Life Sentence

Let’s say you’re not opposed to the ghost
in principle, you understand her neediness,
and let’s say she’s distracted, or busy,
she’s busy looking for a way back in,
but the shore appears distant,
not to mention, impossible to attain,
a far-off place where her former friends
no longer speak her name, which is lost,
and no word she hears is audible
through the static and the clatter;
so let’s say you forget to speak her name,
you do not repeat her lovely name,
because your talk is of meat and money,
and let’s say you’re not crazy or bitter,
it’s just that you don’t want to hear her say,
Why, why did you not look after me?

~ From New and Uncollected Poems (2003-2015)

The Opposite of Nostalgia

I’m trying to forget
those days one day at
a time –
the pitiful rooms
with their puddles of light,
the women I haggled with,
the car stopped in the street,
the wife barefoot,
on the run,
car keys in her hand.
Or I’m there, the sum
of my ambition
defined by old
rage, my anger like a slow child
hitting out at anyone
who comes
her way. I’m thinking
of the negotiation
with strangers, the attempt to say
things differently,
the men’s room at the airport,
the glassine bag, the rolled-up note,
the line hitting the back of my throat
with a kick
like an anesthetic,
and, later, the paramedic
saying I’m lucky
to be
alive, and telling him
he’s wrong, I’m
not lucky or alive,
just high.

~ From These Errors are Correct (2008)

Psalm Secular

When you I taste
god awakes
from a century’s
sleep or murder.
I fold my hands,
press your blessings
to my head.

I kneel abed,
mouth small praises
where thy thighs
collide. I bow, arise.
Soon the sun
will do the same,
arise and bow.

I take two pears
from the Gauguin bowl,
shine them with your slip.
We eat sweet and fast.
Juice flecks our lips.
‘Gravid!’ I shout,
for the poor joy of it.

And you? Laughing,
my name in your eyes,
you cry one word.
The moon that hangs
above the street
on a silver thread
lifts its skirt to dance.

~ From English (2004)

Self-Portrait

Unhappiness is a kind of yoga, he tells himself
each morning, a breath meditation; besides,
do you want to be happy or do you want to write?
When he lifts saucepan to stove, images atone
forever in his hands. Ghosts of celebrations past
throw themselves lemming-like into the meagre
flame, each small act attended by a host of demons,
friendly and not. The world is code, smoke signals the
dead have left us to decipher, knowing we cannot.
At nightfall, exhausted by toil, he falls deep into
the dreamless light changes, the dead or dying sea.
A mountain moves and nobody notices. The world
is old and set in its ways, and K. is saying, Of course
there’s hope, there’s always hope, but not for us.

~ From Apocalypso (1997)

The Alcoholic at Dawn

The cup in my hand
rattles like a drum
and tells me my need.

Strange, oh strange to wake
up where the beached whale
skims the sodden sand.

Legs unsteady, undersea
eyes bleared and brimming,
I twine a blue smoke
from nose to throat,
then the quick stumble to the cupboard.

~ From Gemini (1992)

Excerpted with permission from Collected Poems, Jeet Thayil, Aleph Book Company.