An Afternoon’s Reverie

Turn the heavens upside down,
see the sun spin on the ground.
Watch the moon play on the sea,
see the waters circle round
and Indra* topple from his throne,
fall at Vishwāmitra’s* feet;
and thousand-hooded Sēsha* arch
his yogic body forth to meet
boy-Krishṇa* and his singing flute.


(written ca. mid 2015)

For more about the poem, see notes.

Glossary:

1. Indra (in-draah): The king of the Gods, who lives in swarga (swur-gaah), or heaven.

2. Vishwāmitra (wish-waah-myth-raah): A king who through mighty tapasya (heat-radiating meditation) attempts to become a rishi (poet-seer) of the highest order. The puraa-s (tales of Hindu mythology) relate an interesting story where Indra (with the help of the rishi Vasishṭha) and Vishwāmitra duel; a duel that ends in a stalemate and leaves king Trishaṅku suspended between the earth and sky.

3. Sēsha (shay-shaah), also known as Ādisēsha: A fabulous thousand-hooded serpent of Hindu mythology on which Vishnu – popularly considered the “preserver” among the trinity of Vishu, Shiva and Brahma – and his consort, Lakshmi, recline. Sēsha himself lies on the ಕ್ಷೀರಸಾಗರ, or kshīra-sāgara, the Ocean of Milk. (cf. Jörmungandr of Norse mythology.)

4. Krisha (crish-ṇá): A most popular deity in the Hindu pantheon. His boyhood and youth are supposed to have been spent in Vrindāvan, where he passed his time caroling on his flute and flirting with the adoring gōpi-s (cowherdesses).

 

In Gratitude

I thank him who set my splintered bone
and gave life bàck to flesh around my thumb
that I might once more hold hands with the world.
Who, with his dexterous hands and whetted eye,
gave back the fulcrum to my hand
so it could once more spin and twirl
and summon forth, perhaps, a swirl
of words that glide and curl
like fragrance from some unseen flower.
              Three years have passed now
              since the accident, three years
              since he with so much care reset
              those broken shards of thumb,
              the injury séems like dream of day.
              So though I seldom think of him,
              (for who holds memory in a thumb?)
              I sometimes spread and look unthinkingly
              upon the webbing of my hand
              where, within the vein that rivers down
              between the index and the thumb,
              I see once more the gratitude I owe to him.


(written ca. mid 2015)

For more about the poem, see notes.

 

 

A Prayer For Those Who Remain

Let death be like the chocolàte
that fálling bitter on the tongue
swèetens into jaggery.
Let death be like the spreading light
that fáding in the windy storm
flòwers up into the sky.
Let death be like the lotused lake
that wílting in the dusty drought
retúrns in a flood of rain.
Let death be like the paddy field
that drówning in a tidal high
ríses as the hárvest’s grain.


(written ca. late 2015)

For more about the poem, see notes.

 

One Autumn Evening

I fell asleep upon the earth
lighted by the morning sun;
when I awoke, it was evening,
the horses of the sun were gone.
I rubbed sleep from my sleepy eyes
that I might watch the colouring light;
then suddenly it was upon me,
the blue, the black, the sacred night.
It spread itself across the sky
like the bird that is always free;
it moved like a ghostly whisper
from autumned tree to tree.
The ripened leaves were giving back
their burnished-twilight-flare
and the fires of the evening stars
had lit the aqueous air.
I remember as I slept again
the fragrance of the furlèd flower;
above the earth, beneath the sky,
rejoicing in the magic hour.
The sun came up next morning
as on unnumbered days before;
but I awoke with a shiver
as though on a cold, cold shore.


(written ca. early 2010, revised ca. 2012)

For more about the poem, see notes.

 

Fire and Rain – A Jugalbandi

Raag Deepak

The fláme – and it was no còmmon
fláme, but rather Agni incarnáte –
rose róse as the music fell
from the sínger’s sweltering lips.
Insìde, the furnàce of his throat
was alchemizing air to góld-
mùsic of dìvíne degree;
and stìll the fire róse and róse
around the singer’s blazing throat
and limb by limb encovered him
in whose one eye was couched death
and in the other rhapsody.

Audio of “Raag Deepak”:


(written in 2015)

Raag Mēgh Malhār

Fall fall fall fall and falling fall
and falling fall again.
Drink all the seven seas and fáll
for my fáther’s filled with flame.
Fall for my song, fall to my plea,
fáll for my father’s life
depends on me
and I depend on you.
Fall waterfall and flood this fire,
fall fight and fill the flame.
fall fall fall fall until my father’s full
and the flame no more remains.

Audio of “Raag Megh Malhar”:


(written in 2015)

Glossary:

1. Agni (ug-nee): The deva associated with fire in Hindu mythology. The Sanskrit word also simply means ‘fire’.

2. Rāga (raah-gaah): Roughly, a sequence of swara-s that together form a melody. Raag is how it is usually pronounced in the north of India.

3. Mēgha (may-ghuh): One of several words for ‘cloud’ in Sanskrit. Mēgh is how it is usually pronounced in the north of India.

4. Swara (swuh-raah): One of the seven notes of the Indic musical scale: Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni.

5. Jugalbandi (jugal-bun-thee): Used to describe a Hindustani classical music duet. The duet can be either vocal or instrumental. Accurately, this does not so much begin as a jugalbandi as it becomes one.

Context:

Raag Deepak and Raag Mēgh Malhār:

An (apocryphal) story tells of how the medieval Mughal emperor, Akbar was tricked into ordering Tānsēn – a legendary Hindustani Classical musician – to sing Raag Deepak, a raga capable of producing fire. A sublime singer, Tansen knows that doing so will mean setting himself aflame; so he asks for a month’s time and teaches his daughter to sing Raag Mēgh Malhār, a raga capable of bringing rain.
On the appointed day at the appointed time, Tansen begins his rendition of Raag Deepak and, as he loses himself in the music, conjures up the expected fire – that begins to circle and engulf him.
On cue, his daughter – nervous and quavering – begins her rendition of Raag Megh Malhar. For a time it seems as though Tansen has not taught her well enough, but just as the flames begin to singe him, she breaks through, the skies open and down pours life-giving water.

The Evening

The evening spreads across the sky,
the sovereign sun secedes,
the jamboree of day recedes
into a symphony
of warbling, squabbling, burbling birds.

The ether’s yellow light is lost,
the coloured flowers fade
into a thickening twilight shade
pregnant with a hóst
of secret, soundless mystery.

And soon the night will gather up
all mortal and immortal life
into her dárk and lovely lap,
from where again will rise the sap
of day, and stréaming sunlight say:
‘drink deep, drink deep of my golden cup.’


(written in mid 2015)

For more about the poem, see notes.

On A Rainy Evening

What do I think of damp and soggy days
when all the mud there is begins to squelch
and squeak like frogs wòunded by a
plunging branch, when every fallen leaf
looks just the same, as if each one had fallen
from some giant water-tree, and when the clouds
simply cannot decide on how to fall: like this,
like that? Like here or there? Like big or small?

I suppose I liked all this when I was young and free
and when the only sky I knew was hid among the
puddles on the ground, or when I browned my Friday-
dress in mud that squelched and squealed and sang
beneath the green-grooved canvas of my trusty shoe.

But I do not like to think that I have aged, oh no,
much rather would I think the rain is not as young.


(written ca. late 2015)

For more about the poem, see notes.

Upon The Sun

There are so many ways
to sit out in the sun.
You could paint your toes
and stretch your legs
until the sun reflects off them.
Or you could lie upon your back
upon a lighted sward of grass
and hold a book
up to the fire of the sun.
Or you could turn the other way
and rest your stomach on the ground
and feel the sunlit blades of grass
grow damp beneath the favour of your skin.
And then, of course, you could
spread leopard-like out on a branch
and lick the air with a sleepy tongue.
But perhaps best of all would be
to sit wild-eyed upon some timeless tree
and dream of gliding like a cloud
(growing gradually thick and proud)
before swooping down like rain upon
a dusty and a thirsting earth.


(written ca. mid 2015)

For more about the poem, see notes.