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Dirge and other poems

Dirge and other poems
Something Rich and Strange

He was past patience when he threw in his lot
With the sea. He abandoned himself to the sweep
And swell of water, putting away the thought
That this was permanent and could not be cured
By any charm of his. He would endure
What the neighbours said. Now there was only sleep.

His fingers rose and fell upon the tide,
Weightless as his mind, and his legs suddenly twitched
As if they would feel the earth. He did not care
For his body now — it too would be pitched
Loveless down, away from light. Now that his pride
Was committed, his flesh had little to bear.

He lifted himself to see it all again,
To seize the moment. It wasn’t right. A lack
Of decision, even now — where was the pain,
Where the drama, the completeness? What had he missed?
He was sad at last. His head settled back,
Marring the ceramic. The soap fell from his fist.


Medical Entry

Arteriosclerosis: A condition of
The heart eventuated by too
Much vanity, too little love
For what we have caused to produce
Us; Insecurity of a few
Glands; Valiant attempts to choose
Between various failings, an
Effort to close in oneself the
Effortless secret of man.

Conditional upon the heart’s own
Involuntary needs is
This condition, sometimes known
As "Hardening": Hard Times, Hard Cheese
Are like phrases. Consequently this
Entangles the faculties
In perceiving it as a tonic
For jaded life; After all the
Fact remains that death is chronic.

Prognosis: Grave. Certain medicines
Have palliative effects which
Are salutary, reducing
Ante-mortem rigor mortis,
Ocular Jaundice (vide a Stitch
In Time) and pain. Accidental
Kindnesses are performed by the
Dying, but life remains fatal.

Dark cloaked the firmament
The rain came down.

Spider

There is a season known only to spiders
Which falls usually between June and September
(Though in some places it comes as early as April)
When they all have licence to crawl out of their own
Accredited crannies, and spin webs where they like.

This is a great offence to careful housewives
(Especially to those who are afraid of spiders)
— Suddenly to see a fat black bounty squatting
In a nook that was spotless an hour ago
Is enough to give anybody the hiccups.

There is a cure, however, as there is one
For all ills except those which breed in the heart
— Wait for the round white eggs of the gecko to hatch,
And carry off the hatchlings, as many as you need,
And secrete one in each violated corner,

And no spider will spin again there that season.
I was taught this by a truthful friend who has since
Transmuted himself. He was so devoted to spiders
That he decided to do the irrevocable,
Some time ago, and the last I heard from him was
Splatch!

Dirge

The poets die like flies but I am lying slightly to one side,
Contented in my Spain or Siam, content too to keep my hide.
How well they wrote, those friends now fettered, how the Indo-
              Anglian tongue
Allowed them to be lovely-lettered, their lives lived when the
world was young.
I’ll live and hold my words in, for I am wearied of hypothesis;
And, in place of getting glory, kisses take from my missis.

Then the world shone, by their showing; then publishers seemed
to care;
Then calls for cheques of last year’s owing did not fall on empty air.
Then newspapers asked them for pieces; and printed them
unchanged; and paid;
But now there are so many wheezes which make the craft a thrifty
trade.
In a wilder whirl of weeklies, tabloids titting on page threes,
I will shirk my duty meekly and kisses take from my missis.

They did not care much what the world said: they taught it instead
how to speak.
They did not, when a poem pleaded, to meetings go in Mozambique.
But I will stay my poems, spending strength now with a shriller pen
My theme and language both defending, to live fourscore years
and ten.
And if it prove my prime is over, if I’ve no chance at wordly bliss
Why I will spurn so false a lover and kisses take from my missis.

This hand once penned those poems: never shall I find so true a
friend.
I’ve a thirst for all forever, but the lines come to an end.
So Arun and Dom and Nissim — I will shun their hard-earned grief
And much though I will always miss ’em, in softer shadows find relief.
And when I’m ninety and young writers ask why I wrote no more
than this
I will answer, "But, you blighters! I kisses took from my missis."


The Fly in the Ointment

(on seeing a worm crawl out from my notebook)

This maggot from among my poems poked its head,
Its shiny head of bruised black, trembled stiffly,
Hesitating as I hesitated
To plunge the penpoint in and rid my rhyme
Of this reminder of its predestined time.

Do I know what insincere word I wrote
Caused this evil to hatch here, assuming
Property in the fabric of my thought?
Not exactly; but poets never can guess
What it is makes their magic to grow less.

The poetry’s not only in the form:
I know some aberration of my mind
Has taken root here and produced this worm.
One sick neuron will lay the sordid curse
Of unsuccess on all my meagre verse.

But — I explain why I hesitate —
Should I kill this misbegotten creature if
It really does reflect my creative state?
Truth is beauty, just like the man said,
So I must preserve truth if I'm to be read.

Therefore I will research each youthful page,
Undoing my folly. Yet take comfort, for
This apparition’s only in the larval stage
And if I work well, in my astonished eye
It will grow wings and appear a butterfly.


(Excerpted from First Infinities by Vijay Nambisan, with permission from Poetrywala. Book available on www.paperwall.in)


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