How can you think about the future on a day like this?
How can you study inside the house for a promotion?
When the warm air wants to lull away your memories and your sense of time;
I am listening to the Present present its case
In the blue jacaranda, the slow skin-breeze, drops of water.
I can’t remember the taste of bitterness, the cries of people in the bazaar, pain.
I know my father will teach me to swim in the black shining waters one day
I’ll forget the faces of Shillong, the words of poets I adore, I’ll forget my English;
When I resurface, father will row me across to the waiting grounds
There to quietly recite this prayer :
I want to give up human speech for the language of trees speaking love to the wind
I want to never be seen again as a man but a protruding rock on a hill
I invented a soul and may it always swirl in the skies over me
I pray the lichens and fungi accept me as their kin
May I never be grander than the moss on pine bark or the wiry orchids in the canopy
May I learn to be as capable as khasiana nepenthes
When I tire of the world of men,
May the green maiden embrace me
Scratch, bite, prick, and sting me
So that I may know myself;
Let the bamboo slivers have a drop of me
Let the thorn vines have a drop of me
Let my blood be familiar to all in the menagerie
Let it thaw into something warmer, kinder
Sister, when you hurt me,
Also fill me with the spirit to pull on,
Fill me with the air of your lungs,
The resolve of your stone
These I ask in your name.
What makes these buggers tick?
You’d think they’d be a little more grateful;
Us, giving it to them.
Why go there, when they’d lose all this?
The electricity, quinine and Handel.
The jungles aren’t any safer than our jails,
Plus the cholera, humidity and snakes.
But they’re ultimately savages, the rational doesn’t hold.
I suppose they like it out there… makes them feel something;
Anyway send the garrisons more guns;
Bibles and cheap booze to the civil stations.
I remembered you for your whitewashed walls and the old trees which grew in the old gardens;
This was the old world, before colour, and as a child I hated the monochrome ekra;
I shuddered behind feeble old people in their twilight chairs –
Which they had us push out into the winter-sun’s verandah;
I remembered your old people smell and the old people love for young kisses –
That world is gone now,
My grandfather is gone
And most of his nephews.
All that’s left is men stumbling in bars, secretly whispering desires to other men.
At kha-ieid‘s – under an old conifer with spiky cones – once I found a baby sparrow
I tried to protect it from the hounds –
Uncle Eric’s best mates.
Into the temple of my palms, I took it.
Suddenly from deep within me
A sudden impulse – to crush it into a feather ball – arose.
What stopped me, I wonder,
Was it the thought of blood that calmed my systole,
Was it the eventuality of squirming that blunted my lust?
Whatever it was, it quietened my mind;
I don’t know if the chick survived the season
But we both made it through that hour.
I’m drowning in an ocean of lies,
My entire life is just an illusion,
A composite built of several lives
Made mine, by a single grand fusion.
They are beckoned forth by arrogant Pride,
Unknowingly they slip out of my mouth –
How tentative I become after I have lied
Lest my words should incur some doubt.
These tales that I so intricately weave,
Have but a few visible flaws;
But should tedious Inquiry refuse to leave
The palace of lies comes crashing to the floor.
I cannot stop these absurd pretensions;
I’m afraid my friends will hate me.
Truth will bring distrust and apprehension –
The rusted lock sees no turn of the key.
There were times I had been undone
By the very words I spoke.
I try to flee, I try to run
But I am tethered to this yoke.
When my mind is ill at ease I often force myself down in front of the keyboard, hoping that out of the turmoil something will creep out. Perhaps something that bites and spits in every direction without any distinction or sympathy for anyone. Something perhaps that coils in the shade, bright colours indicating its malicious intent, but tempting all the same. In spite this, it is mine. I gave birth to it and am bound to it by the strong bonds of maternal affection. I will defend it should people raise their voices or hands to strike it down. I will look at it and think that there is a bit of me in its eyes and that its mouth is shaped like my own. Out of hurt, it came into this world. And has to learn to look out for itself, if I am not or no longer around. My child must seem malformed and emaciated and, it is true, will never grow beyond a point. Its progenitor lies in darkness, forever pregnant and mothering both fliers and crawlers, with ever-increasing attritional effort. Each time, it gets more and more difficult. The dream is that the children may spawn colonies elsewhere in new fertile lands.