Far from Chagall
Tell me it must be the weather
that dyes my mind white, congeals thought —
not meltdown of that myth: Together.
Tell me it must be the weather
not your ire, nor eyes that ether
memory, blaze the words we wrought —
tell me! It must be the weather
that dies: minds in flight can seel thought.
We drove to Rome to unreel pride
and pain, staunch the blame, drain dissent,
graft content. The last galactic tide:
we drove to Rome to anneal pride
with ‘art and rain. When the Tiber died —
riven blue-black by rage misspent —
we drove from Rome to unreel, ride
the pain, staunch the blame…feign consent.
New Delhi: Spring
As you move into yesterday,
the sky runs copper; trees stain blue
on sleeping earth. But seasons stray
as you move. Into yesterday
spills blood from my breath: I must pay
for the ground sunshine, for these hues.
Then you’ll move into yesterday.
The sky runs copper, stains trees blue.
Rome, the return: Summer
I’ll come alone this time, serene
if songless. I’ll have lambent night
to bathe the pines, restore life’s sheen.
I come alone. This time — serene,
knowing you gone — breathes, slight, between
relief and grief. No wraiths alight.
This time, I come alone: serene,
for the songless have lambent night.
* First published in Asia!Mag (Fall 2010)
Me di ter ra ne an.
Even dreams can be polysyllabic.
(This one as old as the Orient Longman schoolbook.)
When you first see it from above
you think of all its relatives that you’ve met before —
the sea in Bombay and Puri, the bays, even ponds —
but nothing prepares you for your dream lover; or for this.
No relatives, no superstitions, no dreams.
Could this be the Mediterra…?
Its skin crinkled like it hasn’t met oil ever.
Or been touched, its pores moisturised by a lover.
I am that lover it’s been waiting for.
My curiosity is stronger than light’s.
The plane lands like a gimmick
as if it’s about to land on water.
Like your image in the mirror.
Soundless and inevitable,
but still always a surprise.
The rest soon follow:
the eyes of my co-passengers — blue,
borrowed from the Mediterranean;
the sense of humour of immigration officers;
your thoughts and my thoughts of you,
background music coalescing with questions;
the Greek alphabet, as foreign and familiar as acidic spit.
Like your lover, they are a function of memory and invention.
Then the elements.
A lone windmill, out of place.
Like a wrong punctuation.
All punctuation is inappropriate.
Everything except your expectation.
The sea is outside.
Like you are inside me.
The sea is blood.
You’re blue or red,
depending on where you are —
inside or outside me.
There are no houses here.
My eyes know this —
this landscape where you are the landscape
and also its intrusions.
These gentle mounds they call hills to amuse themselves,
like your body in liquid sleep.
The dwarfish conifers are a surprise
like a scar or raised boil on your skin.
The sea is now to my right.
Like you, lying next to me.
Both of you move gently in your sleep.
I’m always awake.
Like sand is to even a tiptoe.
Greek begins to sound like Tibetan.
The sound of the semi-foreign is perhaps always the same.
It’s like the wind —
you know its behaviour though not its accent always.
The person you love is not here.
No lover is, in a moment such as this.
The air has the assurance of your breath on my shoulder.
When you lie on me, exhausted, collecting desire for a quick future.
All knowledge is second-hand.
Except this. This familiarity of breath, of home.
The only original.
You are that home. I breathe — that is my rent.
We, who share everything, like smokers do a fire,
knowing it to be generic but also private, like a secret,
know this —
that there’s no ‘local fish’, no ‘local guardian’,
and no ‘local poem’.
‘People have been living here for 4500 years.’
It’s the manager of the hotel.
It’s not the hotel he means (for my eyes have revealed their yolk)
but Nicosia, this leaf-shaped city,
curling at the edges, as if life were permanently autumn.
A leaf floating on water.
Standing on the hotel verandah,
its iron grille shaped like a shy smile
(so graceful, it could only have been a leftover from sleep),
I think of you and our love —
whether it’s older than death,
and whether this city is older than death.
There are verandahs everywhere
(like pockets in buildings),
as if life was meant only for looking
and waiting, to weigh the breeze,
to feel longing for what is beyond one’s reach,
or to treat the sky as an uninhabitable island.
To stand on them is to be an amphibian,
living both inside and outside.
Stephanos Stephanides is here.
He’s this island’s poet —
it’s in the name already,
mononyms that carried Greece across water.
‘I know this day of May will be the day
The dead will awaken only once
Next spring will be too late…
Even the dead do not wait forever’
I’ve met his words before I meet him,
his hand on his beard,
pulling hair when in thought,
as if thinking was a stringed instrument.
I do not know why I think of Plato or Socrates,
the lonely intelligence of bearded Greek men.
There’s a Green Line that divides Nicosia —
since only space can be divided, and not time,
the Greek Cypriots claim the South,
the Turkish Cypriots the North.
We do not go North —
there are warnings, of blood in its wind,
as if violence is any less where we are,
at home, or in the heart.
But we listen —
obedience is a virtue in foreigners.
That marks a tourist from a soldier.
In the Walled City —
past Ledra Street (The Murder Mile)
where beauty spills from tiny shops
on to narrow streets like buck teeth,
and Faneromeni Square,
where the beauty of the churches convinces you
that ancient man imagined god as an aesthete —
is a restaurant that is about to close.
Stephanos speaks softly,
in a language that is tentative,
as if it’s just about to come to fruition.
Here one eats what the family cooks for lunch.
Vegetables from the island fill our tiny table
like a train whistle filling the mind of a village.
Wrapped like a gift is the Cypriot dolma —
vine leaves hugging meat and rice
like bark does cambium.
It opens twice —
first barely on my plate,
then inside my mouth,
meat and rice resting against each other,
like sleep on pillow.
The memory of paturi —
fish wrapped in banana leaf,
the genius of fire in its taste —
builds new walls inside my mouth.
My mind, like a fly in summer,
moves to you, again —
every moment’s a letter despatched to you.
Now, behind me, is the Byzantine museum,
and then the Kykkos monastery,
its lines as strong as suspicion.
Standing at the Freedom Square,
that connects the old city to the new,
like only a photo album can,
I think of our love, its brown streets,
and you, my ‘local poem’.