Song of the Water Lillies
after Hylas and the Nymphs
I will return, Hercules. Fear not, this land
holds cellars of nectar & ambrosia— every grove
and valley pulses with the slumbering of the half-
dead. He wrapped my torso, parsed in silk. Said
may the promise of victory rise upon your laurels.
Fare you well, my love. Be swift. Know no evil.
Look not to the nymphs of the river, they wait for men
to stumble upon their glade, then make nests of their flesh.
You know maidens, they like to tease. His eyes like fists.
The forest had a stillness. The leaves, my shifting audience
to a lone man’s soliloquy. The oaks parted. The sun crawled. At the river’s
edge, I felt no divinity, no gods pulled me forward & no mortals held me
back. Only naiads. Come into the water, my love. We raise no harm.
Us mistresses of the sea, bloom pearls during childbirth, wash away into lake-
foam. We know no Olympus. But you, a God, you of men & fire & a furnace
you staking wars of heaven and earth? Stay, here where the lily pads make
silly fancies with the breeze. Here, where the reeds obey only the rubber-sheen
of the dew after a rain. Here, where we were grown, from Gaya’s lips, us
the sinful harmonies before the pipe loses its guiding breath.
The crickets fling their bodies to the shore, there where the grass
is always green, where the zinnias never pale, where the salmon— spawn
always trace the riverbeds home. Now a hand from the surface, rippling the
join of blood. Maybe I know her name. Maybe I was a god because I could
not bear to be a nymph, to be half-mortal. To run with all this price of light.
Every tendon of her body curves into my shadow, till we are one. So this tenderness
is our undoing. So all the flowers in her hair dance upstream. Did the thunder
quiet its own rumbling? I hadn’t quite noticed.
Only the sound of her lips on my full bones.
haibun in which i contemplate self-love
1:40 am in midwinter and i’m peeling day-old nail varnish onto the ground. how funny it is that acrylic leaves an aftertaste quite this sour. outside my window, the may flowers are withering: their leaves drying up, tendrils retracting on nights like these, i go outside, tear off their petals and hold them in my palms. the fireflies gather outside, flitting around their stems, just out of reach. my mother always told me that nights are meant for rest, rejuvenation, for hope. and this way i know that even wildlife loses its way occasionally. spring left, a flightless maiden that doesn’t want to be found. someone is watching conan in the den speak at a princeton commencement address, his voice filtering out through the vents. work hard, you know and things will fall into place. my father always told me i was resilient. so i’m watching in silhouettes, and trying to believe.
i’m on landlocked waters, and thumbing my way through flagstones. a boy at school laments this class of 2023 memories, sinking into riverbeds- fallingwater at eden. we’re glad to be here, and it’s been tough, you’ve been so strong. i’m proud of you, i hope you know that. then the holiday spirit is digging its nails into my chest, clawing out what a girl mistakes for joy. we stoke the fire with birch, let its flames warm our dog-like bellies. and as night falls, i see an orchid discarded on a rooftop, silent, iridescent. resilient.
so it is in full bloom, still, giddy in the crook of my shoulder, and i’m caressing it and thinking you know this could be love. i know it is resilient like
synonyms for growth,
gripping a bud in autumn,
and holding it close.
Second child is branded daughter. Vulvae coated in gothic
fluids and brine dressing her skull. Nimble, an infant’s sinuses
reach out and tilt the sun into her gums. Spittle, retching
bulging, spooled from resin; fangs grasping at a fallen
pinecone. A nurse with bruised eyelids swabs moon-shadow
underneath her molars. White-swathed uniform, lime
bowler hat. Stethoscope unravelling from moleskin. A study
adapts the role of furnace, breeding brethren into starlight.
I was born teething on betel leaf, immolating scuffed
sneaker- soles on turf. Child of industrialism, sipping lighter
fluid out of a dentist’s day cup. Caramel choking on my
braces: a flash of violet, growing up with the taste
of a ruffian’s embers on my tongue. I cough up my incisors
into a bedside container. Paint the oak red. Sear my knuckles
hurt. Bite my lip bloody, and blind the metal’s aftertaste.
My rosary stained, its beads breaking by the wayside.
I learn that rough edges bleed quickly. That splinters are
to be pulled back, jabbed at with a sob. So a grave,
becomes a belly, becomes a child; clawing herself
into the earth. So a midwife is a passage to godhood.
This bay, is where a city’s daughters come of age, breathing
cigarette smoke into a storefront promenade. This sand,
is where a godmother shapes her nipping progeny.
This land, is where a fledgling urchin takes flight.
notes on grief (tw: death)
at daybreak, a ream is brought into the cosmos
and a wolf’s nightly cries spread gauze on a saltwater
wound. a fistfight breaks out and three blind men cauterize
a comrade’s woes, slip a palette knife over trauma.
the way my mother slices tomatoes, is slick meat
on scabbed knees. when i arrive as a leaping
lilly’s cut stem- a reaper will whirl a hurricane in his nail beds,
a child underneath his squatting limbs.
once a dead man’s casket is grown into mildew by
a raging snowdrift. half-eaten, half-baked;
an apple pie- a tinge of a widow’s liver. here cacao
strains milk-sap into a babe’s tongue, laps it up like
my grandmother’s daschund. yesterday we put
him down; today his water bowl drips sonorous.
then, a drooping elm-oak fell to the ground. a little
angel-boy clipped his wings and hung them to dry.
in kindergarten, we peg crafts and arts. after naptime;
go outside and plant a sapling, suck dried succulents
into our teeth.
uproots a banyan tree and looks
towards the sky. an eagle in her clenches, grips a
hamster in cleaved feathers and lets out a wail.
be good to your writing
if you're reading this, you've probably already noticed my lack of capitalisation. maybe that made you click away. maybe that made you continue reading. if you do choose the latter, then thank you for giving me a chance.
this is not an academic essay: i'm not going to pull up statistics or surveys with the most detailed variables and try to convince you to trust me based on an inane number of experiments and observations. what i'm going to do instead is try to tell you why the concept of 'good' writing, at least to me, is obsolete, based on personal experiences.
i'm not going to lie- i've held different views for a very long time- and tended to agree with the more popular opinion, that writing on social media platforms such as instagram have led to the gradual downfall of pristine writing. but as i've continued to read and write and hopefully become better at it, i've found one thing that was common across platforms- and that is the amount of love that writers have for their craft. it's the fact that a person with a couple of followers on instagram continues to post excerpts from their notebook, whether it gains traction or not, and the fact that an author published by the new york times has the same passion towards his writing.
and to me, that is important, and it is beautiful. because your writing is important: the messy kind of writing, the poems you scribble down at coffeshops, the late night half-written epiphanies, the no-holds-barred notes app haikus typed on bus rides, the frenzied text messages at 3 a.m., the letters to ex-best friends you will never send, the writing that stews in your inbox, rejected from two publications because it just wasn't a right fit for them at the moment, the angry writing, the sad writing, the euphoric writing. all of it.
and i guess what i'm really trying to say is that your writing does not have to be good to mean something to people. it just has to be.
sometimes in november’s backwaters,
atlas hangs; a limp bleakness from
monkey-bars, presses youth
encased in ivory & a
lamb’s bleating sonata.
a palm grazed in contradictions.
wiccan into pangea encircle,
we, fluttering disciples to a skyline’s
whims. graceland isn’t enough for now,
as a whispering naiad’s last breaths
step into a kiln’s fading tar.
tyres crunch, a leave’s sorry parting gift.
milkweed inhaled once always leaves an imprint,
you say as you press half-moons into irises
and wish for a little bit of hope.
later, when a doublet’s sheen
is swept into midwinter:
I sink into a late hammock’s linen
and brush miscarried dirt
into my lungs. someone’s diwali lights are up
but it can never be too early.
so this is the world.
I’m not in it.
It is beautiful.
my father worries that i am getting too political:
paled selpulchre bent back, stubble glinting moonlight
off a sharply set wedding band. in 2000, a
billion pallbearer’s dreams flock like
moths as we bleed blue. nana switches on
the television, antennae fiddling and a snowstorm
on its steady approach because She will wrinkle
her nose and powder up every frosted mirrorball
and say this is a muslim area. here, someone
leaves a child behind, here she is defiled in this city’s
growing sun-rotting, storm-kissed pavements. here,
a musalman will lay buried and some unsheathed devotee,
aluminium foil; false hegemony unto warmth will
step over each corpse and say it like it is.
red means freedom, and english syllables wire-cross
a geographer’s moon glass’d into state lines.
but you say
building friend’s cook sprinkles saffron, and says
be brave, be kind, be good
then steals words from a coronet atop nilgiri’s peak:
now silenced, every babbling brook’s timbre
jarred into fractal, strapped // sitar strings.
gulzar’s footsteps: an inch closer
to a flying pilcrow’s freedom, bisects
an ichor-soaked land of no man.
and yes, i bet you were good and kind and equal when you shoved a little god’s girl down near the water cooler.
break cowering cattle into a million flaking pieces, and stuff
it into a bottle-gourd pumping, brown kidney.
biology teaches me that good good girls
bask good good hymen and cover up, choke
collarboned sequins. and a double
chromosome here is a wide-eyed invitation there- glossy
card paper wrapped up in a child’s bosom.
mrs says that word is soaped up flamboyant, blasphemes steal
words. (i think they are mine, tinted violet. )
and you say, shiva was blue not stained dark. kneel a limb
on a sophomore’s slumbering lawn, but none for your own kind.
(these pavements will rise, rise in rebellion.
every foot out of line.)
and everyday you will shriek liberalism as history
teaches me merit. everyday some convent schoolgirl
will rip a nunnery’s shroud
to shreds and build a house, a bridge of cards, a home,
a card paper/ breaking / out of a red-eyed
ribbon. oil-glazed hair like honeysuckle;
hair that braids blond realism. rapunzel was a real rebel then,
& this country breeds rebels then, doesn’t she?
no: rebels are picked up, all chaff and falling glory,
see it in your cousin’s pupil- a battle of banded cryogenics.
because pretty, pretty girls are far to come and good, good women
are the ones with a high-top pyramid checked blue.
[insolent little children, insolent big children.]
click metal on coarse metal, ally your farces in the third moon.
light an altar candle to the past, here have some for
a vigil, and you say ہم دیکھیں گے
the women of your country
fragments of a half-blood sappho
a woman is a woman, and the rebuilt, scribbled and written over patchwork she is moulded from. and so i was. four years ago, an acquaintance hurts her head in a courtyard, against a wandering sycamore. i rubbed a damp towel across the wound and left it to fester. give her some sugar, and the swelling will get better. i spoon it out gently, crystals seeping into thick-gums. i want pain to rub me the right way: fever licking fleshy tongues and epidermis sizzling underneath polluted skies. i want to slip into a cadaver’s treasure chest every sunday evening and gently lull it to sleep. perhaps the cicadas will keep it company. there is beauty in the undead. i then caught a thrush in my outstretched palm. we don’t get flamingoes on this side of town. perhaps we never will.
i sometimes wonder how atheists die. i do not know if they hear gongs or prayer wheels. if someone wipes their tears near a weeping willow tree every night or if they are tucked in and lie forgotten in the sand, to be stepped over and brushed aside for legions to come. if a saintly nightmare of a deity curls jasmine into their fingertips, does blasphemy still remain?
i wonder if i am a poet because i have no faith, or i have no faith because i loathe being a poet.
later that night, i bleed dregs of clumped up papyrus through my faded yellow jeans. at school, we whisper sanctimony; like it isn’t sacred. like it isn’t holy. like i do not wish to drape tapestries of a single sprinted melody against every cool shopfront i pass by. i know that my body exists in the same way i know my surroundings do. i know that if a gland’s chill makes its way into a boarded up bus seat every field trip, it leaves a mark.
i want to leave a mark.
pride is peddled to me wherever i go. it looks at me from the corner of its eye, squinting into the tram lines, raising a nuclear eyebrow at me. i dislike its taunts, try to deflect them like peripheral volleyballs on pigeonholed track runs.
i meet it halfway.
morphine stunts through your veins,
& you wake up with acrid lonesomeness on
a lemondrop summer- songbird’s tongue.
duochrome tapestries hang underneath
shrunken in sarcophagus- limbs
all leaking persimmon pulp.
manic pixie dream girl leaves you
a gift card- all swollen headrests, a testament
to locking eyelids across weekday japanese
breakfast / markets. peach pits pulsing
into subway steps, sheathing
a paperback underbelly.
motion sickness: shopping cart
escapades into melting july autumns;
everything is sterile now: every plastic
supernovae bulging into spoiled milk.
every gossamer plane shifting into
there may be pondglass lodged into
a pageboy’s esophagus.
undone; trailer park adorns a
tie-dyed hurricane. suburban dreaming:
dust settles into backwater recesses,
& you drink up a weeping snowdove’s final aria.
this is not how fairytales are meant to end.
to the elegant daughter of asia #hbdsunny!
you see, i don’t think i ever believed in glass slippered- fate or the kind of things in those movies. (are we destined for the stars? or just dumb dumb kids in a movie?). and I wandered across the water lillies one day, nestled amongst a koi pond. a skip-step just a little more, and so it begins. a friendship for the ages. scattered dissonance leading into experimental prose.
rhyme, rhythm and meter some more- will i come to pity what might have been? i see no red red strings, but this- o look! o yell and scream and shout! the king’s page unfurls a scroll to the square, all gathered in their autumn finery: “come one, come all! to see, to feel, to hear these glorious wedding bells ring!”
but i see it finally, a red silken string, entwining itself around six girls, encased in ivory bells all through these teenage fieryness. because if america ever dares to spit on you again, if lady liberty raises her oil-stained fingers through new york city’s dust and haze-filled freeze frames, we shall be there. faster than the morning sun spreads her wings, swifter than the flap of every bald eagles’ wing making their descent into a late spring mid-afternoon. see, these 3 am epiphanies moulded into driving shutter-shields stun a supernovae across the earth, infinity like us shattering the glass. this feels like someday, and god knows we’ve lived long enough to see it.
inbuilt connections across rubber-tinged subcontinents, a triple threat of allusions and shared beliefs. our lace is a weapon, wrapped up in humour with a side of bluntness, this courage permanent in meshed adhesive. actually, her name is, (jade, nhu-ngoc) forever a jewel of this land of gloried fishermen and island escapades.
and honesty will pierce her tongue like rotting roadkill underneath glaring refrigerator lights, and here lies a sucrose luxury. seraphims and sugar fantasies, a blinking contrast. a multiversed memory, here you will hand an ode to aquarian lovers to her mistress.
mediterranean glides across the gulf’s twists and turns of every coming of age splattered across an engorged whirlpool. if love breaks skin, allow it.
a soliloquoy, a silent confession. introspection out of a computer screen. falling apart through paragraphs of poetic inconsistencies, she lands on her feet. (she always does, after all.)