Gieve Patel, How do you withstand, body?

How do you withstand, body,
Destruction repeatedly
Aimed at you? Minutes,
Seconds, like gun reports
Tattoo you with holes.
Your area of five
By one is not
Room enough for
The fists, the blows;
All instruments itch
To make a hedgehog
Of your hide. It’s your fate,
Poor slut: To walk compliantly
Before heroes! Offering
In your demolition
A besotted kind of love:
Dumb, discoloured,
Battered patches; meat-mouths
For monsters’ kisses.

Advertisements
Gieve Patel, How do you withstand, body?

Seamus Heaney, Tinder

We picked flints,
Pale and dirt-veined,
So small finger and thumb
Ached around them;
Cold beads of history and home
We fingered, a cave-mouth flame
Of leaf and stick
Trembling at the mind’s wick.
We clicked stone on stone
That sparked a weak flame-pollen
And failed, our knuckle joints
Striking as often as the flints.
What did we know then
Of tinder, charred linen and iron,
Huddled at dusk in a ring,
Our fists shut, our hope shrunken?
What could strike a blaze
From our dead igneous days?
Now we squat on cold cinder,
Red-eyed, after the flames’ soft thunder
And our thoughts settle like ash.
We face the tundra’s whistling brush
With new history, flint and iron,
Cast-offs, scraps, nail, canine.

Seamus Heaney, Tinder

Keki Daruwalla, We the Kauravas

We are the Kauravas, though we don’t know why.
Father was blind and mother willed herself
into blindness with a band across the eyes.
As metaphors go, you can’t beat that, can you?
Leaves you free to sink into any old manhole
left open by the municipality.
The other guys just asked for five villages;
some measly thatch huts, a few cows munching away
at the stubble and perhaps a tethered goat or two;
and the usual paraphernalia, detritus –
cattleherds to graze their cows, barbers
to shave armpits, faces and other places,
kahars for the palanquins when their girls
set out for the marriage bed.
That’s all they wanted, though they ended up
edging us out of hearth and kingdom
and weeping over our bloodied corpses.
We shall always be the Kauravas, mind you,
nothing will change that.
Dusk will fall earlier for us, gaudhooli
or no gaudhooli (which if I may translate
for Stephanians and anglicized folk, means ‘cowdust’).
Someone will cry out, ‘Ashwathama is dead,’
and we’ll return our arrows to the quiver
till we are shot. All that’ll happen to them is
that a chariot flying a foot above the earth
will suddenly be grounded – big deal!
And if our chariot gets stuck in the mud,
they’ll be quick on the draw, like some baddie
hamming his way in a B-grade Western.
They had a God-man too.
He tattooed his body completely blue.
He had an air-conditioned ashram at Mathura.
If he as much as sneezed
they took him to Apollo or Batra.
And while we bled in battle and died, he gave
endless lectures on truth and righteous action,
all the while teaching our enemies how to kill us.
Yet, we are the villains; the Kauravas
can’t be anything else – we’d lose our part in the play!
But why are we the Kauravas, why didn’t
the mantle of the pure fall across our shoulders?
Did we get the wrong tailors, Nathu?
or the wrong make-up ‘artist’, Lallu?
Why should we get shot or run over
and torn from the ones we love?
Must be fate and prenatal karma.
On the other bank of transmigration,
as we brought our water buffaloes across,
we must have blundered upon some goddess
during her dawn bath or blackened
some pure water urn with our shadow.

Keki Daruwalla, We the Kauravas

Chandramohan S, Caste in a local train

Caste in a local train can be deceptive
Like the soul of a Pakistani fast bowler
Camouflaged in a three-piece suit
And anglicised accent.
Though seated opposite me
I can feel him charging on to me.
If my surname is too long
I could be – caught behind.
Will I be trapped leg before wicket
If I attempt a bloodline crossover?
Hope I do not lose my nerve
At abrasive queries like bouncers.
I try to find myself a place
In his skull
Beyond his caste mark amidst his eyebrows
Like trying to find my way around
An ever changing map.
He tries assessing me with an in swinger first
“What is your full name?”
Then he tries an out swinger that seams a lot
“What is your father’s name?”
By this time he loses his nerve
And tries on a direct Yorker
“What is your caste?”!

Chandramohan S, Caste in a local train

W. H. Auden, September 1, 1939

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism’s face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
“I will be true to the wife,
I’ll concentrate more on my work,”
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

W. H. Auden, September 1, 1939

Muriel Rukeyser, Poem

I lived in the first century of world wars.
Most mornings I would be more or less insane,
The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,
The news would pour out of various devices
Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.
I would call my friends on other devices;
They would be more or less mad for similar reasons.
Slowly I would get to pen and paper,
Make my poems for others unseen and unborn.
In the day I would be reminded of those men and women,
Brave, setting up signals across vast distances,
Considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values.
As the lights darkened, as the lights of night brightened,
We would try to imagine them, try to find each other,
To construct peace, to make love, to reconcile
Waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other,
Ourselves with ourselves. We would try by any means
To reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves,
To let go the means, to wake.

I lived in the first century of these wars.

Muriel Rukeyser, Poem

Margaret Atwood, Circe

Men with the heads of eagles
no longer interest me
or pig-men, or those who can fly
with the aid of wax and feathers

or those who take off their clothes
to reveal other clothes
or those with skins of blue leather

or those golden and flat as a coat of arms
or those with claws, the stuffed ones
with glass eyes; or those
hierarchic as greaves and steam-engines.

All these I could create, manufacture,
or find easily: they swoop and thunder
around this island, common as flies,
sparks flashing, bumping into each other,

on hot days you can watch them
as they melt, come apart,
fall into the ocean
like sick gulls, dethronements, plane crashes.

I search instead for the others,
the ones left over,
the ones who have escaped from these
mythologies with barely their lives;
they have real faces and hands, they think
of themselves as
wrong somehow, they would rather be trees.

Margaret Atwood, Circe