poetry picks

In October (and autumn), six poems about age

The seventh in a monthly series of selected poetry on different themes.


Mamang Dai

We have long journeys in our blood.
The road has no end.
The lanes and streets are lined in my eyes,
the horizon burns in my head.
At night we sleep with guns and gulls
tugging at land and oceans,
and ropes coiled to barren rock
where once flowers were to seed
pumping blood, and singing voices.

How would anyone know what we have tried to do,
when there was me, and you,
and there was the burnt black hill
monumental with the faces of our people,
until the next moonrise showed us
something about change,
and the existence of dreams.

The steep hillside is a hard place.
There is nowhere to rest our feet
even when I want to kneel and pray,
moved to tears by a rainbow sky.

What is felt
left unsaid,
is a sadness.
Bereft of our symbols
this strange tattoo in my heart
is the sound of footsteps.

I know the clouds are hiding behind your eyes
even as you kiss my brow,
but this is the way that was promised us
the day we met ten thousand messengers
carrying the whispers of the world.

Memorial Time

EV Ramakrishnan

The mirror wall is etched
with letters.
You touch them as if you are carving names
in human flesh.
Memorial poles stand between
the living and the departed.
The bells commemorate
The boatman at the ferry knows
those with fewer words
will never
I abandoned
a third of my words
at every ferry-crossing
to reach here.
Behind the mirror of water, there
is a realm of glass for those who are gone
from language, but none for those
whose language is gone.

Being Seventeen, Being Boys

K Srilata

It’s cricket in the blazing heat
and they are back,
a glisten of faces,
grime-trail on the bathroom floor.
Over tall mountains of rice,
a brief hungry silence,
and then, the ribbing-each-other
about school crushes and missed catches.
And to think that they are done,
nearly done,
being boys.

First published in Poetry At Sangam

The United States of Amnesia

Sophia Naz

Welcome to the United States of Amnesia
Where the average attention span is
an albatross around the neck of history
drowning in largesse of half-caf mocha frappucino

At every other corner, nine tenths
of teeth submerge in this melting pot, super bowl
of guillotined Halloween, cropped and photoshopped
to the death and the bell trolls a Clockwork Orange
clones & minions man the phones
ringing off the hook like
an armless pirate with his peddling
finger on the twitter
out to abduct you
only, lonely immigrant child, America
this illegal erection election year
unlike any other in living

Welcome to the Dystopian States
of Amnesia, to the gloom of the homeless underpasses
to the panhandling flutes drowned out
in the tropics of the nocturnal subterranean

Washed up on your shores like a bottle with a pent up ocean in my bladder
memory is the only currency I hold
the infected blankets up to the light, I know
the smell of genocide. I have watched
women shamed as witches, watched them fall
like dominos on a Salem noon. I have met Sally Hemings and the strange
fruit of your history, America. I have fallen in your uncivil war
of a thousand and one episodes. This beast you thought you tamed? He prowls
the profiled night wearing
a police uniform

Beneath your bipolar indifference
a glacial racial iced age is dying
unseen below decks
in red bullet points
in blue moans

While a white white sea
sails on

How A Very Old Poem Might Read

Kala Krishnan Ramesh

Those you love best know
where suddenly your shore curves
into unexplored landings,
and which coves
you are drawn into on certain days.
Those who are newly arrived
will always ask,
“And what lies there, beyond that
where even the sun’s light seems different,
may we sometime take a look?”
On the days that you love best,
boats come bearing untold tales,
and he and she you love best
lay their heads close to yours
on the sand’s warm,
and speak of
things that take you where
you have loved to be.
In this river
which is never the same
and never the same again,
where even the accustomed moon is
caught unawares,
each of us will
sometimes stagger and fearing
unmentionable things, ask,
“Are you still mine, are you mine,
and sometimes, mine alone?”

Old Man’s Death

Gieve Patel

There may be a very small comfort
In knowing yourself finally
Useless – when even grandchildren
Have grown beyond your love,
And your would-be widow
Has outhobbled you and
Wont be around to break with
One or two of her last thick tears,
And you not caring much for
Your fellowmen, the doctors
Wont get your body –
To know how simply you
Will be bundled away, startling
A lifelong friend who finds
He cannot mourn
At the quick and easy changes:
A sprinkling of water,
The disappearance of an odour,
A turn of bed-sheets, leaving
A bed, a chair,
Perhaps a whole room,
With clarity in them.

This selection is curated by Rohini Kejriwal. She also curates The Alipore Post, a daily newsletter stemming from a love of​ art, poetry, music, and all things beautiful.

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