April 25: Other Languages

feels a lot like love.

The same kind of tender compromise,
sense of urgency, hollow regret. The
feeling you don't own your mouth.

There are a hundred reasons
I will never feel whole; one
of them is that I am split
right through my voice
like an overripe fruit,
my syllables torn in two
like rotting flesh on seed.

With vowels that came
to me as easy as love,
I was pulled in
to a universe that sank
under my skin and named
my teeth its own. This language
owns my soul, owns the cities
in my belly, writes the laws that
govern the streets of my voice.

I write only that poetry
which I can fit in the confines
of this language, in its particular
lilt, in the silences between
black alphabets that tell me
they don't belong in this
humid tragedy. I write
only those words which
this language lets me own.
I write a syntax of desire
and living, bruising and
falling, trying and loving.
I write only the words
I can call my own.
Even those words
sometimes slip through
my fingers and mock
my little brown voice.

Other languages hang around in
the air, a distant memory, a short
forgetting. Other languages are
hesitant on my tongue, in my mouth
that tastes of a ruined empire. I try
to tell them they can own me too,
hold me tender in the sounds of
their words and their weeping.
Other languages know parts
of me that I have hidden away,
buried under soil and tried to
forget. Other languages know
the blood that runs through
my voice, the archeology
of my expression, the way
I might never know.

I don't know whether they
are jealous, of this mistress
that scratches my voice
when I try to let it go.
I don't know whether
they want me, like I
think I want them.

feels like looking
at myself in the dark.
Like counting the colours
of my shadows. Like taking
the shortest way home in a
monsoon that smells of a
different life. Translation
feels like violation, feels
sacred, feels like drowning.

I unveil a secret
that knows my name.
I hang somewhere
between my voice
and my soul that
smells of centuries
in the sun, here,
here where you
see the roads and
towers now, here.
Here, where I lived
before I lived, where
the soil dreamed me
up like a secret, the
secret I unveil;

I secret I veil.


April 24: heart

i hide my thumb
in the hollow of my throat
and feel the gentle throbbing.
my heart is big enough to
hold a city, douse a fire.

life seems stranger these days,
entirely misunderstood, so wonderfully
incomprehensible. i do not ache to know
now, i do not weep water or dreams.

i blossom
and forgive the world, get mad
at the things i must get mad about,
and smile all the way from ear to ear,
from dilli to the sea, just for the feat
of surviving these long and absurd days,
this lifetime, a carnival, a madhouse, fragile.


April 23: laughter and secrets

a rush of expectations
slides out the door
smells of rot and
a sky too large to bear.

in conversations with A,
i unveil corners of myself
i am proud to own.

my skin smells of laughter.
i have shed the taste of
whiskey and smoke.
some nights
are too long to call home.

these days
i laugh a lot:
everything is absurd,
this crazy carnival
gets crazier, and
the inside of my mind
is a fit place for a madwoman.
i laugh, snort, chuckle to myself.

i used to be full to brimming
with wonder at the world.
wonder is rarer now,
tastes like raw gold.

i can own this: these crazy nights,
the aching back, the fragmentation,
the forgettings and relearnings.
i can own this sky and my mistakes.

laughter is good, cleanses
my mind of clutter. sometimes
there is guilt -- the world is too serious
too painful too hollow too cruel to laugh at.
but most days i see the humour now. i see
the jokes so large they look like truth.
the holes in strangers eyes. the physics
behind magic, the cruel tricks, the madness.
i see i must survive all this, and more.

part of the secret is
creating as much silence
as voice. the empty spaces
are where the conversations live.
the hollows are where blossoms grow,
where words becomes cities and sing.

part of it is a happy forgetting, an acceptance
so large it looks like death, a joy so rich it tastes
of aged wine and ancient wisdom, like the trees.


April 22: reading poetry online

all of a sudden
the straight clean lines
and the corporate shine
of my little macbook
gets blurred:

the internet is a crazy
city, a gust of wind,
a hidden empire.
some days
i move out of
large streets and
seedy bylanes
and find little meadows,
corners and cafes and
afternoon light painted
rose. it is nothing like
finding a book in a
bookshop or on
the pavement:

but it is
something else,
the swelling in my
chest like i swallowed
the moon, the knowledge
of hundreds of poets
hiding behind this veil,
not eliot or wordsworth
or anything i can find in
a Crossword bookstore
in the mall, something
else, something other;

something happening
now, this minute, this
year, hundreds of women
unfolding their skin and
sculpting words that
taste of wine and
magic (there are
hardly ever men),
from all over the
world (they are
hardly ever white),

and the internet
becomes, for a while,
a table i can share with
these women, a street
that leads to a quiet
riverside, a blossoming;

a place where these voices
can echo and reach the stars,
tremble off mountains and
into my skin, a place where
these voices are strong and
alive and are heard, are heard,
are heard, can be heard, are not
hidden behind bestsellers or
classics, are not forgotten,
are not put behind, are heard,
are strong and alive and exist
in a street lit up with stars
and whispers, conversations
that sing of an awakening,
words that pave these
streets in my mind.

all of a sudden
i can take out
the stones from
my mouth

and fill it
with stars


April 21: Sunbirds

I am trying to tie all these
different strings together --
the sheepish smile that lights up
my sister's face; or a home that
does not smell like a stranger's
land this time; or the summer
light that falls in shafts on the
lizards that grow fatter and more
translucent; or the chirping of
sunbirds - incessantly, untiringly,
doggedly, relentlessly, fiercely
flying back to my balcony with
a single twig or thread or rag
in arched beak each time, to
build a little nest on a bent
branch on a crippled tree.

I don't know whether I
feel too much or too little
these days - things that would
have made me weep or clench
my fists or swell up in emotion
now leave me quiet, peaceful.
But other things, newer things
still leave me aching, covered
in a sadness less sad but still
tasting of fresh melancholy.

My grandfather sits in warm
lamplight, older than ever,
and trembles as he talks of
Meer's poems on Delhi, how
it decayed and frayed and
died a hundred deaths. I can
see the tears, hear the quaver
in his familiar voice. I watch
partly from afar, and partly
from his side. We both glance
at my grandmother's smiling
picture on the wall when we
can - it is still a gaping wound
in the skin of our lives. We
cannot heal. We ache fiercely.

I try not to cry, do not
understand how I have
let go of so much, realise
that I will someday let go
of this too. Like all else.

Meanwhile the sunbirds
carry on, purposeful and
quiet, single-minded in
their task. I see the little
nest, see it sway on the
branch, ragged and poor,
half-built, out of thatch
and string and pieces of
mid-day sun. I see how
fragile the little object
is, how easily it would
crack into dust, and I
try not to weep at us
all, fighting this long
and meaningless fight
as the day wears on.

The sunbirds chirp
and quiver blue and
black, hear nothing
of my sad discourse,
weave among vines
and garden plants like
dancers, disappear
in a second when
I come too close.


April 20: to A

if life was a little less hard
you and i would not be
continents apart.

we would wake at dawn
in a forest smelling of sun

our legs would always be
smeared with paint

the distance between our arms
would be where blossoms grow.

i have collected lovers like beads
for a necklace i would never wear;
but no shoulders weaved with muscle
could hold the weight of my sadness
like your oceanic curls of hair.

i say the word often, to many
different people, but i remember
what it means sometimes only after
a crackling phone call with you.
i can taste your particular silence.
hold onto your laugh for a lifetime.

here's a poem to add to our little pile,
another leaf of longing. we will row
a little rowboat across oceans that
have thawed, and we will wear
dried palash flowers in our hair.
we have two long journeys ahead,
we might meet only in our dreams.
i will celebrate that even as i weep.


April 19: desire

"desire is the kind of thing that
eats you
leaves you starving."
(nayyirah waheed)

and here i am.
i am writing
for myself
an alternate
syntax of desire.

i am learning
a story that needs
no end. a love
that knows its
own end. a life
that demands
less, gives more.

i am finding
hollows in my
skin, that have
lived here for
years. i am
watering the
voids. feeding
them sun. living
with a sense of
fragility and loss.
yet living.
yet living.

i am writing for myself
a new kind of living.
a less sad sadness.

i am weaving
a certain lightness
into my bones.

i am singing
the happiest song
of despair
that ever was wrote.


April 18: Delusions

More and more
I am thinking about
what it means to
a) Make art, and
b) Be with people.

More and more
I am coming to believe
that the two are more about
delusion than I thought.
More and more I am finding
parts of myself I did not know.

To make art, I must believe
that it will change the world,
change somebody's life, that
somebody will read it or see it
and understand all the thorny
bushes and desertscapes I am
coming from, somebody will
rise out of their own sadness
like a flower blossoming, and
it will be significant. It will
touch another. It will unfold
the folds of a stranger's heart.

To be with people, I must believe
that it will fill up the empty spaces
within me, that everything will
hurt less, that the ability to love
will cleanse me of all other sin.

More and more,
I can see myself
in these various mirrors
made of glass, and I can see
that in a sense, I am alone
here, these days are long
and lonely, and nobody
will be wholesome and
a savior for my fragile
heart. It is only I. My art
will only ever belong to
me, will only ever fold
and unfold the creases
of my skin the way I
want it to. The empty
spaces will remain, will
be cruel sometimes, will
ache desperately sometimes,
but will remain. No friend
or lover or parent or stranger
can wrench my voids away
from my bones or soul.

To know this
is to be wise, perhaps
even independant. But
to know this, must also be
to be kind. I must not demand
a wholesome life from lovers
or strangers or readers. I must
give one to myself; yet be kind,
yet create, yet hope, yet learn
to live in this crazy world
with all the rest of them.


April 17: sometimes the sadness

sometimes the sadness
fits into teacups, isn't
loud or desperate or
aching, is just

is just
a hurt in a throat;
or a realisation
that the nest the sunbirds are making
will inevitably break, will not last.

sometimes the sadness
is just about fragility.
is lilting music on a
cloudy morning.

is not desperate.
feels less loudly.

is the colour of
the ravines on
somebody's face.

sometimes the sadness
is a river, is not rain.


April 16: this poem

breathe in, and out:
this poem is a reflection
on my unsteady mind,
a conversation in my
heady head, a plea
to myself to breathe
and relax, search
for peace but also
relax, when I find it.

this poem is the hum
of air conditioning,
the shine on the glass
in this desolate grey
Haryana landscape.
it is the birdsong.
the grime. the dust.
the cigarette stubs
and withering greens.

this poem is my
quiet, the burn
at the back
of my throat.
it is the sad
smile of life
and a blue sky
all rolled into