candlelight dances on the old silver pendulum clock.
lightning rips dark lilac clouds
like headlines rip the front page
of the dusty newspaper from brighter times.
the pendulum lights and shadows printed names
in bold and black, and a photograph of smiles,
eleven- twelve- thirteen times-
’til thunder cracks through counting wind
like the cold, brass lock and key
that locked away those brighter times.
is that the music of time,
like the sound of rain
when tired drops that survived the storm
drip placidly from distant treetops,
through hollow darkness that shut-eyes and nighttime bring?
the absurdly enticing stars
fall out of the decorated sky
and shatter like twinkling ice,
like flakes of glass that yearn the stinging blood.
the soil beneath breathes and lives,
the wilting grass that roughly braids your hair
is damp, and slightly warm,
like the empty spaces in memory
where joy and laughter are faded dreams.
drip-drop, tick-tock, suns rise and moons set,
the air embraces the ground here,
don't try to move your fingertips,
don't raise your hopes,
don't close your eyes,
don't listen as the seconds fall, then melt away,
as if they run with love and wonder and life,
feel your fingers claw into the soothing wind,
only rest and sink into the loving earth.
Curiosity stares through tinted glasses
at railway tracks that glint darker in the sun;
the house crow that pecks on the ties in between
looks only slightly greyer than its shadow.
The diesel smoke and incense mist
lie faintly over red painted benches
that infrequently decorate the station platform.
Glass doored cabinets in miniature stalls
hold jars of hard candy, myriad pan filling
and sugared tamarind sweets to charm the mouth,
brightly coloured foil packets of biscuits and sweetened milk cake
lie sulking on the icebox, liberally filled
with ice cream and badam milk, mishti doi and lassi,
chilled soda in orange, brown, and green,
sealed bottles of water for people to please.
People and more people with stranger clothes and faces
scurry and stumble, then scramble and hurry
up the overbridge and down to platform number four
with sari and suitcase, toddler with a missing shoe.
Cartons of fresh iced fish to be sold a thousand miles away
settle comfortably on the floor of the parcel compartment,
painted blue, like all the thirty and one passenger coaches
tailing the rusty red engine that punctuates the chaos
with sleepy sighs and anxious whistles.
Footsteps and wheels run briskly here,
yet time runs ever slowly still
in rhythm with the ceaseless chant –
“cha~i coffee! co~ffee chai! cha~i coffee!…”
The shy winds
of a late autumn eve
breezes over the tingling
warmth of my feverish skin
when they throw open the windows
to let in the dark.
Your shy glances brush my shoulders
and leave a burning warmth
on my golden skin under
quietly trembling lights,
my eyes seek yours in semi-darkness;
two can play a game tonight...
My shy blushes hide
beneath discreetly painted eyes,
trust me, pretty words don't lie,
see me through the pretty lace,
and let me haunt your dreams tonight,
leisurely prowling to tear.
Your shy fingers tremble,
delicate and pale, shivering
slightly with my touch
'though the night is warm,
your breath, shallow when
I kiss your palm and
each of your fingertips,
my prince for the night.
The shy music fades
and all you can see is the silk
on my sleeves unravelling
as I glide around the room,
selling temporary love
to buy temporary envy in your eyes.
When shy lights flicker to shadows,
whisper sweet nothings in my ears,
your voice low and resounding
in my beating heart until dawn
steals my starlight...
I'll miss you for a while, I swear.
Don't you dream of constellations...
whistling winds weep wandering
amongst abandoned aeons
of ordinary ominous oblivion.
Perhaps the paper planes that fly,
Reflecting passion as they glide
Over auburn sunset sky where
Starlight burns into the night,
Echo poetry and sweet lie.
Time and Tide
The rain poured white on the deck and the pitch-black ocean below was as frenzied as the chaos on the cruise. Seconds could mean the difference between life and death.
People swarmed towards the lifeboats. I was five then, and struggled to weave my way through the crowd, my mother grasping one arm and my sister, Lisa, the other. The ship was flooding. The screaming and crying threw the entire ship into a state of unbearable panic. A perfect ending for a wonderful cruise-trip. Mother had looked forward to it for months and we’d had such a marvelous time, until right now.
“Clear out for women and children! Women and children, this way!” A loud voice announced from one end, and at once, the crowd scurried towards it. The lights flickered.
“Stay calm. There are enough lifeboats. Everyone will get off safe.” called out a man in uniform in vain.
“Excuse me, woman! Do have some respect for the elderly.” snapped a stout old lady in her nightgown as my mother tried to break through the mob. Her wispy-white hair stuck out in odd angles, and her lips, smudged with bright pink lipstick. I remember wondering how she’d intended to keep her make-up on if she went underwater.
“Ma’am,” my mother said sternly,”would you please let these children move ahead? They have their entire lives before them.” My mother was a neat and tidy young woman, the kind who wears her hair tight, simple clothes and shoes, and smiles gently. She would stand no theatrical fancy.
The old woman turned purple with rage, spat at her feet and attempted to storm away.
“The hull cracked. The lower tiers are flooding quickly. We have minutes. How many boats left?” asked a voice quietly from a little behind me. “Seven. Seven last boats.”
The call rang out again, “Women and children here!” Lisa looked to rush towards the call. My mother stopped her.
Lisa was my step-sister. She was ten years older and I loved her. Our father had remarried after his first wife died. He died soon after I was born and I had no memory of him.
“Mama, are we going to die?” my innocent question was answered with the usual smile. She held both my hands in hers and quietly said, ”Of course not, darling. See? The next boat is going to come over there and we’ll all go home.”
I knew things weren’t right. Mother never held both my hands unless something was wrong. She had held them and talked quietly to me when our dog died, when I had a really bad fever, and at our grandmother’s funeral. It was as if something terrible had already happened, as if we were already dead.
We had managed to reach the other side of the deck through the crowds that scrambled for the little red boats. The ship rocked dangerously. My mother held on to the railing, her knuckles white.
I spotted the old lipstick-lady amongst some of the people waiting on the deck. When our eyes met, I could make out that she had been crying. I had never seen old people cry. It was something only children did. She waved with a wistful smile. I smiled at her and waved, knowing no better.
“Anna! What are you doing?” cried Lisa, a new boat was being lowered, “Come! Quick!”
I realised that I had drifted away from them and struggled to squeeze my way back. The crowd was lighter now with most of the people down in boats. People were desperate to get off the ship, some were diving right into the sea. My mother managed to get us to the front of the queue.
“Ma’am, there is just enough place for one of you and the child.” The captain’s badge glinted silver, now devoid of all significance.
“I’ll take the next boat.” offered my mother at once.
“Ma’am,” said the captain, just above a whisper, “There is no next boat. I’m so sorry.”
I wondered how he could let us go onto the last boat, knowing that those were the last hours of his life. He wasn’t crying; he had given up hope. He looked anguished that he couldn’t let us all go.
A silent exchange passed between mother and Lisa. One that I couldn’t understand.
“Go now,” said my mother. She hugged Lisa tight and whispered something to her. She looked at me, her eyes brimming with tears, “Go, I’ll take the next boat.”
“Mama! I wanna go with mama!” I cried. I looked at my mother and knew nothing could change her mind. She wrapped her light blue sweater around my shoulders and hugged me tight.
“Be brave, darling. Be good. Be safe. I’ll tell you all about it when I see you, okay?”
Lisa was almost pushed into the boat. The captain tried in vain to hold back the pressing crowd. Tears ran down my face. This was wrong. We were supposed to be together. We were family!
Mother picked me up and passed me over to Lisa. The boat was lowered into the turbulent waters and dispatched. There was salt in my eyes and the sweater clung to my skin, cold and wet, and people were striving to empty the boat of seawater.
I looked up to catch a glimpse of my mother. I saw her waving wildly, her pale dress billowing in the wind. The faded moonlight lit her face just enough to show her smile of pure joy, tears running down her face. She looked beautiful.
The ship rocked again, and this time, it turned over and slowly sank into the stormy sea.
I don’t remember if I screamed or cried. Looking back, I probably did both, scrambling over the side to go back to my mother. It was unfair.
Unfair. What a twisted word, filled with want of vengeance. You can almost hear Fate laughing heartlessly in the distance. In that moment, for the first time, I felt the burning, all-consuming need to blame someone, so I did.
Ten years have passed since that night. Lisa and I never talk about it, since it ended with broken ceramic artefacts, and we didn’t look each other in the eye for weeks afterwards.
The topic came up as we looked through our mother’s old things. We were moving.
Looking through one of the boxes, I found the pale blue sweater. It still smelled lightly of lavender. Of my mother.
“Lisa, why didn’t she come?”
“I’ve told you a hundred times. She said she’d come in the next boat! And she didn’t make it.”
“I’ve told you a hundred times,” I said mimicking her, “She knew it was the last boat. I heard the captain tell her.”
“It’s your imagination.” Lisa slammed the book shut. “I don’t remember anything of the sort. Get back to work.”
Our mother had been studying for her doctorate in Literature. Lisa was looking through her old notebooks. I went through her old files.
“Why didn’t she come instead of you? Why did she decide that you should go first?”
Lisa pushed her hair behind her ear in restlessness. “I don’t know. Stop talking about this!”
“Okay, look. Neither of us know what went through her mind.” She rubbed her nose. She had a habit of doing that when she lied.
“You do know something. Tell me!” I pulled out her Latin literature file and flipped through its contents.
“You’re too-” started Lisa.
I picked a half-written poem from behind one of the pages.
“I am not too young anymore,” I shut the file and dropped it into the box were were taking along. I put the poem aside.
I pulled out another file from the unending stack.
“Why can’t you let things be!” This had become Lisa’s signature statement. It was a line to end all argument and an excuse to avoid all questions.
I picked up the poem miserably and read through it.
Let me sail across your timeless oceans wide
And throw laughter to wind as I fly,
And let the constellations there decide
What rain shall pass, what wind shall whistle by.
Let me sail a hundred leagues from earthly heart
And beneath a million stars lie awake,
And sail beyond where love and life must part,
Let me sail on, in your midnight wake.
A billion souls travel forth with me,
Yet, I await alone your restful song,
And if I love too deep your cloudless sea,
Build me a heartless storm, where I'll belong.
And if I
I felt my eyes burning, tears trickling down. I put the paper with the other ones beside my mother’s blue sweater. I wiped my tears in vain.
I opened the next file and froze.
“That’s it. I’m out of here.” she stormed out of the room.
“No Lisa, wait!” There stood the puzzle-piece that had troubled me for years: a report from before the trip.
I ran after her, doubling back to take the file along.
I found her in the kitchen getting herself a glass of water. “Leukemia.”
Lisa looked like she had seen a ghost. “Stage three leukemia.” I repeated holding out the contents of the file.
Lisa carefully placed the glass on the counter-top and walked over to me. “Sit.” she said as she sat on one of the cardboard-boxes that filled the space. I sat down beside her. It all began to make sense.
“She told me not to tell you, Anna,” she looked devastated. “She told me- What am I doing!”
In that moment, she looked so lost, it reminded me of the captain who put us on the last boat. There was nothing left to be done.
“All these years- All those times I pushed you away- Why did you never say anything?”
“She told me to bring you up well, Anna. To keep you safe and- I really tried my best, I-”
“Lisa, Lisa look at me.” I took her hands in mine and dried her tears with my sleeve. “It’s okay, you’ve done great,”
Her eyes reflected the bright blue sky as she looked at me, taking in what I had said.
“Really?” there was a hint of a smile on her face. I knew we would be alright. We had stayed together like family. We were each other’s family, and would always be. Always.
I remembered how our mother stood at the railing for the last time and waved us good-bye, the light in her eyes when she knew we’d made it out safely.
“She’ll say so too, when we see her again.”
“And if I love too deep in your cloudless sea,” I said softly that evening, looking up at the starry sky, I always loved too much, too quick, but maybe love is worth the heartbreak. I smiled, “Build me a heartless storm, where I'll belong.”
Hear me, folks of love and loss,
of heartbreak and of pain,
as I watch you from my window,
when you're dancing in the rain.
I have tiptoed in your footsteps
through midnight and through snow.
I whispered in your shadows, hoped
you'd hear but never know.
Yet, I never bridged the river
of my sorry flood of tears,
and wrote poetry in silence
of your silhouette for years.
Hear me, dancing angel,
in your yellow rainboots bright,
while I melt into the grayscale
of this ectoplasmic night.
we march to the rhythm of artillery:
clockwork men don’t tire.
we trample over vain empathy,
and hail death in the line of fire.
we shoot to the rhythm of our last heartbeats,
drop shells to burn and break.
we trample over love and joy
for life is ours to take.
we fall to the rhythm of our marching feet
we, killers of another name,
we trample over pride of returning home,
for greed is a treacherous game.
slow, breathless passion
paints instinct over thought,
fingers in my hair,
no one to care;
seconds countdown to silence;