Category Archives: poetry

lost

In the bottom of a cardboard box,
a photograph of a girl.

She’s fixed in that one-hundredth of a second
– a sketch, a pencil of lines and light
on the cusp of adolescence.

I want to reverse engineer her,
pull her apart piece by piece,
see what made her tick,
discover if imitation is possible.

Because decades on,
I can look in any mirror and see her face
dressed in the contours and constraints
of adulthood, and not find her.


two women in Lisbon

Two women in Lisbon-1

Each morning

they appear on the balcony.

In matching white robes,

and with similar stance,

they lean on the railing and watch

as the street stirs to its daily dance.

I observe

this conversational ritual,

this picture of intimacy,

and marvel at the worth of things familiar.


poets I’m reading: Mark Strand

 

Keeping Things Whole – Mark Strand

In a field

I am the absence

of field.

This is

always the case.

Wherever I am

I am what is missing.

 

When I walk

I part the air

and always

the air moves in

to fill the spaces

where my body’s been.

 

We all have reasons

for moving.

I move

to keep things whole.


sounding the coal: Lambton, 1889

sounding the coal

Lambton, 1889

Each day in flannel shirts and moleskin pants,

they ride down in an iron cage

to hew and harvest carbon crops laid down

in the late Permian age.

Along the face, incessant dark encloses these Cimmerians.

They raise their picks and chance their fate

to sound the coal for signs of vacant space.

This is where the prayers take place,

in this Stygian chapel of the working class.

Lamps illuminate wet walls and streaks

of vitrinite light up like ink-stained glass.

Still fills the room.

The heading weeps.

Walls glisten.

Flames flicker.

Listen.


poets I’m reading: Linda Pastan

 

Why are your poems so dark? – Linda Pastan

Isn’t the moon dark too,

most of the time?

 

And doesn’t the white page

seem unfinished

 

without the dark stain

of alphabets?

 

When God demanded light,

he didn’t banish darkness.

 

Instead he invented

ebony and crows

 

and that small mole

on your left cheekbone.

 

Or did you mean to ask

“Why are you sad so often?”

 

Ask the moon.

Ask what it has witnessed.

 

from: Queen of a Rainy Country by Linda Pastan, W W Norton & Company. 2006.


brave

 

We stop at the edge of the reef

just short of the ledge that drops

deep and steep off the continental shelf.

As the boat’s motor cuts out,

waves of doubt carry away

any skerrick of bravado lurking inside me.

The others are stripping down to bathers

and enthusiastically donning rented masks and snorkels.

(Is there anything less hygienic?)

Before long, they are all in the sea

bobbing like corks,

eyes down on the colonies of coral,

backs exposed to the equatorial sun.

The swell rocks the vessel, up, then down.

Repeat.

Now, being in the ocean, rather than on it,

seems like a viable option.

 

Beneath the surface, snapper and wrasse.

Yellows, blues, greens, anemones,

sweetlips and parrot fish, unicorn noses.

It’s a feast for the eyes

of those who pass the bravery test,

even if what it takes is a buoyancy vest.

 


Sri Lankan inspired haiku

 

along Galle Face Walk

umbrellas shelter couples

snuggling in the heat.

 

woman crosses road,

hand raised to oncoming bus,

– Colombo traffic.

 

men walk slowly in

a funeral procession

from the Galle Fort Mosque

 

preparing Koththu,

cutting up vegetables,

chopping roti strips.

 

Sri Lankan road rules.

vehicles take up road space

in pincer movements.

 

signs on the rail line

– lack of metal, weak sleepers –

reduce engine speed


the blessing of the Sofreh

 

Laid out before the bride and groom

on a beach of soft Sri Lankan sand,

a Persian wedding spread

– the Sofreh Aghd.

 

A mirror reflects sunset’s glow.

A candle flickers light.

A sacred text contains old truths.

All adorned with sweets and jewels

in hues of silver, blue and white.

 

And there are foods that grace this spread –

pomegranates, rose apples, herbs and seeds,

walnuts and almonds, pastries and breads.

 

A tiny glass of honey waits for finger dips,

the sugar cone for granules to be ground above their heads.

 

As night falls on Ahungalla,

all present here are blessed

as witnesses –

to this Sofreh,

this marriage,

this love.


poets I’m reading: Marianne Moore

words cluster like chromosomes

(This post appeared on my blog, Sentio, on 1 November 2013) 

In 1961, at the age of 74,  Marianne Moore was interviewed by The Paris Review for their “The Art of Poetry” series. Apart from being able to write poetry as well as Marianne Moore, I would also like to have been in a time and position, as Moore obviously was, to have been invited by Lillian Hellman to have seen one of her plays!

I am also jumping for joy at having discovered The Paris Review online with its decades of recorded interviews with writers. Some more chewy grist for the mill!  To say nothing of their essays. Not only but also Dorothy Parker, Hellman herself, W H Auden, Joan Didion and Margaret Drabble, with whom I once had the pleasure of engaging in a short conversation. As literary sites go, this is pretty special.

Here are two excerpts from Moore’s interview.

INTERVIEWER

Do you suppose that moving to New York, and the stimulation of the writers whom you found there, led you to write more poems than you would otherwise have written?

MOORE

I’m sure it did—seeing what others wrote, liking this or that. With me it’s always some fortuity that traps me. I certainly never intended to write poetry. That never came into my head. And now, too, I think each time I write that it may be the last time; then I’m charmed by something and seem to have to say something. Everything I have written is the result of reading or of interest in people, I’m sure of that. I had no ambition to be a writer.

and

Now, if I couldn’t write fiction, I’d like to write plays. To me the theater is the most pleasant, in fact my favorite, form of recreation.

INTERVIEWER

Do you go often?

MOORE

No. Never. Unless someone invites me. Lillian Hellman invited me to Toys in the Attic,and I am very happy that she did. I would have had no notion of the vitality of the thing, have lost sight of her skill as a writer if I hadn’t seen the play; would like to go again. The accuracy of the vernacular! That’s the kind of thing I am interested in, am always taking down little local expressions and accents. I think I should be in some philological operation or enterprise, am really much interested in dialect and intonations. I scarcely think of any that comes into my so-called poems at all.

As for the poetry, here’s one small gem which appeared in Moore’s 1959 collection, O To Be a Dragon, snapped from my copy of Penguin’s Complete Poems.

photo-67photo-66


poets I’m reading: Dorothy Parker

A selection of short and not necessarily sweet poems by the redoubtable Dorothy Parker.

Unfortunate Coincidence

By the time you swear you’re his,

Shivering and sighing,

And he vows his passion is

Infinite, undying –

Lady, make a note of this:

One of you is lying.

 

Sanctuary

My land is bare of chattering folk;

The clouds are low along the ridges,

And sweet’s the air with curly smoke

From all my burning bridges.

 

George Sand

What time the gifted lady took

Away from paper, pen, and book,

She spent in amorous dalliance

(They do those things so well in France).

 

Bohemia

Authors and actors and artists and such

Never know nothing, and never know much.

Sculptors and singers and those of their kidney

Tell their affairs from Seattle to Sydney.

Playwrights and poets and such horses’ necks

Start off from anywhere, end up at sex.

Diarists, critics, and similar roe

Never say nothing, and never say no.

People Who Do Things exceed my endurance;

God, for a man that solicits insurance!

 

From The Penguin Dorothy Parker: Penguin Books Ltd, 1973. (Revised and enlarged edition of The Portable Dorothy Parker published in 1944)