Friday, 27 February 2015

Ache

It's an existential ache more than an angst.
Not quite a crisis or a culmination,

more like a winter morning 
when you crane your head out the window,
watching drizzle turn to mist before it swallows
the sun whole - but the ticking clock 
still tells you
it's only the start.

If a day is a journey then
I need to find a better map -
I'm strolling in circles and getting lost,
hiding the world in the bags under my eyes.

If a day is a progression then
why are mine so circular, how can I ever
find meaning in this neurotic carnival where
I'm strapped to the chair of the ferris wheel and
morning always leads to night no matter where
I look; and nothing matters, that's the problem.
Nothing matters.

If no (wo)man is an island then
I need to stop burning bridges and boats -
perhaps I can't escape
anyway

and

my collarbones will smell of sun
and not smoke. Maybe wo(man) is
a desert of thirst. Maybe there are no oceans
here - only mirages and the occasional
oasis, desire mixing with memory
until you can almost hear the bluebird
but

my throat is still parched.

Spring hasn't reached where I am yet;
I'll be patient. Winter fog still settles
in my bones, and the countries of my body
give birth to no flowers, dance in the moonlight
with no thundering rainstorm. It's cold
and quiet. It's quiet. I could
sleep for months. I could sleep.


Monday, 23 February 2015

Damn this cement and concrete.

Do you know what it's like
to be woken by birdsong and golden sun?

I miss walking down
paths of a forest I was deliriously
in love with. Mapping the soil under
my sandals and the sun on my hair,
tracing the veins of red leaves on my 
downy arms and telling myself 
this is how life ought to be lived.

I'm so far from my forest.
From my birdsong and shaded paths,
folk songs and moonlit night walks. 

I never want to forget
what true joy feels like.
As though all of life wants to rejoice,
all at once, in my belly. My smile goes
beyond me, and I can't hold it in any more.
The sun is setting against horizon of Gulmohurs
and orange petals are falling at my feet
and I just walked
to the mossy well and waved 
to the turtles,
and climbed a tree and sang to the sky,
wove a blanket of golden sun and slept on a roof;

I never want to forget the feeling of rock
under bare feet and rain against bare face,
the sound of wind thundering through trees
and tousling back hair, I never want to forget.

Damn this cement and concrete,
The artificial flower beds and manicured lawns.
Damn the glass windows and clean white walls.
Damn me if I ever get used to this life.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Exhale.

Mist settles on the lamp-lit streets,
stretching across my arms like a moan.
The horizon trembles in an effort to stay whole.

Poetry writes itself on the cobblestones.
Open the blinds to the sun-clear day, wait
for dusk to streak the sky gold, then wait
for grey. Rain rings in my ears. Cold grief
and shiver. I forget,

and I scrape memory off my skin
like a frozen ocean. A fractured dream.

Inhale first. You know how.
And again.
Breathe out, slow as a movie, into the night
choked with fog. The smoke rises, curls around
my face until I can't recognize myself anymore.

The sound of exhale. The fear of forget. The life of a life.

All of me

If you ask me what I'm learning in college I just realized I can tell you in a single line:
to live with contradictions (both yours and mine).

I can sniff them out like a dog at an airport now -
in literature class when the dust starts to settle

just shake it up.
There's no black and white.
No right and wrong.
Every duality has a hundred hidden shades
behind the image of itself -

and I

I understand
I'll get an A in the damn essay
but my god

what if it all ends and the books are put back in the shelf
and I still don't know how to live my life
because I'm learning -

I'm learning damn well how to live with your contradictions,
I can forgive, I can see the hundred masks behind a single face,
and I tell myself I'll be okay, be okay,

but what if I can't forgive the contradictions in myself?
What if I know I shouldn't and yet I must
box everything in neat categories
and weep about what doesn't fit?

What if I don't understand why I don't fall in love -
or I do, a hundred times, hold it to my chest as if I'm drowning,
and then let it go - to the wind - like a hundred hidden birds -

as if I swallowed all the water and painted a face on the newborn sun
and everything is blossom and bud, freedom and forgetfulness,
there's no need for a lifeboat, there's no need for you

just me
all of me - but -

can you forgive me for that?
Can I?

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Winter sun

Everything breaks through into blossom
by 2pm, a single shade of sunkissed afternoon.
My skin shines like marble, smells of flowers.

There's nothing as hopeful
as winter sun
nothing as truthful.

A sheer cloak, pale gold
over the trees
over your particular midday smile
and my hair.

Everything is clear and bright
and things that don't make sense
don't matter

the horizon has never been so clear
I can count the leaves on trees
I can shrug off the weight of winter
of cold grief and shiver

everything breaks through into blossom
and you can really live this day
by 2pm

but then it ends all too soon
wintergrey and ice
shiver comes to rest
darkness against sky
and lost birds.



Doha, 2006.

Santhi Soundarajan, born 1981. Raised as a woman,
A Tamil Dalit, a runner. Ate three square meals a day only in 2004.
Won tin cups in school as a child, and then medals, and then more.
At the 2006 Asian Games, she won another silver medal,
Women’s 800 Meter Run, they said. So she ran.
I can see her, scrawny brown figure against sky,
Desperation written into the stretch of her skin,
An Indian woman a runner a Dalit a fighter, she ran because
That’s all she knew to do, that’s what they taught her in history class,
That’s what we’ve always done, taken the burden society throws on us
And gathered the courage to fight back, to run despite weight of bones
Weight of grief. Baggage of centuries. She ran despite a hundred ropes
Holding her back, called oppression and anger and powerlessness and,
Which one would be her noose?

At the Asian Games, Doha, 2006, (and this can be a poem in itself)
A gynaecologist, an internal-medicine-specialist,
A geneticist, an endocrinologist, and a psychologist
Told Santhi she wasn’t woman enough to run. A ‘sex test’
Caught a chromosome defect, declared to the world that her
Vagina and clitoris were a lie because of what didn’t lie beyond them,
And a single phone call ended a life of thudding shoes and heartbeat,
Chalk lines and tracks, the world in the palm of a singular brown woman.
January 2007, a politician gave her a cash prize for her efforts,
And a television set. September 2007, Santhi tried to kill herself.
Consumed large dosage of veterinary drug, didn’t someone tell her
That if she was sick that was the wrong medicine to take, that
She was still human if she wasn’t man or woman?

I’ve been thinking, and I’ve decided
I don’t know what it means to be a woman.
At thirteen, hair cropped close to brown face,
Determined to never wear a skirt in my life,
Was I a woman then? Was I woman enough
To be human, to want to be beautiful, to hear
My heart beat in unison with someone I love?

I’m afraid of being a woman, of my awkward limbs
Never being womanly enough, of my curves not being
Curvy enough. I’m afraid of the history that comes with it.
Helen was a pretext, never a character, and I hate that,
All the men who burned down Troy for a single white woman
All the poets who found new ways to praise her beauty
(Her infamous beauty that smells of burning cities),
Did you ask whether she cried herself to sleep? Whether she loved
The man she married, or the one she ran away with?
Maybe she was a fighter, an ocean, a cloud-watching lesbian who
Would have fought her own wars goddamn well had she had any
To fight, except the one with the mirror and the comb –
I don’t want to be a pretext, an excuse, a bad mistake
Just because it’s his-story, I want the role of protagonist,
Of game changer, of fighter and weeper just as much
As you if you have a penis – what wonder lies in that
Organ?

Did Santhi become less woman when she realized
She might have no ovaries or uterus? Did she suddenly
Want to drink beer, or punch walls, or walk with the
Swagger of centuries of arrogance – did her sexual desire
Become more acceptable, her achievements more important?

The government didn’t give her a grant or a job because
She still couldn’t pass the ‘sex test’. She worked as a daily wage
Labourer in a brick kiln, bent over double under the weight of
Dalit poor Indian brown woman not woman anger.
She earns Rs 200 – the wage paid to women labourers.
Scorching sun against swollen hands and cracking bones
There is no running now, only stillness.

One in 1500 to 2000 children born is intersex.
One half of the human population identifies with being woman.
The other half, with being men. One hundred percent of these
Identifications are shaped by our culture and time and age,
And too many lives are cracked in the schisms between sex and gender
And goddamn human, in this schizophrenic society.


Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Pretext

At thirteen,
My changing needs made me afraid.
I rebelled, cropped my hair
close to boyish face, and
stole my father's t-shirts.
I was suspicious of breasts,
waited desperately for a spot on
plain white panties. Anything
for surety. Either here or there,
as long as it wasn't neither.

With time, I took pride
in long brown arms and legs.
Mother's thin shirts and denim shorts,
hair falling across the sunburnt plains
of shoulders and neck. Afraid of beauty,
and desirous of it at the same time,
cautious and greedy, young, mid-flight.

What does it mean
to have a nose the right size?
Curls of gold and clipped brows
placed ceremoniously upon forehead
of bronze, lips carved from the essence
of cherries and wine, sunset and blood?

Helen wasn't a character
simply a pretext.

Troy and Sparta, loss and gain -
the world before her was a lie.
Long shapely legs cannot rise above
the white veils we cast on ourselves.

Nobody knows whether Helen wanted to leave.
Perhaps she was a poet, a dancer, a lesbian, an ocean.
It didn't matter.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

What I Want to Tell You

You are the greatest poem I could have found.
You are a sunset bathed in purple, a prayer of longing across the sky.
You are the sound of rain against my window, and I’m afraid you forget it.

Here’s what I want to tell you: I know you’re afraid.
I know you’re wading through the solid chaos of a life,
Impatient and unsure, blundering through darkness,
And I know you’re disillusioned, and I know you hate it.
Baby, that’s all of us.

What I want you to know, really, is that it doesn’t get better.
Life is always going to be callous, and strange, and so unbearably short,
And so terribly long. And what I want to tell you,
Is that we’ve got one chance at this. A single shot,
And that should scare me, but it doesn’t anymore. It gives me goosebumps.
It excites me, and I want it to excite you. We’ve got one shot to live this.

There’s very little formula to it, actually.
All you can do is wake up in the morning and go to bed at night,
Drink chai on crisp winter days, buy new shoes when they wear out.
But I want you to be content, not with washed-out days and tentative nights,
I want you never to postpone a date or sleep through a meteor shower,
Numb yourself to pain or think of taxes. You’ll be fine.
I want you to watch the stars even when you need to rush,
Sleep in on a Monday after watching a Sunday sunrise, always
Get wet in the rain. Be a desert of thirst. Always ask for more.
I know you’re afraid, and I want you to be okay with that. I want you
To fall in love a hundred times (even if it’s not always with me),
And I want you to fail, at least at ninety-nine of those. I want you
To have the courage to let yourself hurt.

I want you to talk to the moon when you’re alone. To never take beauty for granted.
To laugh at yourself, every day, and yet be goddamn proud of yourself.
I want you to be as kind as you are, but I want you to watch out for yourself, man.
It’s okay to screw up. It’s okay to get lost, to spend a day in traffic,
To have made a mistake. Forgive yourself. I want you always to forgive yourself.
It’s okay, as long as you take life by the collar, and promise me to live the hell out of it.

I want you to feel this in the small of your back, rising up your spine
Like truth. Like a winter chill, or like joy.
I want to tell you more than a flimsy paper can hold,
More than a midnight conversation can possibly balance in itself.
I want you to be responsible and sensitive and have the balls to walk alone
If everybody who walks around you is an asshole. I want you to do the right thing
Even when it’s the toughest thing to do. I want you to smile at strangers.
I want you to go on a thousand road trips, to have a thousand sleepless nights.
I want you to get drunk even when you have a job interview the next day,
And I want you to shrug your shoulders if you break your phone. I want you
To know what’s important, to love people even when they’re broken and lost,
To love yourself. I want you to get lost in a forest, to read under a streetlight,
And get on a train without knowing where the hell it goes. I want you to feel
Like you’ve made something of yourself. Like you’ve grown, like you have
An ocean-full of memories for every drop that you’ve decided to live through.
Rumi once told me, with shining eyes, to let the beauty I love be what I do.
Damn right I will, man. And that’s all I wish for you too.

I want to tell you to defy all the pain in the world.
Screw history. Screw philosophy. Screw law. And screw your fears.
For god’s sake, be happy. Live the hell out of this life.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

A little void.

I’m afraid I don't have the right words anymore.

I feel it all so fully, so intensely, with every pore of myself. Every moment that passes me by, I reach out with stretched fingertip, aching to trace its veins, its rivers, its endless blue sky.

Oh, cruel irony, that forces me on. 
Oh, helplessness settled at the nape of my neck.
I want to have the right words. 
I want to hold on. I want to know I am living well.
I am afraid to know the truth. I am afraid to die. 

I am afraid to live.

I’m a little lost, and I've been here before, and I will be here again. I know it is alright, because I have been submerged before, and I have risen every time, hair thrown back with salty spray and dripping face panting at the sun. I manage to make myself proud, day after day, even when I think I will not be able to. The world makes me proud. The sky is a reason I have for going on. Red leaves on a winter afternoon. I live for little stories, round stones, dog-eared books and smiles. I search for beauty, and it sustains me.

I’m afraid of someday not swimming back up. I’m afraid of the quicksand at the bottom of the ocean, the helplessness that can escape from deep corners of myself to fill up the seas and skies, the space and the voids.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

To the world.

Faced with all the seriousness
all the theories and the counterarguments
to Life, all the deadpan walls of text
sitting darkly against the light;

smilingly sometimes I open my jackets
and let in the joy. I'm still able to.
Listening to new music on a Sunday afternoon,
feeling the gushing waves of wind that slam doors
on the vastness of my skin, my hair.
Conversing with Cummings in the corridors.
Deep inside me, how my heart beats
to the nuances of Times New Roman, 12.

It'll be okay, won't it?

The grass is green, the horizon is lapping
at my windows, and the purple November sunset
will stretch across the sky in glory, glory, glory,
today evening. It will.

I might not always write great poetry
but you must understand I feel it, always,
in my bones; I might not be able to prise apart
my festering flesh from my bones with
the knife of wisdom, but I know, I know
I will find essence in the marrow that makes me.
Nothing tangible, perhaps, but something,
something that marks out the freckles on my
skin of gold, that lights up my tawny eyes
in sunshine, that makes sure I find poetry
in the beastliest, most brutal corners of existence.

I will find birdsong and seashells.
I will live this life (I want to)
so desperately well, so marvellously fully.
My poetry begins and ends with the I because,
because, it is all I have to watch the world through;
morality, temperance, knowledge, will they escape me?
Am I doing this right? Please, please
let me write romantic poetry as long as I live;
I love Eliot but I want to look at the world
with the eyes of Wordsworth.
Or at least always find a river from which to write from,
fields of daffodils to trace along my arms, and in the darkest
mountains, a leech-gatherer to advise me well.
Please, please, let me out of cities, let me live and not languish,
let me carry a box of rain and a yellow watch, let me escape from
time that passes like a slow-burning cigarette on a chilly evening.

I might find nothing new, travelling this world,
where every path is worn out, and some paved
(with the dreams of the downtrodden). But
please, please, let me not give up Hope
just because all the evidence suggests I should.
Let me take pleasure in every step I take,
every candle-lit evening, every stranger's smile,
every horizon I make my winding way towards.
Let me.