OLD LOVELINESS, SET IN THE COUNTRY WIND*
Old Loveliness, set in the country wind,
I would wear my clothes inside out
just to slip into your green coolness.
Old Loveliness, I see you so clearly my stomach hurts:
that other woman who could have been me,
if only I had let her.
Old Loveliness, your life’s so much more tidy and careful
than mine will ever be.
Your life with its map and built-in treasures.
Mine, with its red rush of years.
Old Loveliness, I look at you
and can’t stop grieving.
I am off-course.
It is too late.
My destiny is set in stone.
The only thing I ask, Old Loveliness,
is that you allow me this pause.
Grant me a full minute
to sample you.
* from “The old houses” by Lizette Woodworth Reese
Porous like mothers and daughters who
don’t know where and how to stop
loving, neighbours who
walk in, sand on their feet, cousins asleep,
their bodies on the floor of ancestral homes dreaming
each other’s dreams.
Porous like pumice, porous like geography, porous like borders,
Porous like the years that telescope into one another,
memories in their interstices,
Porous the way a good poem can sometimes be
when you stand beside
its wild density and look,
long and close.
CHENNAI YOU ARE
Chennai you are tall columns of dead air,
your waves can turn into murderous mountains.
You are mayilkazhithu blue that sticks and sticks,
sears the soul and ruins you for elsewhere.
Your kolams are the noiseless slither
of housewives in silk.
Chennai you are too much water and too little.
You are Kaveri quarrels and cricket Ganesha temples.
You are idli –dosa mornings and too-much-rice afternoons.
Chennai you are Jayalalitha rumours,
and men past their prime wanting to reign.
And remember the time when,
despite your million temples,
you turned atheist,
the “No God” and “God is dead”
scribbled on walls that dogs and men pissed on?
Chennai you are the gruff kindness of little people
and boys on one-eyed streets
crawling tiredly towards tuitions:
“All subjects, All classes”.
Chennai, I could go on but I won’t,
for I have reached the temporary full stop of your shores
but allow me this one last remark:
Chennai you are a softie and they know it –
those big bad cities –
so watch it.
(Inspired by Stephen James Smith’s “Dublin You Are”)
Here’s your brain, all sorted, she says,
and hands me a drawing of a jagged-looking creature.
One can tell, at a glance, that the creature
has been subjected to a great deal of violence.
A large Industrial Age Mammal has stomped all over him.
The creature is bleeding and in pain.
Only a tiny bit is properly alive.
The other bits– dying or long dead - are strewn across the page.
They were heroes once.
In the good old days, they wore gold-rimmed spectacles
and were important.
Their importance was based on the dizzying speed
at which they moved
on glitzy four-wheeled toys.
I stare at the creature, at what is left of him.
The bit that’s properly alive stares back
till he becomes an Eye.
I want to pick him up,
hold him like I would a deformed baby,
but there’s no soothing him,
no closing his unblinking lids.
but the Eye.
Even as I dream of full stops and quietude,
he sinks his stare into my skin.