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Temsula Ao

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Temsula Ao



Slaty-blue Flycatcher Male, Sattal. Photo by Nitoo Das




FORGIVE ME

I begin with a prayer, dear fellow poets,
and say, forgive me, for I do not
know your tongue and
can speak to you
only in this borrowed one
which is neither yours
nor mine.

Mine grew out of stones,
lived in forests and
travelled through high winds,
flourished on hill tops
and nestled in cottages
clinging to rugged cliff sides.

Thus my tongue lived;
rough, glottal, terse,
may be nonsensical to others
but it carried the meaning of love and peace,
and at times the fire of hatred and war too.

But it also sang songs to the moon
and laments to the setting sun
over the gravesides of lovers and heroes.

Today our youth struggle with the twists
of the archaic sounds and seek refuge
in the alleys of cyber-space
and substitute native terms with
ersatz jargon of the alien web
that mutate them further
into speechlessness
before the ancient tongue of elders.

Today, I am an elder
but no better, as I too flounder
in the Babel of a different kind
where I see no light in the day
and find only red flames in the night.

My heart trembles with fright
and my eyes brim with tears
for not finding the right tones
to speak to my soul.

This soul, which still resides
in the distant hills,
among the forests of raging winds;

this wandering soul looking,
still looking for the lost trail
from where the precious words

came home to roost on our hills
and gave me my name.


EVENING-SPECTRES

What are these spectres?
these dark illusions
that prance about and mock,
playing hide and seek
with my faculties?

Are these my memories?
that were once firm,
exuding the vigour,
of love and friendship
and sometimes
even of bitter passions?

But they've now become
mere shadowy flitting streaks,
floating aimlessly
and darting about
disarrayed,

as they
diminish,
dissipate,
dis-integrate
and disappear

in the cauldron
of a huge confusion
ignited by un-certainty
in the pit
of my spectred evening,

leaving me only
with a sudden certainty.


HOME-COMING

The fumes from his filthy body
reach the waiting figure first
before she sees the bloated figure
silhouetted in the dim light
groggily advance,
and then slump on the couch
with the habitual thud.

Bleary-eyed, disheveled and
frothing in the mouth,
he still thinks he's Romeo
and lurches to grab
at her full figure,
only to tear
the flimsy nightie in half
as she side-steps,

and he stumbles to the floor
with a louder thud,
restoring in him a moment's sobriety,
that suddenly reveals to him

the utter disdain
of the retreating figure
as it withdraws
without a backward glance,
in definitive disavowal
of any affinity
to his sorry life.

This frightening epiphany
cuts deep and debilitates;
his breathing falters,
and turns erratic and sluggish.

He lingers quite a while
on the bare floor
alone and helpless;
wondering with every laboured breath
am I home, where am I?

until he hears his limping heart
wheeze to that eventual murmur
of ultimate release
from his shoddy tenure
on the good earth.


WOOD-SMOKE

Wood-smoke
spirals
lazily to the skies
from hillside hearths,

around which
human circles squat,
with expectant eyes
glued to a boiling pot

where shrimps,
a handful of rice
and wild herbs
gurgle and simmer

to still the tremors
in the salivating lips
and the clamouring guts
of hungry pits.

Wood-smoke on hungry evenings.

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