WHERE IS GLORY BETTER SOUGHT?

When I have finished irrigating the country’s soil with

my fertile blood. Seeding new warriors.

I will turn into fodder for famished screens. Millions of my faces

will bloom upon the idiot box

increase, multiply and feed countless starving eyes.

My blinded gaze will face compassion boredom

horror terror sympathy and disgust

my 15 seconds of fame glide across the microscope’s glass

and evaporate before the arc lights’ glare

as gyrating limbs and thumping breasts

overtake my fleeting image and

leave it far behind.

What race is this I lost before it began?

or did I win it standing still? Watching

my opponent’s heels kick nakedly at the oncoming dusk.

Synthetic dusk born from the smoke of guns

as irrational as my night which lingers on and on

while indolent dawn snuggles beneath the covers

waiting for someone else to switch on the light.

But. Where is glory better sought

on green grass or in slime?

facing the gritty winds of summer

or winter’s shroud of fog?

which does blood stain brighter

desert sand or mountain snow?

And. Who lights an eternal lamp for me

as I float, an anonymous cloud

carrying the rain child of glory in my womb

a child which refuses to be born

till the storm settles.

If it ever will.

Do Not Weep Lonely Mirror

The mirror in which I sought myself once

sought me in turn, when spurned,

its emptiness grew too vast for it to face.

Emptiness, that black hole into which we must fall

each one of us. The mirror pursued me

even as I fled it

time’s wrinkles embedded deep in the

coils of my being. I fled the truth

imprinted on its shining glass.

The truth of countless lies

that rustled like the fugitive wings of birds

evading the trapper,

not knowing how futile my flight. Because

the world might be large

but mirrors are everywhere. And truth,

the chameleon, finds many places to hide itself.

In the starlit eyes of a lover perhaps…

the trusting warmth of a child’s palm,

the adrenaline burst of the winning post,

or the murky pool of failure. Even in

the flashing pane of a neighbour’s window

or the reckless flow of your pen across a page.

I could not escape, and yet how long is it

since I have known that the face in the mirror

is not my own. Not the girl who wept in the dark

once. Or boarded a train on a winter morning,

basking in the sun’s warmth.

The woman who found babes in the wood

under a coverlet of fallen leaves

or listened to the urgent summons of a conch

bellowing in the dark behind hidden doors.

8

Who knows where it is, the face I would call my own

if not in the mirror that faces me?

It is enough that it exists.

Whether flowing secretly in the veins of a leaf,

blowing in the dust of a storm,

or gleaming in a sunset cloud…

So, do not weep lonely mirror

Nothing is as complete as emptiness

Nothing as loud as the silence that speaks.

ROBBEN ISLAND

Robben Island

We visited South Africa some years ago.  It was a unique experience–so much natural beauty and what a breathtaking abundance of wildlife! But the trip to Robben Island added a sombre note.

 

Another place of the skull

Another Golgotha

Clean neat bleached to the bare

necessities of existence

belying the flagrant thrust

of arum lilies

blooming in random clusters.

Extravagant trumpets

large, full blown, secure in their whiteness

rooting themselves where they will

unlike the baby penguins

huddling in bushes

before our alien onslaught

The wind outlines the bleakness of the sun

as a silent prison

willingly unlocks doors

and secrets flutter free.

Dues paid

the toiler in freedom’s mill

is now permitted the luxury

of endlessly reliving hunger and pain

anger and hate.

While courteous hordes

listen

wrestling with what and why

and who and which

and right and wrong

wondering how deep

they might insert their

delicate probes

beneath the armour of calluses

How deep burrow

before their dentist’s drill

encounters the unguarded nerve

In the end

one thinks

he has a tale to tell at least

and eloquently too.

If not would hasty bank notes pile

up on the dignified palm

eager to repay someone else’s debt?

To buy absolution for another’s crime?

In the end

what remains

but the naked skull of truth

even a free man needs to eat

and the heat of youthful rage

cannot flame far enough

to disperse the chill of age.

The wind is curiously dry

as we sidle away from the limestone quarry

thanking God for the good karma

that kept us secure in distant climes

for the screen of designer glasses

that saves our eyes

for the watered milk of human kindness

that did spurt at last from skull dry breasts

while the black coated penguins

carefully measure their mincing strides

earnest as lawyers arguing a case

lost long before they crawled out of their eggs.

The ocean shimmers all the way to the mainland.

There are drinks to be sipped on the ferry

the wonderful wildness of wind on your face

the curio shops beckon

and Mandela’s smile soothes.

But somewhere we know

a man waits

smoking a quiet cigarette

outside the dispossessed prison

waits for the next bus load

for the guilty caress of notes

on the expressionless palm

whose lines have bound him to Robben Island.

Words Like Pine Seeds

Image

Words

let loose on the air

like pine seeds

lofted by playful summer breezes

that coax them from the mother cone

as she opens her womb

to free her offspring,

despatches them

to seed another world,

new and hopefully brave,

sends them to launch pristine forests

to perfume the air

and whisper arcane secrets all day.

But lost, forgotten

when a plundered kernel

strays to lose its sweetness

squanders it on a gluttonous tongue.

Its taste might linger

like the memory of tearing

gossamer wings apart

the expectant crack that yielded

a momentary sliver of joy.

But how minuscule the guilt,

of forests consumed

before they could sprout?

How brief the regret

for words cast by the wayside?

words

plump with promise once

compelled to dissolve

into the non substance of memory.

Yet sometimes, persistent as echoes.

Persistent as the aftertaste

of long consumed pine seeds.

 

CHILDHOOD RAIN

Rain in childhood

falls without explanation

simply pouring out of the sky

we do not dance in it (like my children will one day)

but don raincoats and unfurl umbrellas

stoically set out for our Saturday evening walk.

hand in hand

two by two

a twisting navy blue crocodile

creeping between two green slopes

one stretches upwards

draped with silver sheets which reach down

like Rapunzel’s hair inviting us

into the castle of the sky

the other tumbles down

into a shrouded sea, daring us to

surrender to its shadowy embrace.

the navy blue crocodile wriggles on

postponing the moment of decision

waiting for the sun to shine and the mist clear.

I HAD A FATHER

Image

Father’s Day was unknown to me when I was a child. All I knew was that my father’s smile never wavered and that I adored him.

Here is an old, old photo of my parents when I was just a few months old. Unfortunately the only picture I had with my father vanished, I don’t know how. But there are many memories to treasure.

 

 

When I was young and had a father

like any other child… I

clutched his hand.  Walked

by his side.  Hung on his smile

watched the crow’s feet fan out

from the ends of his eyes.

Felt love

a velvet cushion

a tight roof against the rain

a warm hand to hold

and melt the ice of fear

But one day—

the roof blew off

the hand grew cold

and nothing was left

but leafless trees

stretching wan fingers

that tore at my hair

as I walked through the darkness.  The bell

tolling in my ears constant…insistent.

The moon, a dented globe.

Washed out, spreading

rancid, milky light

that filled my mouth with sourness.

I heard the sound of weeping

and wailing.

White walls of grief

arose about me

smelt fresh earth

felt the horror of

clods

hitting him.  Boxed in wood

lifeless, true.  But I shuddered

to think of the clods hitting him.

Later, woke on my own, nights

airless, feeling the weight of the earth

squeeze out my breath

engulf, absorb me into itself

Earth, mother

what makes you so hungry

so desperate to swallow me whole?

Digest, ingest

make me a part of you again?

I that would walk on air

and water.

Resist your pull

live on forever

freely riding the wind.  Not

bogged down in earth bound clay.

Live till the day when

the grave will empty

and he, they, will come forth whole again

when mud, when clod

will yield forth

flesh and blood

bone and hair

breath and laughter.

FLOWERS, THEY ARE SIMPLY AMAZING!

Today, as my grandaughter Adya and I made a little garland of jasmine flowers together, I was remined of a poem I wrote a long time back. Flowers have always given me pleasure, reminded me of nature’s harmony and brought peace as I contemplate them in any form.

Flowers, they are simply amazing,DSC02212

They can bloom everywhere. Nod

sedately beside my patch of lawn,

spread luxuriously on the grass on the hillside,

even astonish an arid desert with their wanton colours.

They can waft their scent through my window

as they wind around a pillar

working their way up to the sky perhaps,

where no doubt they will turn into stars.

Sometimes they spread themselves beneath my feet

ornamenting a carpet. Or

wrap themselves around me

brightening the kurta I carelessly pluck from my cupboard. December 06 001

Sometimes they alight on the cup from which I sip tea

or nestle on my daughter’s gleaming locks, containing

a wayward curl. They

have even been known to march up the walls of a room

or engrave themselves on a box of wood or marble.

DSC01038

Bejewel a necklace, an earring, even a bracelet,

disembodied, they squeeze their essence into a perfume bottle

or scent the sighs of a desperate lover.

Flowers they are simply amazing

they turn this mundane world into a magical garden.

LOVE, THAT FLIGHTY DJINN

  I would have liked to live forever within

  the opaque glass walls of your love.  Seeing the world

  through misty eyes.  The sun’s heat

  softly tempered to my back.  The rain,

  a distant, soothing patter.  Not a drenching torrent

  churning rivers of mud and slime

  to drown in.  But

  the mist holds demons. Their cries

  will not be stilled.  And glass is fragile

  Even a single stone‑‑carelessly flung

  can shatter this sanctuary  we built

  You and I—

  out of the power of our dreams

  this vaporous castle

  which can stand—

  only till the magic lasts.

  Loving, my faltering steps take root

  reaching, touching

  my heart, a wing, a feather  

  caressing you.  All night…

  your warmth filling me.  Battling

  the shuddering dark

  that waits, a patient hungry dragon

   But…

  love, that timid bird

  that flighty djinn.  Comes

  to roost only when it wishes

  Not in response to my call

  or yours

  No matter how urgent the need

  No matter how desperate the hour.

 

I Am A Woman

I am a woman

I am soiled paper rupees I am shining gold coins

I am a diamond of glass I am an emerald of paste

a handful of earth flung on the highway

by a contemptuous gardener as rubies course through my veins

and the salt of the sea irrigates the timbre of my voice

a sea deep beyond any submarine’s reach.

I am soiled paper rupees in the vegetable vendor’s pouch

keeping company with scraps of tobacco.

I am shining gold coins nestling in the bridegroom’s lap

waiting to be sold.

I am a diamond of glass glittering in the ruler’s crown

maintaining his gloss.

I am an emerald of paste in the queen’s necklace

awaiting the evaluator’s frown.

And the salt of the unfathomable sea irrigates

the timbre of my voice

producing a song too deep for the shallow framework of words.

I am a handful of earth thrown on the highway

and inside me the seed seeking silence crouches

sheltering from the clamour of the earth.

Then

pushes forth again, bearing jewels

to brighten kingdoms of toil.

Beneath the mask

Researching a book can lead you to unexpected places at times. Mining for gold you might well uncover a gem. Some years back while I was looking up books on Tibet for my historical adventure novel Caravan to Tibet I uncovered an intriguing fact in Amaury de Riencourt’s book Lost World Tibet (published 1950) that while travelling, wealthy Tibetan women wore painted face masks of yak hide to protect their complexions from the sun. This odd little nugget could only provide background details for a particular scene in my book. But the oppressive thought–to what lengths the pursuit of beauty could lead women nagged me till I expressed it in a poem.

tib-cover

WOMAN ON THE ROAD TO LHASA

Beneath the mask

my face melts like a jaggery cake in the sun

Mercifully, I can see

even as I preserve the pink of my skin.

But what’s the use?

my sisters remain strangers behind yak skin cheeks

that cannot exchange smiles

to lighten the tyranny

of the road to Lhasa. All

blinding earth and searing sky

bleached bone and rubble

hung over a chafing saddle

feeding fleas.

Only when night’s black tent

enfolds the enemy, sun,

can I breathe. Let

chilly air soothe broiling skin

let laughter flow free…

as I shed the mask.

Hard it is for a woman far from home. And

endless the road to Lhasa

beneath a mask.

Note: Jaggery is a kind of unrefined sugar.