Soup

Why so self-obsessed?
So dramatically self-absorbed?
They got their own shit.
They don’t need mine.
Write to bring joy? Laughter?
Enough do that. I’m not them.
Positioning, are we?
Corner of some neural field?
A dot on crossing axes?
Where’s the craft in this?
Deliberate practice, remember?
Writing, not motions?
Confusions?
Ahh. Experimental? Hehe.
That’s how we pass this off?
Nice nice. I likeses.
You didn’t gets it – we’ll says.
Breaking the habitses.
Yes, yes.
And who knows?
Someone squinting
May manage meaning
Out of osmotic obsession
Or obvious observation
Or…yes, yes. Very clever.
Absurd the intellectual.
Too many crooks soup the spoils.

Reading poetry

Reading human nature
In human language
Is an exercise in humanity
That I exercise alone
In solitary separation
From human neighbours
And wonder why I don’t get it.

Reading Poe’s poems
And Shakespeare’s sonnets
And Whitman’s verse
And Dickinson’s dreams
And Plath and Hughes
And Yeats and Keats
And Frost and Faulkner
And Angelou and Glück
And Baldwin and the Beat
And …
(God, they’re too many!
And I haven’t even shifted tongues:
Hindi, Urdu, and Odia)

Anyway…
(My life is a series of anyways)

Reading these greats
I know I know nothing but:
They have already read me,
The whole of me,
Far far better
And deeper
And clearer
Than I can ever read them.

Read them I must, though:
To know myself better;
To understand others deeper;
To see things clearer;
And to have a difficult pleasure.

But most importantly,
Most critically,
I have to have to know
Who I’m up against.

I read poems now
Not with the wonder
Of the starry-eyed boy,
But the combative,
Careful, discerning eye
Of a self-styled general
Studying formations,
And weaponry, and tactics,
And vulnerabilities
Of fallible giants.

No, I don’t care about fame.
(As a poet. Rest is fair game.)
I don’t want to join them
In their Olympian pantheon.
Who am I kidding anyway?
Beyond the few friends
Who tolerate my blabbering,
Who cares what I write?
Have I given them a reason to?
Have I been of service?
No, I write selfishly
Knowing there is no self.
No, I study the greats,
The giants, the Olympians
To know how much work remains;
To learn how much I have to learn;
To go through writing, not motions;
To come intentionally to the page;
And once in a while, on those days,
To live with myself.

Different

Dear ______,

You write differently now:
Lines are tighter;
Composition, leaner;
Articulation, sharper;
Optimism, cautious;
Scepticism, healthy;
Intimacy, measured;
Confidence, quiet;
And a spattering of
Self-awareness.

What has remained:
Vulnerability, courageous;
And warmth, honest.
I wouldn’t have recognised you
Any other way.

I do miss, however,
Your beautifully meandering phrases,
That occasional stunning metaphor
You used to employ almost innocently,
Just in passing,
As if it were nothing more than
A silly observation of a dreamy child.

It becomes you. This new style.
So considered, so deliberate.
Precise.
The arresting immediacy of finger-snaps
More than the comforting captivation
Of distracted finger-drumming
On a coffee table.
I wonder if it is this
That precludes the satin serendipity
I so used to look forward to.

Keep writing, though.
Stay in touch.

Always your reader,
_________.

The Problem

Let’s not kid ourselves.
The problem isn’t that
I don’t write enough
Good poems.
The problem is
I don’t write enough
Bad ones.

I throw away so many
Sprouting seeds,
Hatching chicks.
So many that don’t look
How I want them to look.
As if ‘lyricist’ is,
Like other -ists,
Someone who discriminates
On the basis of lyric,
And ‘artist’ is
Someone who discriminates
On the basis of art.

Let’s not kid ourselves.
The problem is I am
Someone who discriminates.
The problem is
I don’t write enough.

Space

The thing I struggle with the most
As poet practising the craft
Is pruning branches off the point
And grafting space into the draft.

I bargain with myself about
The clues to cut, the keys to keep,
The room to leave the reader with,
So they can make with me the leap.

To not react to everything,
To not relate it all in flow,
To pick the point to write about,
A thicker skin I need to grow:

A patina of perspective
Protecting the peculiar
Against the acid raining from
The frequent and familiar.

Where have I seen him?

I know I know him from before:
I can’t forget his empty cheeks,
His naked chin, his bearded ears,
And how familiar he reeks.

And yet I cannot place his face.
Not with the tattered cloth he wears.
Something made me notice how
He kept his posture down the stairs.

I ask my brother if he knows.
His eyebrows meet, but mute he stays.
I ask my mother if she knows.
Her eyebrows jump, she showers praise.

For forty years he has been here,
He daily scrubs the temple floor.
I marvel at the Bhakti of
The richest man in Berhampur.

Heart

I make some friends at hospitals.
I made another friend of five.
He held in hand the Mighty Hulk.
He made it jump. He made it dive.

He growled its lines, came hard with
‘Smaaaash’.
And sent a shockwave with his breath.
To death he sent some villains, then,
Forgetting he was facing death.

His surgery had not gone well.
A hole in heart they could not heal.
How irony had struck this boy:
So whole of heart, so full of zeal.

A doctor better, costing more
Will come to see inside his heart.
I pray she somehow plugs this hole.
I pray my friend keeps scripting art.

Hope

Hope, you better stay back awhile.
Don’t you maroon us to our doom.
See, Grief is standing at the door,
Waiting for you to leave the room.

You and I don’t see eye to eye,
I don’t keep stock by you these days,
But now isn’t about our scores
We’ll settle those in other ways.

I need to be present with him.
No time for me to figure out,
How to deal with what may pass.
No time for us to fool about.

Stay with Mother when I step out.
I know she’s steady and she’s strong.
But in a moment when she’s not,
She’ll need your gentle push ‘fore long.

And, when he’s up for minutes few,
When he looks for a friendly face,
He may not recognise me then,
So you must sit there in my place.

Crape Jasmine

Writing is tough at hospitals,
Sitting in a sea of sitters,
Worried some, reluctant others,
Jittering with their own jitters.

I miss my bitter coffee black
Shimmering against china white,
As I drink from this paper cup
An excuse of a ‘coffee lite.’

The lobby is too crowded now.
No hope of social distancing.
I walk out to the parking lot
Dreading the virus menacing.

I stand under a barren tree
No shade, no men, no fear of flu.
Yellow leaves are leaving behind
A crape jasmine budding anew.

The bud, in its solitude,
Mirrored my loneliness, it sees.
And hears the only thing I’m saying:
“Don’t leave me, now.
Don’t leave me, please.”

My dear Resistance

The Resistance is strong today.
It wants me not to make my art.
It tells me no one really cares,
So why show them my fragile heart?

Some wish for my failure, and
Others think I have lost my mind.
And when I know I am a fraud,
Will the others be far behind?

Why waste such a lovely morning,
Why not just sit and meditate?
Why bother with this useless craft
In which my days just dissipate?

Can’t I see the signs, it asks me,
The ink is dry and paper wet,
With power gone throughout the night,
There’s no device, no internet.

Head is splitting from sleeplessness,
The cold is pricking up the gout,
And say these signs had not been there,
What will I even write about?

I smile at my dear Resistance,
And it frowns for a bit, before…
“Oh no, no no, You better not!
It’s not funny at all, señor!”