Poetry

If you're interested in poetry, my published work is linked to the relevant site, clustered under the label 'Poetry' on this blog. Some of my poems are here, below.

Happenings 

So often, this sort of thing will happen.
A man will meet a woman and find his voice
is deeper than a well in the sort of village the
Central Ground Water Board
 has notified ‘dark’, where
you aren’t allowed to dig tube-wells any more, and you need
to be registered with the district authorities
to get a new hand-pump outside the kitchen, and where
you itch all over, after a bath.

Or, a woman will meet a man and will find that her eyes
are flood-prone: low-lying swamps, the sort into which
the rubbish of decades of suburban non-planning has been tossed,
making them look hard when actually, you could just sink
into them. Especially when it rains.

Often, a man will meet a woman and find that his gut
is a sort of womb: a space in which something grows
from seed to obsession, where his roots curl into the certainty of failure.
An instinctive sort of space that swells and contracts and
even bursts. Like a second, misplaced heart.

Or, a woman will meet a man and will find
her arms are collapsible, like a set of folding chairs
creaking in the sort of balcony that gets swept once
a week by a servant who has turned into a domestic cry
for help: a servant with fifty layers of lard dimpling
her elbows and a lumpy belly, who stares off into space
leaving the chairs out in the rain, rusting.

Often, a man will meet a woman and find
a mountain on his back: a dusty hump at the base of his neck,
floating low like brown fog, and things are uphill
or downhill from here on. But there is no stopping
from here on.

Or, a woman will meet a man and find the distance from
highway to home triples overnight, and that some nights
are three times as long as others: when bad news
has crawled back all the way from the city center, riding
between sheets of the morning paper, which arrived two hours after
he left the house, six rotis wrapped in the torn aanchal of her oldest saree.
The sort of night that cannot bear to end.

So often, this sort of thing happens, that a man and a woman find
a word buried behind the balls of their eyes, and they dig all around.
They will speak of fish, the price of things, the temperature outside.
They will bite into the word held as a cube of ice in their throats.
They have seen mountains fold up in despair, but they swear
they will beat another year out of this one: hauling home a cutting wind
or boiling river, or a flower. They will kidnap oasis noons to string a sagging cot.
They will not say it, but they will sit, dumb, defiant of what may come.

[Edited slightly from when it first appeared in Desilit; this poem also won the first prize for poetry at Prakriti, in 2011]  

*

The Children Left a Planet Behind 



The family name left behind, nailed
out on the door, as if
they weren’t going to need it any more.
And a ceiling marked with residual trouble - 
double-sided tape where the stars were wrenched off, but
they left a planet behind:
one saturnine globe in neon,
a threadbare ring, glowing
sharp,
at lights-out time.
And the outline of where a stained-glass angel clutched a harp.
A framed friend-photo – sunlight, a swing –
all teeth stood out, bare, and the light came in
filtered lime.

No toy clues; not even a broken wing
or scruffy paw or chewed up arm. Just one candle
stub, an inch on the window-sill. And one
lonely planet.

*



Wish horse


wishes are horses, after all.
horses need taming
and even then
they are never quite on your side.    only
in sleep do their legs lock into place, but
sleeping, they are most ready to bolt. like
wishes they get carried away
into unhinged dreams that
tell too much,
hobbling along on iron shoes of
trusting night.

horses are wishes
in that way.    they ask very little -
some grass, some space, some
new deserted
untarred road, apples,
maybe sugar.    they do not ask to be
broken though they rarely bite if they are.
no, they rarely rear up or break your neck
even if you break their will.
soon they learn your will is grass, sugar,
stables full of others similarly broken.

horses are wishes too.
echoes of the wild and true
lovers, sweet and salt, and warring,
plodding, old, old, beasts.

*



Including One Woman


Last night there was a great storm
but the sky stood there - upright,
almost a hard white.

Last night, she'd gone
to the state capital; we'd had a fight.
But they said, she's waiting, come.
Now is not the time.

So I went and there she was.
White sheets, like we've never crept into.
Her, like I'd never seen her before.
Red saree, yellow flowers
like I've never seen grow.
Hair wild.

On the bus, I'd borrowed a newspaper.
Five, it said, including one woman
(I hadn't let her take the child).

There was a photo but
you could hardly tell.
That wild hair.
Yellow flowers, red saree
and her smell. A new smell.

This new smell I did not know.
It came from her. I touched her and thought:
why does she need to go
to these places? These new places
of noise and smell
and run run run.
Red. Red. Red.

Wild saree, riding up her legs. Bare feet.
On the street she lay on concrete.
The sheet was so white.
They said, they'd help me
take her home. I said, thank you.
I lifted my hands and said, sir,
raam-raam. I said, I kept the child.

And they said, this is no place for children; 
you were right. But, I said, but
we had a fight. We had a fight.
They said, you were right. I said, 

she wanted the child at her side.

Beside her, I squatted and cried:
I should have been at your side.

She had looked up at the sky and said: Listen.
The sky is rumbling. 

There will be a great storm.
Keep the child warm.
And I had sworn not to see her face again
if she went to the city. But she went. 

And here I am.

I'll take her back. I'll take her back. 

Let me please take her back, I said.
They said, we will help. 

They said, it wasn't supposed to be
like this.

I said, sir, yes.
They said, be strong; stay calm.
I said, sir, yes. 

At the fire I told the child: Last night 
there was terrible storm.
And the sky stayed 

right where it was.

[In response to a photo and a brief news item about the police opening fire upon a group of protesting farmers]

[Edited slightly after it first appeared in The Little Magazine]



*


Chicken Claws at Midnight

There is no cause to be sad.
If you are not young, you still have 
the fugue of a remembered time
when you wanted to sing and be wooed
by a film star.

Tonight, photograph a lost girlfriend
outside a film star’s fortress. 

Tell her to smile, that little girl 
who used to cheat on you.
Laugh at her jokes.

Laugh so hard you suddenly want to leak.
When you have spent an hour trying to catch
Radio Rainbow and her cheating underbelly
is swollen so hard she mustmustmust go soo,
find her a fused-bulb loo with a plastic door.
Order a coffee you don’t want.

Outside the restaurant the dogs will be sad
with relief, gnawing steadily at a pink pile 

of chicken claws scrubbed clean and raw
as your heart.

Flick ash. Stare at the dogs unhappily 
licking the sturdy remains of this feast day.
Nurse your coffee down to a stub.
Tell the girl not to be sad. 
Tell her, remember when you were eternally hungry
for her film star laughter?

The dogs will be too busy to howl and she 
will worry they're choking on chicken bones.
Tell her it's alright.
Tell her they'll live.
Tell her good night. 

Tell her to smile though you can't afford
to fill her belly with hope even now. 
Even now she will settle for a taxi ride
heavy with song.


[Published in the Prairie Schooner]

*


City Nights (2)




The city comes pouring out
of her mouth like sleek brown rivers
of discontent, her hands flat
against pink café walls and
the round-faced waiter in his purple apron,
stunned.

The city pours out of her mouth,
colour of churning monsoon street,
of bags under neglected coffee eyes,
of soles of slippers that have spent the evening
in an old-fashioned cemetery,
colour of guts.

On her fleshy back, a hand
rubs in the city’s truth –
This happens.

At least once in your life, the city
will come pouring out of your mouth
until you are drained and your gut is a shocking pink
like the walls of a café where shaky first lovers 
sulk.

One of these days, past midnight
it will all come true.
Everything will come pouring out of you:
Your big bum,
the beer towers you drink to fit in,
hands on your back as you gag
over an alien sink,
loose knots of mustard hair,
dead phone batteries,
under-cooked mutton.

The city will come pouring out
and when it happens, you will smile
with your eyes shut tight,
you will say to the nearest friend –
This happens.
This had to happen.
It happens to everyone.

[Edited slightly after it was published in Verve (India) magazine]

(C) Annie Zaidi



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