Not a mote, not a mite, but erudite,
a capsid, a shell enclosing a gel,
a rebel, neither charming nor devout,
a pariah, a pest, a mendicant,
a carrier of insults and disrespect,
a breaker of rules and barriers,
lifeless yet living, bloodless yet sanguine,
proud and potent, unafraid of its end,
detached, neither rich nor slave, brave,
brazen even, a primitive, pristine being,
promiscuous in its search for partners,
and yet sterile, maybe a false anchorite,
an insular challenger to scientific mind,
a crusader, a predator, a philistine.
Riding a Harrow
Riding a harrow was, I tell my son,
my first taste of an adventure ride.
My mother shakes her head, smiles,
"You couldn't have ridden a harrow
or a plow. Maybe a wooden plank,
drawn by oxen for leveling the soil?"
As she speaks she pales with worry,
"But I don’t recall this, it cannot be.
I forbade it. You were an urban-baby,
prettier than the Cerelac's poster child.
I trusted nobody, not my brother
not your father, to keep you safe."
"But Ma, I remember, picture me
in black and white, riding a harrow
(or a plank!), bobbing up an’ down,
shrieking with laughter, cousin
Sonu laughing on the other side.
Maybe Nanaji, your father dared,
enabled it. I recall his laughter,
your Ma laughing, your brother,
and my own boundless joy.
I guess you weren't there."
My mother tears up now
seems flustered as she stutters:
"You all colluded to make a fool
of me. Call my brother right now!"
A transcontinental call ensues
from Chicago to the Himalayas,
(in Hindi/Pahari, on speaker-phone).
Her brother first laughs it off,
it was thirty or thirty-five years ago
and your son loved it, he says.
But my mother refuses to let go,
and then cries over the phone:
"I don't care! I don't know!
What if! (Sob, sob). What if!"
I wink at my three-year old,
he nods, then runs to her,
and prattles in American accent:
"Stop crying grand-ma,
there are no oxen around,
we're going to Six-flags tomorrow,
we'll ride the merry-go-round.
and I promise, pukka promise,
he will never ride the harrow."
Advice from Saraswati and the Muses
Write what is wrung from your tongue
a blistering song, a howl from your lung,
strum every veena vein muscle string
of your throat and your thumb.
Write with a bite that goes below, to the bone,
to marrow and to moan, to the seed of a seed.
Write to merit a sigh, a smile or a sob
from a granite idol or a brass snob.
Embrace the past, encompass eternal, vast
feelings. Empower under the thumb, mum,
conquered with hymns of hope. Leave no crumb
unversed. Croon with aplomb.
Invoke immortal ideas, idols, ideals, idioms.
The wise mine for poems in realms forgotten
or uncharted. Seek, master the unknown,
the before and the after of Allah, Yesu, Om.
To celebrate and sing of the light like a skylark,
begin in the dark. Curate a spark within, burn,
transcend the limits of the Brahma and a quark.
Publish. Deserve immortal art.
Excerpts of Sermons by a Vedic Sage
No kayaks braving turbulent thoughts,
no unthawed hatred in the heart,
no midsummer hitchhiker dreams,
no fire-roasted lusts or ambitions,
a ripple-rich, serene mountain lake mind,
like forest-morning, music-filled thoughts,
no longings like trapdoors within,
no taste for socially-apt vices or virtues,
no belongings too dear for goodbyes,
no friends unspoken to or forgotten,
family and friends let go, like all else,
desires and envies let go, like all else
search for arth: the essence
training to merit moksh: the release.
Middle-class Traditions Featuring Lemon Tree Leaves
- for Stephen Dobyns and Dean Parkins
Adolescent cousins sneak out, smoke
cigars, hukkahs, cigarettes, beedis,
opium sometimes, chillum fumes.
Cousins chew lemon leaves before
returning home. Explain why my uncles,
aunts, (their parents), cousins, neighbors,
never smell a lemon? Why not count
how many leaves vanish each night?
Cousins inherited the trick,
but fathers ignore the nostalgic lemon.
Mothers go on washing kurtas / shirts,
give head massages, hugs and career
advice. Mothers descry each drab stain
but fail as spies in a smokers domain.
Is it maternal instinct to nurture
such ignorance of chewed leaves?
Middle-aged uncles sneak out to savor
scotch, dancing women, rum quaffs,
sacrilegious ham or beef kebabs.
Though their lemons control
their households, the habit
plucks a leaf or two.
Rich don't care, poor brawl,
middle-class avoids confrontation
by swallowing bitter leaves of lemon.
To ward off evil-eye, grandmas
string lemon-chilli necklaces
for cars and all entrances.
Aunts treasure lemon trees,
and worship them occasionally.
Lemons – spice up their dishes,
scare away unwelcome spirits,
and add flavor to their kisses.
My dead grandpa's friends
resent guilt and thrills of their young.
I imagine them unzip trousers,
loosen pajama strings with flourish
and tremble with a sly joy as they spray
golden, odorous drops, offered as ablutions
to the life's deceits and to all lemon leaves
that their spiraling, musty jets can reach.
The Sermon on Photographs
“Each photograph diminishes the vital force,
the cosmic energy that resides in man.
Ego: the greatest human failing,
the ego aspires immortality
in a painted portrait, an iodide imprint,
in lithographs of limpid vanity.
A picture is an evanescent emotion,
memoir as a flattened moment,
or elegy to a once-was self.
Admire not plays of hues and shadows,
those parables of self-deception,
false idols for idle minds.
Scriptures ask you to tame that ego,
let go, LET GO!
Can you see a spirit or an angel
in any photograph? Or a halo?
God resides in realms inaccessible
to photographers and egotists.
Mediate on the selfie-stick!
Don't just click, click! Hear, breathe,
touch, feel, and yet know that truth
lies beyond what senses can show”.
said the Guru in his iconic sermon
to the fifty thousand in a stadium,
and ten million through a pod-cast.
The well-decked, I-phone-chic Guru,
later posed for several photographs.
Some were published in the dailies with this sermon,
many sold in the black market: personally autographed.