A Sequence of Four Poems
Somehow, it seemed like a callous
event, waiting to be recounted,
time and again, in unremitting
ritual cycles, to a thousand curious eyes—
the fragile prism of welling tears
zoom out the crowding faces
into a distant view; strange hands reach out,
unaccustomed, to wipe away pain:
unknowing yet dense with curiosity.
A sequence slowly takes shape
out of all madness; the details
minute, yet crashing into each other,
falling headlong, straight down
or sideways; chasing one another,
one after the other, after the other
in an irrevocable dance of destiny —
the shards of meanings, scattered
like showering filaments of fine glass,
draw blood at the thousand points
of touch — the skin suppurating and vile
yet still unreal like a never-ending
nightmare heavy on her uncomprehending
finger tips; her puffed lips only carry
the tell-tale signs of yet another effort
to resuscitate life with a true love’s kiss.
Her old eyes stare nonchalant, burdened with death.
Behind the round glasses and the antique
brown frame, age-old twin irises darken
with snapshots in sepia or black and white, —
her fingers pause, lingering for a moment,
on a faded image, jovial and brimming
with life, his eyes guilty of a cigarette-scented
breath; her nostrils flare, eager again to catch
a whiff of life on his cold, but beloved, body.
Her bereaved mother-eyes, still and empty,
dream once more of night-long lullabies,
baby-lisp and nursery-songs — her vision
clouded by teenage tantrums, forgotten long ago;
or his secretive smiles when first in-love.
They speak in low tones, heads bent
and consulting, the hearse waits, all
decked-up and ready, for unknown destinies.
Tuberoses pile up, incense-sticks burn
desperate to clear the air; yet old tales
of smoke-darkened lips reach her ears,
subdued and surreptitious. Her hands reach out,
in a left-over caress, clinging helpless onto walls;
the loose-skin on her veined toes curl up
under the colourless covers; hiding
her shrivelled life from inquisitive eyes.
The procession of mourners throng other
bedrooms, listening to ritual tales of death—
her tales of youth and sunny eyes unheard forever.
The nights, I know, won’t pass.
Curtains drawn, the same bed would
stretch endless, a thick jasmine
scent filling the monsoon night—
and the emptiness on your side
would curl up, just like you,
hugging the side-pillows. Shrouded
in shadows, my hands will reach out,
in silent invitation; only to touch
your absent breath: my fingertips
cold and friendless. Outside, beyond
the blue mosquito net, darkness
will loiter, listless, waiting for
the company of dim night-lamps;
their meaningless light will linger yet—
in an unfinished caress, spreading
a pallid, make-belief life in the old niches
of discarded comfort. The soft-breath
of your slumbering child will rest
on the eerie silhouettes of folded blankets
and unused pillows; the cherished
crimson walls alive and resonant again
with a phantom love crowding our old,
made-over room in a lonely togetherness.
The child looks on in wonder, naïve
and restless, at the crowds swirling in the house—
the sombre faces milling round
her mother’s tear-stained eyes;
the hushed whispers huddling in corners,
or soft-feet trudging through the endless
corridors crowded with traces of joss-sticks
and tuberoses. The smell of left-over rice
and fish-curry still fresh on uneaten dinner plates;
and bedroom walls too bright and crimson
against the pallid colourlessness of her mother’s
faded yellow sari. Her eyes adjust to the dim
old sorrows playing hide and seek on the vacant
lots teeming her grandmother’s eyes or
the piercing listlessness silent in the sobs
wracking her mother’s body. The sudden
hugs from little known faces, astound her
five-year-old eyes with a new maturity.
Her new eyes take in the muted absences
pervading the house of death; a lonely
witness to her father’s journey beyond her reach.