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Vivek Narayanan

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Vivek Narayanan





FUTURE

Who should I beg that these cows, this stream, your face
might by simple repetition carry their grace into the future?
 
The fan spells out its leaf-rustle hell;
there’s a scarcity of time and space in the future.
 
But the water absorbed us on the ferry:
we slept with scarcely a trace of the future.
 
These windows reflect the cutting stone of the sky
and yet, no tear in the lace of the future.
 
PHONE
 
It collects in certain places now:
the elbow’s inner crook, the famous shields
of the knees, the heart not where the body wields,
relies on it, but wherever the brain will allow
it to hurt from, maybe the thou
of cavity out where the rib cage breathes,
where lies the responsibility for deeds
done to fulfill a prayer or a vow.
No escape from the privacy of pain,
the disease we all get but cannot pass on—
the life of your carcass remains as words
inside my ear.  No mimicry of mind
can slip your suffering’s silent ion
completely into our communion.  Nor can birds
know their secret’s flight: conscious, helpless, blind.
 
MONTANA DE ORO – DUNE TRAIL
 
Not the coast that curled and knobbed or jutted
into mini-isthumuses, barnacled, sharp
nor that cove I sunk myself in, that pure morning sea abetted
by the camera eye, but above all the warp
of wading in those wild high dunes, my feet
finding no ground nor centre, only faith, in the harp
of my heart when land turned to water in the heat.
 
Rama
 
Rama    that hero with hair dark as a crow’s wing
            Your son is not your son
Rama     that boy still with the curling sidelocks
            Your son is not your son
Rama    that he-man of the heavy lotus eyes
            Your son is not your son
Rama     speechless and radiant with swords
            Your son is not your son
Rama     tiger among men
            Your son is not your son
Rama     that blank face turned to the face of Saturn
            Your son is not your son
Rama     who will never grow sick or tired
            Your son is not your son
Rama     three-headed cobra from behind
            Your son is not your son
Rama     that forest tangled in the heart
            Your son is not your son
Rama     that sip of clearer water
            Your son is not your son
Rama     that empty gaping dark
            Your son is not your son
Rama     that corpse within the corpse
            Your son is not your son
Rama     your nipple in the rain
            Your son is not your son
Rama     that sleep beyond all sleep
            Your son is not your son
 
The Jewelled Deer
 
(After Valmiki: Aranyakanda)
 
Gathering in all his powers,
every ounce of himself, Maricha
transformed into a deer:
                                    face
mottled dark and light,
blue and pink, alert ears like
sapphires, neck gently elongated,
belly glowing like the moon,
sides soft like the pale velvet
of the mahua flower,
slim, slender legs,
puffytail tinged with all the
colours of the rainbow.  And in
his skin studded everywhere with
diamonds and precious stones,
he was both utterly deer-like
and unlike any deer that
had ever been seen. 
                        So with little
deer bleats he flitted
in and out of the  trees, made
his way to the grove where Sita,
golden-skinned herself, plucked
flowers.
            In the clearing he shone
with a sudden brightness that hurt
the eyes.  Some of the other animals
neared him and sniffed, then quickly
bolted.  Hunter turned
to prey, he kept his calm.
                        Completely still as he
was, it took a while for Sita’s eyes
to find him but when they did
she dropped her garland and stared
a full minute in awe.  Then greed –
or, equally just a hopeless yearning to be
fulfilled– took possession of her.
“Rama, that gleaming jewelled deer,
nibbling at tender shoots, I must
have him!  Whether as pet or
plaything, he would look so good
in our hut.  Aren’t we already
visited by herds of yak and spotted
antelope, apes, monkeys
andcentaurs?  And when
it’s time to go home
we can take him with us! 
He will be the pleasure
of the palace girls.  Just don’t say no. 
Bring him alive if you can but if you
have to kill him I should still like his skin
stretched over a cushion of straw,
it would make such a pretty seat!”
                                    Rama and
Lakshmana stared at the wonder,
glowing in the shadows like
the rabbit etched in the moon. 
“Rama,”saidLakshmana,
“That deer can’t be real.”
They watched the quick darts
of its flame-like tongue:
flashes of lightning in a cloud.
“So what if it isn’t, Lakshmana,
for centuries we’ve claimed
the beasts of the forest as ours.  I’ll
kill it for meat.  And if it is Maricha
in disguise, I’ll kill it anyway. 
He deserves to die – we simply can’t allow
therakshasas to be in our midst.”
                        Saying this Rama set off
in pursuit, but just as he had resolved
to do so, the deer had disappeared.  Following
the sounds of crushed twigs
and leaves, sighting the animal
inflares of light,  leaping
to rival the sun, now close, now
far, now visible, now not, now a leg,
now a diamond-studded tip
of horn, now a band of tail – driven
half-insane Rama hurled
himself after it through
the woods.  Then, spotting it in a shady
nook of the meadow unaware, he
drew his bow with the triple curve
and shot a flaming arrow that glared
towards it like a viper.  The arrow
found its mark, the deer leaped
in the air, took two steps then
tripped, then regaining its
feet, bleeding, stumbled,
dragged itself away. He
showered three more arrows, one
of them piercing
the neck.  The animal
was still.  Immense pain;
Maricha was beginning to feel his own
body coming back, his massive size,
his two long fangs, his dark
skin, the glistening gold 
of his earrings and necklace.
But even before this could become
apparent, Rama felt an eerie
moment of recognition
when the dying deer screamed,
“Sita!  Lakshmana!
What will Sita say about this?
Lakshmana, what’s he going to do?”
Then the sense of recognition gave way
to a sickening fear, then rippling spasms,
left eye twitching: the deer
had spoken those words in Rama’s
own voice.  Unable to shake or make
sense of or forget or even just put
his mind off what this meant,
Rama killed a second deer
and, carrying the meat, hurriedly
retraced his steps to Janasthana.

 

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Feature–Contemporary Indian English Poetry

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