The hospice for malnourished poets

(for the cipM)

Did you know, Pierre Puget,
that your choice of an elliptical dome,
lopsided like a Baroque pearl
was the only appropriate shape
for the ellipsis of its postulants?

You saved us, Pierre Puget,
giving an axis to a circle
turning possibility into inevitability,
eliminating grays, alleviating lunacy.
Imagine a madman searching desperately
for a quiet corner in a perfect circle.

Your twisted faun needs caring,
saving like a beast soon to be extinct,
brought to safety in this preserve for fools
and the tangential. I am his brother,
filial genes form my inescapable imprint.

I come as a petitioner, Pierre Puget,
to la Hospice de la Charité,
where, for three centuries,
those who would give their all
to chew on seeds of flax and lick
limestone walls for spice would find
nourishment in cloisters.

Hunger and madness, a hungry madness,
a madness for hunger, a hunger for madness
all granted space.

I stumble up the stairs of the Passage de Lorette
and down the Rue du Petit-Puits, collapse
at the flaming gates. I need tending.
I chirp like a chick for a regurgitated bolus
from the pipette beak of mother bird.

In this hospice for malnourished poets, Puget,
I come to be purged.


I have never believed poetry heals
but words can be birdlime
that keep the bricks of our fragilities in place.

I wonder Ghalib, could you not have reassembled
the shattered shards of your heart
rather than run to replace it from the bazaar?

Could you not have chosen instead
to glue the pieces with your felicity? Were you afraid
of amending rather than mending your beating chalice?

Did you not trust the lacquer of your verse
to hold it all together, like it does those
who hold your diwan as a bulwark to their lives?

Your words are brickbats to the enraged and marble
to those whose ardour needs cooling. My name is mud –
gold runs in my veins, grouting an imperfect dam that holds.


Whose shadows remain unsilent,
while the girl runs away
with stick and wheel?

The stumpy hirsute
observes, tamping down
his jekyll self.

The constable scours
for iterant valjeans,
wants no rambos on his beat.

Shopkeepers keep the peace.
The gods forsaken,
what scales the thirst for grace?

Thermals sweep through
passages and fretwork –
temperatures drop.

The whistle dusk
takes apnoeic breaths,
aspirates like a punctured lung.

The siren is monotone,
a strain from
a Neanderthal bone flute.

Arcades fold
in the manner of accordions,
divide into more arches.

Voussoirs crossbrace,
entwine like caducei,
buttress the skyline.

Somnambulants readjust
in caligari coffins,
smile for no reason at all.

There must be some purpose
to spires in a place
of no religion.

Dry retching, out of ink,
the crowquill scratches parchment.
The city recomposed.

Last day in a lived-in house

(i.m. Eunice de Souza)

street dogs scarper, ticked off in Konkani
by twice-born parrots, who learnt profanity
as catechism, picking at the brains
of the mistress of the house

she calls back her strays like verses
but keeps the riffraff on a tight leash,
calling them to account
when words are scarce, as now

and yet, there is always space
for one more book on the poetry shelf
it’s the saggy-baggy sagas
that manspread the most

remorse and regret are fools
not to be suffered gladly
a pickled wit is all, enough
for the last day in a lived-in house

1969, July

As the world watches, he steps into the void
aware of the fragility of the cord that holds.

Squealing, childlike, he transfers his load
onto the clothesline that breaks on cue.

He spins uncontrollably towards a concrete moon;
now, within reach, he makes his final leap –

leaving hieroglyphs in the angel dust
that flies like applause as he hits.

Judgments in carpets

We should have noticed. We should have come clean.
Our basic instincts were never so wrong.
We smiled. Let a hundred cover-ups bloom.

Like judgments in carpets, we flexed our looms.
Even the dust-mites saw through us, all along.
We should have noticed. We should have come clean.

Blindly complacent, shielded by the sheen
of all our glories, which we tried to prolong.
We smiled. Let a hundred cover-ups bloom.

Placidly, we added padlocks to our tombs.
Yet, when they exhumed, we were deaf to the gong.
We should have noticed. We should have come clean.

Got poured down the sink, as before. Having seen
the curtain call ending our lieutenant’s song,
We smiled. Let a hundred cover-ups bloom.

Conciliation meant defeat. We assumed
after the end game that we would all belong.
We should have noticed. We should have come clean.
We smiled. Let a hundred cover-ups bloom.


Laburnums explode, like a pie
in your face. Summerly single,
virtual peahens shriek, duel
vocally with missing koyals.

Squirrels headfirst down amaltas,
make ready before the heat
softens the Alai Darwaza
to plasticine mulch.

My eyes glaze,
creating mirages. I lose all
on the causeway to the Qutub.
A pashmina sky –

hue shifts to peacock.
Five-striped squirrels,
large as vans shuck up
and down the victory shaft.

Yellow blooms mature noisily,
wilt like used crepe down my throat.
I taste every sour petal, slump
headfirst into the custard,

slide, but never hit.


Sphinx over Chiplun, quiet but intent.
Even the Vasishti defers to his lithic might,
keeping her distance, except in August,
when she can’t help herself.

Parshuram does not suffer fools; easily
scything twenty-one warrior races
with pendular swings of his Parshu,
the axe that cleaves continents.

Avatar Six will not be disturbed,
having handed all the trappings of life
to the swallower of oceans
Kashyap, who vomited them back

for Parshuram to reclaim the Kokanpatti
as his bedstead, forced out of waters
to recline for the rest of ancients.
His rumbling snores now calibrated

by once-bitten seismologists.
The sphinx is benign for the moment
but apt to snap if you cross his line.
Koyna trembles when he turns.

Excerpted with permission from Cosmopolitician, Mustansir Dalvi, Poetrywala.