ASVATTHAMAN SPEAKS TO MODI
In a moment of youth and white anger,
Seeking revenge for the worst hurt of all –
The humiliation of our fathers and uncles,
The sight of thighs on which tales of bravery
Had been narrated to us in credulous childhood
Broken by the mace of tricks and brute force –
In such a moment I torched the sons of the Pandavas
Slumbering in their fathers’ victorious tents.
It was this act of fire that made me immortal;
Its guilt afflicts my face with hunger and sickness
As I walk unresting the land of my descendants,
Seeing in each burnt face the bitterness I knew,
Knowing how the past comes to revisit the bedrooms
Of sleeping children ignorant of their father’s crimes
And with a flick of a wrist the torch of immortality
Sets ablaze the innocent years to come.
BY MY FATHER’S DEATHBED
Will you go out like a light
Or linger like a flower,
Waning with touch and sight,
A petal by the hour?
Will you depart in silence
Or say a word or two
To put your life in sequence,
To help us bury you?
And will your eyes be open,
Or will your eyes be closed –
An answer simply given?
A question hardly posed?
And will you leave us lonely,
Or will we leave you alone:
A heaven none can see,
Or just this truth of bone?
I hold your hand in mine, and think
How much it has aged;
I see your chest rise and sink;
Your breath is barely caged;
Your hair is thin (but still in place);
Your gaze is firm and bold;
You have not sought solace
In babble of god or gold.
Your steady faith in the One,
Whom I so often disown,
Since your illness had begun,
Hasn’t diminished or grown…
And so I guess it will be
When finally the hour descends:
You will be you, I will be me,
No beginnings, no ends.
Will you be blind, or will I see?
Will you be right and I wrong?
Or will somehow our two worlds be
Like melody and song?
Will my future and all your past
Reveal what the moments meant?
Will it make sense at last, at last,
This gift of the present?
They tell you the end of the world has come,
Or is it the end of history?
But your life has only just begun,
You wrote no valedictory;
If this is death, how is it real,
This life you know, this pulse you feel?
There are deaths of course, seen and unseen,
It is knowledge that you’ve
Of guillotine, of nicotine,
The passing of friends or love;
With death like this you are intimate,
For life to life it catenates.
And yet the trunk of Peepul marks
Each year of death, of life
With just as much care on its bark:
What makes nature so naïve,
It disregards the much prophesied
End of the lion and centipede?
The ook-ook of the Jungle crow,
Or its urban cousin’s ka,
The twit-twit of the grey sparrow,
The gargle of the myna:
Such great ignorance of the doom
Announced in papers and lecture rooms!
The narial grins in Portuguese,
Its Sanskrit is still water:
They tower deathless all these trees,
Impervious to slaughter
By science and hand, thought or tongue;
They flourish on refuse and dung.
I pass you this technique, the cult
Ivation of the last:
That stem that binds the sky to mulch
(The present to the past),
Is what they’ve chosen not to see,
Those drumming the death of history,
Their well-clad bodies blooming like
A helium-filled balloon,
Ungripped by gravity, the fright
Of those marooned
Between the dark and Dark
On a bench in the park.
Against such morose conviction
All that I offer you
Is seedling hope in the sun
(Your ability to do),
No epic of lush lines,
But hush - a sense of rhyme…
Walking to ‘Bethlehem’ today I found
The bodies of three wise men by the road.
Around the lifeless neck of each was bound
A placard: ‘Nigger’, ‘Immigrant’, two said;
The third, ‘I shot the bastard; I was bored.’
Their precious gifts were gone; their wisdom dead.
When finally I reached the promised place
(It was not easy, for no star was out
And people slammed their doors in my face),
I was bewildered: it was smoking still,
And bombed to bits; no one answered my shout.
I could see something heavy had been dragged uphill.