The Waves Swoop Ashore
The waves swoop ashore, bringing
the dreams, sorrows and epics beneath our feet,
the agitation of the seas.
They fling to the shore flowers
gathered at mid ocean,
the unceasing swirling turbulence of small creatures,
the earth’s waterlessness,
the many full moons fallen into its waters,
deep sorrows of man, smouldering underground
for long years,
clouds of lovesickness pervading
the bridegroom’s body,
dreams and hopes of the migrating birds’|
return to their land.
One after the other they hasten ashore
leaping, like racehorses
their manes standing on end.
Water horses rush forward until
their hooves touch the shore, and their knees
buckle. The foam gathers, spreads, scatters.
Loading into his little boat
the vision he saw at a far distance
at that moment when sky and earth touch,
the boatman swoops ashore.
Translated from the Tamil by Lakshmi Holmström.
Why come to Venice? The young woman asks.
I answer in lines – their time may have passed.
As a child, half a world away
I floated in a black canoe, it sank in high water.
The lagoon swells at monsoon time and floods the Ghetto.
All the pepper of Muziris cannot buy their freedom or mine,
And painted pottery exchanged for monkeys
Or chattering peacocks cannot distill sorrow.
A fish with rainbow fins is swimming in a fountain,
It has swallowed the ring of remembrance.
This Kalidasa knew,
Dreaming of a high room by the Accademia bridge
That holds Sakuntala, still sleeping.
A bird, with feathers the color of jasmine
Has made its nest in the timbers of that bridge.
There I see a man, face painted white
A yellow star pinned to his chest,
Staring into water.
He too is part of this earthly theatre.
No one must see him weeping.
© Meena Alexander, 2008. From Quickly Changing River (TriQuarterly Books/ Northwestern University Press, 2008)
A Fisherman’s Ganga
I sat on a dingy boat,
Looking at the MahaAarati
On the DashwamedhaGhat.
Seven priests adorned their Ganga
In every human way possible..
Tourists shrieked, conch shells sounded
I lit a small lamp and let it flow
Into the unknown corridors of faith-
A fisherman sat nearby
Perched on the helm of his boat
Looked at the skies,
And spat some Benaras
Into his Ganga.
It was just water and more water
How long can you savour such depths
I was lonely all over again
So I drew a wooden ship
Did the ship have a mast?
I really cannot recall anymore
It probably didn’t have all a good ship should
In form, just barebone
Everywhere just water and more water
I kept losing my way all the time
The sky was dark too, in the shops of stars
Sales were dull beneath the roof of clouds
The wooden ship that I drew will sink
Will memories of the shipwreck make you weep?
In the darkness you had grown distant
Tomorrow you too will be an abandoned lighthouse
Translated from the Bengali.
What the Sea Brought In
Brooms, brassieres, empty bottles
of booze. The tip of my brother’s
missing forefinger. Bulbs, toothpaste caps,
instruments for grooming. Chestnuts,
carcass of coconut, crows, crabs.
Three dying fish, four dead grandparents.
Slippers of every stripe: rubber, leather,
Rexine, felt. Rope, mollusc, baleen, foam.
Two ghost children foraging their way
home. The Bootchie Man, budgerigars,
a pack of poor poisoned dogs. Keys,
spoons, singular socks. Virginity returned
in a chastity box. Letters of love,
letters of lust, the 1980s, funeral dust.
What the sea brought in was enough
to fill museums—decapitated marigold,
broken nautilus, a betrayed school friend
stuck in the dunes like the legs of Ozymandias.
Park benches, milk teeth, snake-skins,
cartwheels. Somewhere in the many years
of waking given over to sleep: a cavalcade
of cognitions, a mustard jumpsuit.
If everything we’ve lost were to return
with the sea, how simply we could offer
our sun-scarred lives, our soiled mattresses.
Such solace to know that barnacles house
empires, that the feral creature of love
grows from gravestones of breakers,
blooms like wildflowers in the fetch.
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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