5 April 2017

Things I Do Not Remember

Dear M.,
It is strange to write this poem and turn you
into a thin portion of my long life, a memory
from the backyard. There are so many hours
that we gave over to each other in innocence.
Growing up was a strange and mammoth task
that we were going to do together: my house
was always welcoming, wooden floors and suave
architect parents straight out of a picture book
you never read. I never asked about your parents.
We never went to your house. I do not really
remember it, except in fleeting images: it was
a dingy room, and I was uncomfortable.

We were young and we talked all evening but
we never talked about how we were different.

The words I am using in this poem are leaving
a particular taste in my mouth, something to do
with ruin and sadness.

This poem pretends to be an exercise
in memory, but perhaps it is, instead,
an exorcism. Or a monument of guilt.
I do not remember your father. I think he was
a plumber. Your brother, as much mine in the
tangled arms of our childhood, must have grown
by now. I can pretend I do not remember his name,
but of course I do. I remember everything.
I remember your smiling mother with sweet
Nepali eyes. She was a maid in the doctors’
house down the lane - or ‘house help’ - what is
the word? - but we never wondered then.
Perhaps you do not wonder now. I hope
you never have to.

When I meet you now, I worry
the Hindi sounds stilted in my voice.
When somebody says old friend, or
somebody from my childhood, I think
always only of you, never of the fat girls
in puffy dresses who I met at birthday parties,
never of the tall boys in torn denim whose eyes
I could never meet. You, with straight black hair
and eyes that narrowed into happy slits, I met you
every day. Things I have almost forgotten, but
not quite: our various childhood obsessions, how
we spent every long afternoon in the lazy sun,
how we swung from the bottlebrush branches,
did cartwheels on the street, made houses
out of cardboard, and sat on the white swing
in the backyard, thin legs dangling, and talked.
But now, if I cannot find my tongue in the
language we lived in, how will I tell you

This is a monument of guilt, a document
of privilege that claws at my heart when I
am not listening. My father tells me to meet
you. You are in college too. Your english isn’t
bad at all, but who the fuck am I to tell you that?
I cringe, curl up, curse history. In my literature
classes, I study the subaltern. I hope you never
read this poem. I don’t know if you will understand.
There is nothing to understand. The anthropology
of this country leaves me reeling, and I have nothing
to say in my defence. Sometimes in Delhi I go to
Khan Market in a crop top and drink sangria
in the early afternoon.

1 April 2017


After J. Estanislao Lopez

“All you can offer anyone suffering in the world is a sentence,
which is more often than not not enough” — of course, of course
this is true, but still it wrenches my gut every time, a rusted punch
right where it hurts. My mind is a strange ocean, and the more I learn
the deeper I swim. Language is the deep blue water I travel in:
there is no way of escaping it. This much I have learnt. My debts
to the world shall be paid in an economy of words, with sentences
I will build like monuments. It is all I have to my name, to my self.
The words create whole landscapes, and it is where I always return
to search for that most elusive dream in a human life: meaning.
The words are all I have to understand my small body and this
vast world, they are all I can offer to the small gods in prayer.
I want the words I write to be the shining lights of a harbour
for a stranger’s faltering boat, I want the words to carry me, to
save a drowning lover. The sentences I carve should be some kind
of solace, should be lamps of comfort for somebody, somewhere.
I have nothing else to give of myself but these strings of words.
O poet, do not tell me about my predestined failure in your words
sharpened like swords, do not reveal my helplessness to me
in the very language of my hope.

26 February 2017

summer and a boy

the strange sound and light show of summer returning to the world: the sudden heat of sun on my arms, or a breeze that doesn't sting, or the rustling of new leaves, or the aching blue of the sky.

I think I am less afraid to write even if nobody is listening.

part of it has to do with smiling at strangers, and part of it has to do with the way I want to hold his hand when he trembles in his sleep. I am finding more and more poetry hidden in the lining of his skin, and something about his grace overwhelms me, like when he is driving so effortlessly, absentmindedly biting his lip, a faraway look in his ocean eyes.

he is listening even when he is not listening, and the beauty of it all makes me want to rejoice.

summer is coming, and winter did not choke me. I am running at the world with open arms, trying to love it harder and harder, trying to rediscover childish joy in whatever ways I can. the pebbles, the sunsets, the sea. it is all glorious.

10 February 2017

a note after everything

the days are long and strange, and writing is strange because it sounds the same even though everything is different, the words are stale but the world is entirely new. it is a quieter world. joy is very quiet, like a mouse hiding somewhere in the house, its small and furry breath held. i think it is coming back though; i'd like to think i can hear its gentle scurryings in the walls sometimes.

i wrote a story in the second person so i could hold down my strange experience in my hands like a fluttering bird and pass it on to somebody else, so somebody else could keep the memory in their throats instead of me. although it does not bother me, the memory has a silent existence in my life. i am trying to write fiction, and it is both new and very, very old: it feels as though i have always been writing fiction. as though the voice in my head is familiar with it, with creating from the images around me. does this mean i am a liar, a dreamer, or just confused?

theory threatens to bring down the house, yet U. and i manage somehow to keep this space of intimacy between us like a secret ball full of light, we are gentle with it and kind to it but we do not believe anymore that it will shatter like glass. perhaps it is thin and transparent, but it is not brittle. we whisper to each other in the mornings, and we are sad we cannot wake up next to each others shining backs and arms. yet the words make it okay, they travel through and sometimes we can meet, or even hear the silly lilt of each others voices on the phone, and it is enough. for some time. love is greedy, but it is so wise. i don't know if theory agrees; it scares me that theory cares only about breaking us but not about putting us back together. life must be, can only be, about putting us back together, about the vast project of tracing gold along our fractures and fissures and finding some way to stay whole despite all the breaking.

everything seems different, and some moments i find it hard to recognise myself, but also i have stopped trying. things are hurting less, but for some reason, right now, i am afraid of joy and joy is afraid of me (it skitters into holes in the ground, it falters at my footstep). i want to feel joy like a hurricane in the house rather than a secret presence. i do not want to be a ghost.

i think a lot, but i want also to privilege the mind of my body, i want to know what my ribs say to me when i am asleep. i want to feel the vast giddiness in my chest when i write poetry in the night, or read something glorious, or see a sunset of pink blossoms, or find a leaf the colour of sun. i am doing well after a workshop class on somatics and a talk by a fabulous trans activist about loving, hoping, growing, in ways that academics finds hard to say. i am trying to be less afraid of people, and smile at them widely, and think less, and talk more, and not hide. i think i am progressing. i am not a wonderful friend, but i am taking small steps: i am not stagnating.

perhaps everything will change again, a hundred times. i do not think i will remember this time sharply. it is a blurry time. my emotional landscape seems bland and unpredictable, not even very interesting to trace the curves of. perhaps i will be able to write good fiction. i hope i can write myself well.

29 December 2016

Poet in the Big City

After three days, the city finally opened itself
to the poet, unfurled its petals like a hesitant blossom
responding to shafts of afternoon light. The poet wandered,
marveling at her footloose days, at fallen leaves, at ruined walls.
The poet spent hours getting lost in the cramped streets of
bookstores, quiet minutes spent with titles like strangers' lives
she would never access. She leafed through verse and prose
until she could taste words blooming on her own hesitant tongue,
could refer to herself in third person, half-amused and half-overwhelmed
by her gloriously human mind, her petty fears, her loves as vast as cities;
and by the city itself, that she encountered anew each day, an insistent lover
she could never learn well enough, a world of strangers and familiar lives.

The poet was still as a wallflower, the words all packed within her but
covered with thin ice. The city expanded and shrunk itself, sometimes
seeming as large as the distance between where the cab picked her up
and where it dropped her off; sometimes as small as the blood-red and
speckled leaf she gathered from the sidewalk to her chest like a gem.
Some days there is enough fear to render her helpless, leave her mind
frantic and desperate, and then aching. Some days the walls of the room
do not seem strong enough to keep the vile world out. It is often hard.
The poet never feels like she belongs, and often confesses how afraid
she is of men on the street: their entitlement, their insistent eyes, their
fearless swagger. The poet has been thinking, but has written nothing
in so many days. She is, as usual, brimming and overfull, preparing
the land for monsoon and then a glorious, sun-yellow harvest.

Today the poet shed off fears like heavy fruit off her branches, let go
of the burdens she didn't need. The poet scrubbed her skin and walked
out in the city, hid only between bookshelves and strangers on the street,
collected moments and sun and dust in the lining of her skin until she
felt as large as love. To be alone in a city is a great adventure, she says.

Later, when the last thin moments of golden light were disappearing
behind vehicles and footsteps, she walked away from her solitude,
skillfully navigated a road full of frantic vehicles momentarily stilled,
weaved through scooters and buses like a small animal in the wilderness.
From the safety of the sidewalk, she marveled at her own swagger through
the city now, her heart swollen and glad, her footsteps racing towards a
kind lover. Her bag was filled with thin books like slices of the moon,
rare and magnificent, shining when she held them in her reverential palms:
how could the world extend anything but love towards her when she
loved it so fiercely, so fully, when she blossomed out of her own meager skin
like a reluctant caterpillar just so she could belong better, be bigger,
just so she could graze the day with her eager fingertips?

10 December 2016


it's not winter until everything falls apart, until the knots in my back form a forest of ache, until the transition from one day to the next can seem like, quite literally, a lifetime. everything is strange, and yes, jaswinder bolina was wise when he said -- how easy to wound, how much easier to be the wounded. my heart is breaking in ways that i never knew existed. for all of the organising, the understanding, the closure i ever wanted -- ha! what i get is this, life drenched in irony and longing, my room so cold i cannot step into it without shivers. sunshine is thin and provides no warmth. oh please let me go through a winter without tears, without death, without a sadness so large it eats into my soul. oh please let me go

9 December 2016

in love

It is the strangest, wildest thing to be in love. The things that once made perfect sense seem to mean so little; and everything that was confused, scattered, broken... seems to form a perfect blue sky, the most wholesome sigh in my belly. You leave, and I wave wistfully at you through the gate. You gently kiss my cheek, and I know I will trace the shadow of your lips all day. It is absurd. I feel as vast as an ocean, and so hilariously fragile, so easily breakable -- but whole. Literature always taught me that it wasn't possible to feel whole -- but I do, I feel as though the universe has filled me up from my forehead to my toes and I am billowing in the wind, I am wide and complete and so deeply satisfied, so gentle with the world, so at peace. For the longest time, I forgot how to read love poems. They made no sense, they were too soppy, too personal, too much. One could love other people, but how could one be in love with them like this, how could one ache so desperately to graze their lips or to catch a shaft of sunlight on their cheekbone, how could one know someone intimately enough to hate them, to judge them, and still feel only desire, oceans of it wrapped in one's mouth? I thought it could be true only at 14, only when desire is silly and half-uttered and unrequited. But I am not 14, I am older, old enough to have broken hearts and moved so swift that nobody could touch my receding back -- and here I am, back in this room with my desire as big as a house, as a country, nowhere to go and no wish to leave. I map the stains winter sunlight leaves on the furniture, on the floor, on the walls. I wait for you to come back, simply so I can lie in your arms for hours. It is absurd. It is fiction and film, and so hilariously human, so obvious that I never thought I would feel it again. This is also what literature says, is it not? That these feelings are fleeting, and so important, so real -- they add colour, and scent, and flavour to this whole bare task of living, of going on, of pretending as though you will reach somewhere different from where you already are at the beginning of every day. Suddenly there is meaning, and of course it exists in the trees and the sunlight and the fragmented moments that I collect like a madwoman, like a child -- suddenly there is meaning and it exists also beyond me, it exists in the solid, warm body of a lover, and that knowledge frightens me, aches in my belly, and curiously uplifts me, leaves me afloat on the gentle wind. I trust you, and I trust life, and I am here with trembling fingers and tender skin, I am ready to be broken and remade, smashed against a wall of glass only to be picked up again with loving fingers. It is so human, so human.