Thursday, October 1, 2009

Keki N. Daruwalla

Before The Word

Corn is great, on the cob or otherwise,
but before corn in the ear there was life.
Fire is holy especially for Zoroastrians,
but before fire too there was life.
Before the bowstring and the flint arrow sang,
there was life.

The word is great, yet
there was life before the word.
We can’t turn romantic and say
we were into bird speech or river-roar then,
into the silence of frost or the language of rain.
But forest speech and swamp speech
came through easier to us.
When lightning crashed,
the cry of the marsh bird was our cry,
and we flung ourselves to the other branch
like any other baboon.

As winter whined on windy cliff,
we shivered with the yellow grass.
In winter-dark a hundred eyes
flared yellow in the jungle scrub.
When seasons changed, blood coursed with sap
and flowered in meadows. We were at home.
Nor eyes nor bat cries bothered us.
What if we didn’t know
a bat assessed reality
from the ricochet of its cry?

Though there were no words,
fear had a voice with many echoes.
Worship was quieter, adoration
spoke only through the eyes or knees.

What was it like before language dropped like dew,
covering the scuffed grass of our lives?


The sea came in with her and her curved snout
and her tin coloured barnacles
and long threaded rose moles

patterned on her body.

The sea brought her and her curved snout
and her rose moles and her eyes still translucent
as if half aware and half unaware
of the state of her body.

The sea came in with her and her scimitar snout
and her translucent eyes
greying into stone.

The sea brought her in,
wrapped in seaweed
and slapped her on the sand,
all five feet of her
with the armour of her scales
and the filigree of her rose moles.

The tide kept coming in
but couldn’t disturb her
or her resting place –
she was heavy.

The sea fell back but even
as the thin-edged foam line receded,
it went to her once more with a supreme effort,
rummaged among her barnacles
and left.

A Pregnancy Of The Hills

Stars freeze and burn
in their crucibles of thought,
each smouldering In Its own infernoa
brain on fire within a skull of ice.

As I open the doorthe grate-fire spurts
subtly with the draught
and the tenderness
wells into your face
like a flash-flood.

Taut as a drumskin
the belly turns translucents,
howing its arborescing veins.
As I trace the capillaries
the child moves away
from this bank of your body.

The midwives bicker,
will the feet appear first,
protruding like antennae,
or the bulbous head?

The moment when the sluice gates open,
throwing him on the dark river of the stars,
will decide how his passionseddy and swivel
and to which banks love will ferry him.
And already death has marked him
from his unseen boat,
as traversing the womb-walls
he is trapped into life.


Migrations are always difficult:
ask any drought,
any plague;
ask the year 1947.
Ask the chronicles themselves:
if there had been no migrations
would there have been enough
history to munch on?

Going back in time is also tough.
Ask anyone back-trekking to Sargodhaor Jhelum
or Mianwali and they’ll tell you.
New faces among old brick;
politeness, sentiment,
dripping from the lips of strangers.
This is still your house, Sir.
And if you meditate on time
that is no longer time –
(the past is frozen, it is stone,
that which doesn’t move
and pulsate is not time) –
if you meditate on that scrap of time,
the mood turns pensive
like the monsoons
gathering in the skies
but not breaking.

Mother used to ask, don’t you remember my mother?
You’d be in the kitchen all the time
and run with the fries she ladled out,
still sizzling on the plate.
Don’t you remember her at all?
Mother’s fallen face
would fall further
at my impassivity. Now my dreams ask me
If I remember my mother
And I am not sure how I’ll handle that.
Migrating across years is also difficult. "

-all poems previously published at Kavitayan Indian Poetry

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