Anthology of Contemporary Indian Poetry II


Bridges of Struga

The dark glass of night shatters. Will the Call to Prayer listen to poetry tonight?
The river's wine flows, there are homeless poets fragile on the bridge tonight.

From a pen slips a river, people's shadows in the water are stone-like and grave high,
Night's tresses knot, a poet spreads out his cloak on the banks by a bridge in the night.

There are bridges of words and words metastasize, metastasize like monuments,
On the banks are churches, in reflections mosques are seen from the bridge tonight.

Pale stain of veins of saints in battered brickwork, mountains rise like serrated hearts,
Two dark breasts rise from the earth, in the cavity within, Jesus is dining in Mecca tonight.

Who is selling and who is buying in the bazar, one sells his heart, one his desire,
Who is going, who is coming; ride winged steeds of poems to reach Jerusalem tonight.

Hushed air; the poet passes through a monk's cell small as an eye; poetry is silenced, 
The bridge is land's yearning for the river, everything swells high on the bridge tonight.

All is plausible on the scroll of the bridge, a city rewrites her story, Alexander rides high,
Poetry is humble on the square, poets knows the ghazal is never finished on the bridge tonight.

Struga poetry evenings: Oldest poetry festival in the world renowned for the 'Bridges' event that takes place on a bridge on the river Drim. Poets from around the world assemble to read from a podium, a river running under. It is said that 10,000 people gather to hear the poets.

words metastasize: The new nationalist Macedonia on display rift with monuments reflecting strident nationalist pride.

Two dark breasts: Black old mosque converted to the Macedonian museum of art in Skopje. There's a painting of Jesus in a prayer niche facing mecca.

Kalishta monastery: Has a tiny cell of a monk with a narrow doorway


Jerusalem shall I dare say your tales
with this foreign tongue
as I spin like a top in your streets?
Shall I enter your gates as you lie
under the fingertips of a golden menorah,
what badge shall I show your armed men keeping peace,
When I listen to a mother calling for her children
in fields of invisible ears and tongueless tongues,
and old walls tremble with secrets, flags and burdens
and Time the deathless watchman, prowls your streets,
when the mint in your tea refreshes my tongue,
and bread fills my stomach and I walk, walk
the walk of Via Dolorosa on the palm of the city
pointing different directions
with more than one minotaur at its center, 
When I climb Mt. Olives and see dead men waiting 
like chocolates in boxes to be opened,
when I see the patience and the impatience of waiting,
and prophets names, too many to remember
cast shadows on your streets, shall I ask for permission,
to enter, shall I dare stand by a wall, join lines
of people in eternal mourning, yearning, shall I join
my grief to theirs and ask for temples to be built,
idol of idols, how shall I gain entry? 
You, the navel of this earth, where people rooted 
to salt, faith, loyalty, three times over, 
like three rivers flowing separately,
between your messianic apocalyptic banks, 
What message can I bring as balm for your wounds?
All messages are known to you, they are coded
in your stones in the cursive of prophets, 
city of walls, stones, earth, restoration, air,
light, sky,  blood, hope, tears, wail, lament,
city of streets wagging many languages,
where past present future coexist as solemn triplets, 
Shall I dare change the cartography of religion,
stand under the golden dome and let fly
a new litany longing to be rewritten.

The Rosary of Latitudes

If I told you, I have been shown cities
like a procession of bejeweled elephants
of ponderous gait,
and the earth took their load,

And the latitudes passed under my feet like
skipping ropes under a young girl's quick step,

If I told you, in one city,
I sat on the steps of a great plaza,
and watched humanity as if for the very last time,
and knew it was the very last time, 
and this time around,
it is time to say goodbye,

In many cities I stood in long lines
for Darshan, my devotion 
was the eye that looked
at the stone for awakening,
I make this confession.

I was taken on a ferry ride to see tiny islands afloat
on water like spilled mustard seeds, if I told you,
on one such island. 
I knew I was more alone than any of them,

In another, where a river is a silent vein in the skin
of a lake, a poet tried hard to light the unlit wicks of my eyes,
they only gave out the smoke of incense at funeral rites,

In one town, high in a mountain plastered with porcelain plates,
Such places exist! In such a town, where anything could happen,
I walked with a poet and we walked as two sides of a ravine with
no connecting bridge,	

In one city, I thought I Iost love,
the streets of that city became the lines of a Ghazal
mourning repeatedly, in that city again, I learnt I lost nothing,
I found myself at the borders of that city when I left it,

In one city, I saw monuments of loveliness
rise from my imagination
and hover in the twilight like rose tinted pearls,
I walked through the pages of the Arabian nights,
The things I saw in that land, 
filled my pockets with dreams to hand out,
yet this city was not a magic lamp to rub and
wish for the beloved
it merely twirled in its dervish robes
lost on its own axis,

In one city, I walked hoping to see him somewhere,
And then I looked in another city,
And another, and another, I returned empty handed,
There were cities that would not meet my gaze,
Not one of them told me to stop looking,
Not one of them says it yearns for me,

If I told you of the lovers I have seen,
And the lovers searching,
And the lovers thinking they have found,
And the lovers making by,
And the lovers deluded,
And the lovers sullen and silent,
And the lovers like
the soundless strings of violins,
in these cities. and I safe in the fortress of my skin,
If I tell you I have been sinless and heavy hearted for it,

If I told you, all the latitudes
are the unread lines of my love letter.