in the throat.

I hope that I will be able to write simply.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Sample

The reason I read poetry is that it helps me think thoughts more vividly.

If you’ve read a poem (a ‘good’ poem, I mean) you may have noticed that it’s sparser than prose of equivalent meaning. So, in my understanding, poems offer vision and truth in shorthand, which is to say, they offer the reader the seeds to something. Just the seeds. The reader may do with these pretty much whatever she chooses: she may eat them, fondle them, stick them on pretty chart-paper, or she may grow them. So a poem’s ‘use’ is discovered uniquely by each person who cares to dwell on it.

I once attended a poetry reading session in which we discussed verse by Emily Dickinson. The person chairing the session interspersed the readings with bits of biographical information. So we learnt that Emily was a loner, that she never married or even had lovers. When we came across her love poems, therefore, an air of scepticism scoffed its way through the classroom, and a girl asked, “What does she know of love? Don’t you think that a poem must come from real, lived experience?” The girl was pretty; she had been in love (the mutually recognised variety) and she had written her poetry based on her relationships. No one quite knew how to answer her question; we shrugged and continued to the next poem.

A year later, I think I have an answer to her question. It may sound full-of-it, so be prepared. Maybe brace your chest or raise an eyebrow, in advance. But I think that the living of an experience is only partly the result of it ‘happening’ to you in ‘first person’. The poignancy of love, for instance, may be felt by its absence in a person’s life. It may even be felt by reflecting on the experience of someone else. And oddly enough, one can sometimes experience something simply by writing about it.

What I want to stress, I suppose, is the importance of reflecting on things. We reflect so that we may begin to see things in their details, and we need to see them this way if we want to live vividly. All art I think, and poetry, and maybe even science, is annexed to a greater appreciation of living. They usher in the sensibility of wonder and pause and excitement. And maybe it is this essential quality of reflection that makes the ark for efforts in science and literature today.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

I feel like a toad just climbed down my spine and passed out in my underbelly.

Untitled

god knows I've tried.
tried to write a song, a liturgy,
to conclude you
but I can't.
you spill over the sides of every word
you are a fumbling sky and I can't place your blue.
though I neighbour you, and pull at your skin for entry,
you come to pass without me. you leave me innocent.

Friday, April 2, 2010

comb me of my borders and i'll pee on you

Everything I know has a border.
The curtains over the door,
the hair on my arm,
driftwood.

There’s even a border between
my roommate and me
though it’s negotiable,
and punctured by nibs of love, and envy,
so our pitchers leak into each other.

Why do you recoil at their mention?
Why do you dissolve them
in milk, laughter and opaque things?
They are a way of beginning, a way of ending,

They are the chassis and can make you an ark
of toys and gaunt, thinking men.
Beginnings and endings are important.
Any storyteller will confirm that.

Whatever, man. I know dreams and poets
say that borders do nothing good:
that they make sheds of anger and orphans
and war where none need exist.

Maybe I’ve missed a sweeter truth,
But borders have been kind sometimes:
A way of putting off the lights
and breathing into a pillow;
Of reading Marx in my underwear
with the music stirring the night
into so many moths.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Filling

No I'm not full of lies.
I don't think we're full of anything,
not even blood or guts or love.

I listen to songs sometimes that
break out in a rash about the number of lies
that some lover told;
and how they seem to leak illness the way fries leak oil
But I guess numbers are hard to tell; and counting is really so absurd.

I'm an apprentice
and I know that I'm darker than anything I say.
I'm not evil, no. Just limp and sideways and sometimes empty:
so when I lie it is occasionally a way of finding a way
out and not saving my changes.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

away away

I'm all dry of words and my insides feel pickled and I have all my assignments dinosauring their way towards me. If I could see myself in a series of visuals with the appropriate bleak light, I might be moved.

But here's a poem that makes weariness thin, every time. Dear, dear Raymond Carver.

Late Fragment

And did you get what

you wanted from life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself

beloved on the earth

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Marvellous Adam Smith

"The word VALUE, it is to be observed, has two different meanings, and sometimes expresses the utility of some particular object, and sometimes the power of purchasing other goods which the possession of that object conveys. The one may be called 'value in use'; the other, 'value in exchange'.

The things which have the greatest value in use have frequently little or no value in exchange; and, on the contrary, those which have the greatest value in exchange have frequently little or no value in use."

Maybe this sounds more profound to me because I'm listening to Yann Tiersen. Still.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

"I thought poetry could change everything, could change history and could humanize, and I think that the illusion is very necessary to push poets to be involved and to believe, but now I think that poetry changes only the poet."

--Mahmoud Darwish

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Is/Not

(A second poem by Margaret Atwood. This is inappropriate, maybe, for a blog that's my blog. But her words make my blood crash and I hope they do the same to you)

Love is not a profession
genteel or otherwise

sex is not dentistry
the slick filling of aches and cavities

you are not my doctor
you are not my cure,

nobody has that
power, you are merely a fellow/traveller

Give up this medical concern
buttoned, attentive,
permit yourself anger, and permit me mine

which needs neither
your approval nor your surprise

which does not need to be made legal
which is not against a disease

but against you,
which does not need to be understood

or washed or cauterized,
which needs instead

to be said and said.
Permit me the present tense.

Habitation

Marriage is not
a house or even a tent

it is before that, and colder:

The edge of the forest, the edge
of the desert
the unpainted stairs
at the back where we squat
outside, eating popcorn

where painfully, and with wonder
at having survived even
this far

we are learning to make fire.

(by Margaret Atwood)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

a summing up

Renounce Renounce Renounce.

Then, consume.

Friday, March 5, 2010

So much for dryness

You wandered into me from a neighbouring city: I had stuff to do and was annoyed,

but you came like a rain-wet child who cannot fathom the sanctity of a dry sofa.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

One Waits

The time you showed me
your poem in the library
- eyes gleaming like the skin of mackerel,
hands clammy clasping shirt in an ingress of waiting -
I thought (so naiive am I)
that it was for me!
--
You soiled me with that chant about her limbs and voice,
and the countless courtesan ways of your goddess
And I thought maybe this poem was the abacus and
I had only to mathematize my way to your meaning and
I would find love.
--
Obvious to You, perhaps, that my surmise was foolish.
That of course
you wouldn't cock your poem at me if the poem was
for me.
That if I were your goddess
I'd be in a gold frame and the poem, under a mattress
Somewhere.
--
Yet even at that time,
even in my triste, I wanted only to soothe
you and
tell you how super I thought you were,
tell you that your poems were divine precision
and that they were sexy.
--
See, I'm your archetypical mongrel sheep
trying to butt my way into your favour, your forever.
Still.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

And maybe it takes courage to be boring.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Because I'm Pissed at Plato

Pichku was a small, wiry girl with noticeable calf muscles and beautiful knees.

Aaron was a stout teapot of a boy, who smelt of orange cream biscuits and listened to Akon on his way to school.

Every Tuesday, after morning assembly, the children of class 9-A were made to run four times around the football field by the big gulmohur tree.

Pichku had calf muscles that could get her anywhere in any time. Sometimes, they rippled in the soft, rippling sunlight.

Aaron could sing like Akon if he wanted to, but his throat made despairing sounds if he tried doing it before girls or women.

On one Tuesday, when the sun was soft and the gulmohur tree twitched like a nervous neck in the breeze, the class of 9-A was made to run. Pichku was beat and Aaron was upbeat, and she - who typically ran like sweat down an armpit - lagged behind. Since Aaron was running faster than usual and Pichku was running slower than usual, there came a point (Aaron was on an inner track) when the two were apace.

Aaron grew greedy and began to run faster. His thighs trembled, his ears throbbed, but he kept on anyway, because it was quite important to him that he reach the finish line before Pichku. If he had only read The Republic, he would know that Justice emanates from doing what one's nature is most suited to doing, and that women were inferior anyway.

So he wouldn't have to go to such great lengths. To prove the axioms.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Camouflage

A gay man
is sitting in
a hotel lobby
smoking
a cigarette.
He stomachs my
breasts dutifully
like spinach or lima beans
or other things that
make one sick
because he fears
the red-necks
at the bar
are on to him.

By Jewel Kilcher

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Eleanor Rigby Grandmothers

My grandmother, who lives alone, and is visited seldomly, depends very much on the few regular interactions she has with people. The coming of the maid, for instance, is a vital event in the life cycle of a day. Without the maid, the day is squalid and forlorn; my grandmother ruminates variedly on the possibility that the maid has got pregnant, or that she has found another house, or that she is locked in a coup with the other scheming servants of the apartment complex.

Nearly as important, is the arrival of the poo-kaari with her grass bundle of flowers. In this case, my grandmother doesn't actually see the poo-kaari. She only hears the odd scramble of the grass against the door as the small woman tucks the bundle behind the latch.

When lying down, my grandmother typically takes time to get off bed to reach the door or telephone. In the interim, as she grips first the bed and then the walls for support, she will advertise the identity of the person she believes is at the entrance or at the phone:
"Must be Baba. He hasn't called in nine days. Must be Baba."

I notice that she does this even if, at the time the telephone (or door-bell) rings, she is positioned close to the telephone (or door). If this is the case, she merely says it much faster, in a hasty rumble-off-the-cliff way, as if all that matters between her and eternity is that she has said those words:
"MustBaba. Hasn't calledninedays. Baba."

When my grandmother speaks of the way her mother was ill-treated by her brother before she died, she is most passionate when she recounts the way her mother was denied her quota of television. The television is an old person's only friend, she says. Never take from an old person her television.

And so my grandmother, the seasoned, Tamil, pottu-wearing Eleanor Rigby will pass before me as a mirage of that which is observed in particles but never assembled.