Five poems by Vijay Nambisan (1963-2017) excerpted from These Were My Homes: Collected Poems, published by Speaking Tiger
The Miracle of the Pomegranate
In the August rain the flowers are changing
The shape of the tree. It was light and airy,
Holding its colours high above the earth, arranging
For itself a crown with sure fingers. Now rudely laden
With miracles, it regards the wetness below.
Fruits swell in crimson and yellow, strange
To pluck from grey air. Is there nothing else to do
But life must poke its secrets up through the shoots,
Up past the leaves and into the flowers,
Filling them slowly as if trying on gloves;
Nothing to do but after the merest shower
It should be thrusting earth aside with green plumes
Simply to put the tree in proper perspective—
nwanted things coming again and again to birth,
Ignoring the fact that the gardener’s due tomorrow.
He’ll mutter to himself, Nothing useless nothing wasted,
But the tree’s grown so tall that half its prizes
Will only come to the wasteful bats and thieving
Squirrels, then be left to lose their colours, rotting,
Laying the secret bare to be sympathized with.
Death of a Terrorist
The streets are hungry for the night,
From the sky they claw the red sun down,
Dying dripping on shopfronts and stones, avoiding
People’s faces. The stains will fade. We walk
Hands in pockets, defining a silent road
Through black and grey crowds that give us room.
Moving west and moving a frontier with us,
Telltale hands in pockets because we are spies
And the Moon and Saturn are complex on our palms.
The long stares touch us, feel our shoulders, slip
To our feet, hushed upon the fall. Looking
Not to left or right, we find spaces in the throng.
The next streetlamp glows bright and hard. The day
Is given up. They gather round the fallen
Faultless in the dark. They draw apart for us.
‘Is this the body?’ ‘It is.’ Looking down,
We bring out our hands slowly, no suddenness,
And move our pocket handkerchiefs across dry lips.
The process is rehearsed, deliberate. We return,
Conscious of the things that love us. Think of nothing else
—But in a land that hates us so, shall we starve
Our feelings? Our eyes look not to left or right.
On the hills to the east the sun’s last glitter
Smell of Things to Come
A nose is a nose is a nose. Who knows
Those fibres of smell better than I? The scent
Of a book that grows on me, of a rose
Withered by fondling, of newsprint, of drink
Untasted but soon to be consumed, of course
I know them all and know too the gross
Odours of unwashed flesh, of dirt
Shed or retained by skin, and I know almost
The scent of love, because sometimes it flows
Between breast and breast, and my nose
Has nestled there.
When blows the wind above
My senses, I have smelled the clouds grow
Against the sky. One scent remains to know,
The last breath I shall ever take as I.
Calypso to Odysseus
If you are not interested in what I have to say,
Let my words fall anyway, like mermaids’ voices
In the background, hushing you, but not saying
Anything you may understand. We are here to stay,
You and I, all day and days until the night closes
My song, and your unhearing. If you will be praying
Always for some far sail on the brittle horizon
Why then I will still pray for windless calm; let the gods
ho, really, care nothing) decide what to send.
You hear cruel warders’ voices in your prison;
I see a hero who will not accept. What are the odds,
My hero, fighting loneliness when you have found a
On far shores, battle rages; on a far shore your wife
Sits weaving, unweaving, and is content with life.
Over time, the very mountains changed, dwindled
Into deserts, and new mountains grew snow elsewhere.
The great shapes of land shifted, made oceans
Of lakes; the seas themselves became pools and puddles
And then deserts. All this happened, over time.
Then so slowly we had not perceived it, green
Touched the shores of land, tinged the ocean edges
And spread and spread, and coloured all the planet
With profusion. We had waked and slept
And waked again to see these changes, over time.
There was movement when next we looked, but we had
To look very closely. We saw the bubbles
Infinitely small, in the seas; the slow stretching
Later, of limbs on land. Pseudopods, tentacles
In turn levered life to dominion—over time.
We saw it was our time to go down then
And give more than attention. With great patience,
Great care not to change what had itself begun
To change, we moved and manipulated and at last
Seeded the seeds which would succeed: over time.
Now this was all long ago, in history-less time
For that planet. Now, over time—we seeded well—
The seeds we planted must have grown great roots and realms,
Must know by now what it is to be great. So now
We are returning, to see what has become of Man.
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