*Images: “Soft Shoulder in American Gothic,” Crab apple tree upholstered in outdoor upholstery fabric and ventilated backing, 506” x 340” x 340, by Elizabeth Demaray
I imagine a blue deeper than the sky,
despairing the Bay of Bengal’s
depth and nightly activity.
A child’s slim voice rises through
the sea’s midnight slush, echoing from
the distance of the years, and then is lost.
What distance of time comes in between
the hour of the first cry and this
early morning speechlessness?
I hear a door turning for the final time
in a room of its own, and then another,
the darkness deepening into a blind mass of loss.
My three-year-old son wakes up with a dim cry
for what he knows not yet, while his mother
is inventing a new language of consolation.
The kiss I received from my elder child
a while ago is keenly felt on my cheek
creasing, a remembrance of lips still moist
with a love that seems to spread, minute by
minute, over the days and nights waiting to come.
I wonder if there is time yet to retrieve the loss
of a lifetime’s, an infant’s quick eyes
that once absorbed all time, a child’s
suddenly remote, all-forgetful smiles.
Today, it is only a matter of waiting
through time, a routine habit of watching
the house sparrows build
their own homes, ignoring my
presence, in spite of the window’s
grilled supremacy, the night’s blind pride.
They wouldn’t know that there is
somebody here who does not quite know
how to take care of his years this day.
The day opens, a little delayed by
a reluctant sun, to the haze of
the night’s half-hour. The sound of
distant bells and cymbals seep into
every wakefulness and sleep, in a dizzy
beating rhythm of ecstasy and worship,
spread over the entire sky-blue
and skin-brown territory. The chants
of ancient mantras rise to the clear
heights and return in a breezy sequence
of vowels and silences.
The deep bell of St. Joseph’s must be
all about the air now, far from here,
beyond the ear’s curiosity, near
my child’s Protestant school,
and dispersing among the treble sounds
of recitation from the sacred Gita or Q’uran.
Here the winter air trembles—
a vibration of the heart that
the heart alone understands in all its
cloistered aloneness and misery.
How does one start his day even as
the earth draws everything to itself
in an unfathomable act of gravitation?
As if all that we touch and hear, each
possible urge towards friendship were
fastened to our crumpled skin
and decrepit minds, latched onto
a song that travelled across churches,
temples and mosques, ignoring every
recognisable saviour, prophet and god?
The ICU Wait
The breath comes in and goes.
From a space that encloses you inside
the larger spaces of anxious minds.
You breathe in the air as if
life were only lungs and air
and your effort to correlate both.
Listen. The water in the bottle
works itself up in bubbles, settles,
and then is bubbling again.
Hang your long hands off
the bed-sides and take deep breaths.
Don’t panic. Wait. Be calm and listen.
Take your ear near the place where
the heart is supposed to be, and listen.
Listen carefully. You hear the beats?
The big and the small?
Yes, yes, I do. Can you see, feel
the slow rise and fall of the chest?
Yes, I do, yes. Don’t panic.
Just wait and watch.
The breath staggers in and out.
Comprehend the fingers closing in
in an effort to counter our
embarrassment of waiting,
accepting the long pauses
in their natural order.
Again, listen. The water shows
very little sign of being disturbed;
only a thin layer of unevenness
plays harmlessly above its still surface
in modest circles, disappearing into
the bottle’s resting air.
The birds whisper into his ears
stories of angels in disguise,
of withdrawal and return,
their small wings flapping
in supportive play, their beaks
stroking his young dark hair.
Leave the old to their own fate and long life:
they shall understand the clarity of things
in their own slow way, in due time:
they’ve lived exiled in the best of times.
They will leave the rooms, crying.
We know. Let them cry, like children,
for earth’s quickly vanishing
forms, the budded lives.
That’s how it ends. Yes, and then begins.
Listen to my breath. See how it comes
and goes even now, without effort.
Only, less visibly than that of the old man
who left his young son because he didn’t know
how to take care of his last, loud breaths.
A lazy, languid pressure in between
the eyebrows. A small extension
now covering the eyes, the forehead,
the temples, and then a little more—
an inclusion of the head, each
hair root, the entire skull.
And then a little more. The neck,
the shoulders, then all along
the body’s complex geometry.
The crown of the head, under which
the ill-blooded brain is, the mind
and memory are supposed to be.
And there are the prescribed pretensions
of success and cure. Round, gray, pink, white.
And still others, like a faithful hand’s
magical pulling at the hair, anointing
the forehead, the eyeballs, the skin
under the earlobes with ancient remedies.
A pressure on tired limbs with
vastly experienced hands. And then, sleep.
Even then, it is still there, all over the body.
Dull, lengthening, like real hunger.
No one knows, although they
pretend to do so. It is so far from
their own thoughts–so far, they can
never know. And one can only
blame oneself for going through it,
for having come into this world.