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THE RIVER RETURNS: TANKA
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>She hears the voice

of unrealized bliss in

the coos of koel

at the window sill this evening

rains love and delight

 

 

 

 

 

 

His message to meet

at moonrise among the flowers

sparkles a secret

on her smiling face passion

glows with charming fervour

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                               

 

 

She is no moon yet

she drifts like the moon, takes care

of him from the sky—

meets him for short, waxing

leaves him for a long, waning

 

 

 

 

Before going to bed

she looks too sad  to have

any sweet dream:

the lonely lamp glints no love

and no star peeks through the curtains

 

 

 

 

 

Yearning to meet him

she turns a silk-worm spinning

love-silk in cold night—

stands in a shade melting tears

like a candle, drop by drop

 

 

 

 

 

Stains of dried dewy

tears on the eyelids tell of

the load on her mind:

clothed in spring the willow twigs

reveal the changed relation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                           

                                        

Locked in the shadows

of unrolled curtains her love

in the lone boudoir:

she plays tunes on the guitar

flowers fade at the windows

 

 

 

 

 

 

She senses all things

changing as she passes through

the city again:

should I leave the old house or

lie in the grave before death

 

 

 

 

 

Twisting tassels

round her finger fears coming

of night in bed:

octopus grips the body

and buckles into disgrace

 

 

 

 

At the river

she folds her arms and legs

resting her head

upon the knees and sits

as an island

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                 

 

Is it her quietus

that she roars in herself

like a sea

waves upon waves

leaps upon herself?

 

 

 

 

 

Gods couldn’t change the rhythm

of the body and its needs:

erotic scars stick—

after three decades love waves

tense the flesh and rock the night

 

 

 

 

 

When the sun is erotic

and the moon lyric

the winds turn tempestuous

in the orbit of love

legs slide by calls of nature

                          

 

 

 

Before the foamy

water could sting her vulva

a jelly fish passed

through the crotch making her shy—

the sea whispered a new song

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                  

 

 

 

Swirling spiral

of her skirt spills tides of dream

and memory:

I breathe fire in the dance

forgetting bends and twists

 

 

 

 

 

When I wanted to change

seats my friend said she can

only if the door’s locked

the light out and her mom

in another city

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I inhale in

your mouth and exhale stroking

hair or caressing

I ride you into joy and

make you hail morning like earth

 

 

 

 

Life limits between

whence the sun rises and where

it goes to relax:

joys of a fleeting moment

I see Aditi in your eyes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                 

 

 

 

When I have no home

I seek refuge in the cage

of your heart and close

my eyes to see with your nipples

the tree that cared to save from sun

 

 

 

 

 

 

The smile you weave splits

the sun I lose my direction

in clouds that cover

the banks darkening the white

of the lake moon kissed

 

 

 

 

 

Winter is caught in

waves of narrow discussions

under the blanket

fingers move by nipples erect

without sensing consummation

 

 

 

 

 

 

Drinking evening star

blue green patterns before eyes

no meditation

no god visits to forgive

the sinning soul in solitude

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                  

 

 

 

Exhausted she sleeps

unaware of my presence

this warm night carefree

I croon my spring song alone

and fill the void with new dreams

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I repose in

the wrinkles of her face

I feel her crimson

glow in my eyes her holy

scent inside a sea of peace

 

 

 

 

 

The room has her

presence every minute

I feel she speaks

in my deep

silently

 

 

 

 

 

Love is the efflux

from her body spreading

parabolic hue—

enlightens the self I merge

in her glowing presence

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                              

 

 

 

 

 

Looking at her face

for the glint of her nosepin

or rise of renku

they couldn’t finish but form

in their eyes together

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your vacant eyes

reveal this city:

dim, humid, absent-minded

orchestrates bronchial noises

‘quake in the face

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living in dust smoke

and white darkness I know

I just flicker—

stand alone like a lighthouse

lost in the fog of seashore

 

 

 

 

 

What should I do

about the mornings

that couldn’t be:

now fog controls

appearance of the sun

 

 

 

                                                                  

 

 

 

 

Breathing pipe choked

with coloured dust celebrate

spring in coalfield:

the moon mocks my nightly plight

I look for the inhaler

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The  chilly wind blows

to freeze my feet and fingers

tonight I can’t rise

and silence the whisperings

storming the vacant room

 

 

 

 

 

Ghosts rise to mate

in moonlight tear the tombs

frighten with fingers

rhino horns rock the centre

granite sensation

 

 

 

 

 

I lost my sleep

over a thought I could not

make my own:

the sun’s antidote changed

the voice of the wind

 

 

 

 

                                                               

 

 

 

Sleeps the night with

desires wrapped in blanket—

spring in the eyes

gods couldn’t change the rhythm

of the  body and its needs

 

 

 

 

 

Drugs don’t diagnose so

let’s kiss our sneezes

into each other and stop

worrying about repression

necessary or surplus

 

 

 

 

 

Watching the waves

with him she makes an angle

in contemplation:

green weed and white foam break

on the beach with falling mood

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crazy these people

don’t know how to go

down with the swirl and

up with the whirl but

play in the raging water

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                

 

                                                                 

 

They couldn’t hide the moon

in water or boat but now

fish moonlight from sky:

I watch their wisdom and smile

why I lent my rod and bait

 

 

 

 

 

A cloud-eagle

curves to the haze

in the west

skimming the sail

on soundless sea

 

 

 

 

 

I thought I’d exchange

my anxieties for a bit

of peace but thinking

was easier than happening:

I couldn’t even sleep

 

 

 

 

 

 

Standing at the edge

I long to float with waves and

wave with instant wind:

on the dream water’s breast

I read tomorrow’s wonder

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                

 

 

 

My hand held out

in the dark remained empty:

no one reached it

to give joy of

the meeting hands

 

 

 

 

 

 

The heat  inside will

reduce with the flow of blood

and cactus may bloom

in desert of flesh again

the heart may feel the green wave

 

 

 

 

 

The truth of our

 togetherness is more real

when we lie filling

our body with each other

silencing sensation

 

 

 

 

 

I fear the demons

rising from my body

at midnight crowding

the mind and leading the soul

to deeper darkness

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                

 

 

 

Sleeps the night with

desires wrapped in blanket—

spring in the eyes

gods couldn’t change the rhythm

of the body and its needs

 

 

 

 

 

Awake in dream time

he looks for the candle—

love’s invitation

lighting up in the dark

and sings the body’s song

 

 

 

 

 

 

The nightqueen fragrance

seeps in through the window

coupled with full moon

adds to my delight though I’m

alone in my bed tonight

 

 

 

 

 

The sleep is buried

in sex for diversion

yoga or prayers:

the dawn preserves bitter eyes

in the day’s bleak passage

 

 

 

 

 

                                                             

 

 

 

An insomniac

weak with desires and prayers

hears the heartbeats

rising fast with dark hours

survives one more nightmare

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seven times he moves

round the vermillion god

under the peepal

sprinkling water to escape

the malefic Saturn

 

 

 

 

 

He watches the mound

of dead leaves in the backyard

to grow dreams after

the end of summer and drought:

rains nurture seeds birds buried

 

 

 

 

 

 

Muttering Tablet

of  Ahmad in TV noise

he lies on the sofa

by window seeking

post-lunch nap for change

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                               

 

 

 

Bored with politics

and news of falling sensex

he folds the paper

and flips through the old PLAYBOYs

to see the nudes seen in youth

 

 

 

 

 

 

She receives my call

complaining why I didn’t go

to see my father

while he says it’s alright

only gums bleed and joints ache

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gentle like a dove

love was graceful a night away

on the white wave it’s

a sea searching ways leaps to

eternity tonight

 

 

 

 

 

The bamboo garden

we picknicked and made love in

is now all concrete—

managing environment

and pollution control

 

 

 

 

 

                                                               

 

 

The power goes off

suddenly summer heat chokes

in bed sleepless she turns

undoing a hook or two

of her tight bra

 

 

 

 

 

Greeting the first rains

after months of soaring heat

the lone rose flutters

little petals to the ground

echoing our first embrace

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shining on rose leaves

silken layer of dew drops:

gloss of her mauve smile

she blushes when I tell her

beauty of the blooming rose

 

 

 

 

 

Roses await

sun and wind to clear

the baleful fog:

I fear she’ll say no

to my love again

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                              

 

 

 

 

I’m no romantic

turning sufferings to bliss

and delude in

heavenly meeting with god

or life’s grandeur and greatness

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m human and feel

their meanness every moment

get angry and lose

my sleep as the earth writhes in

the pain butchers knives inflict

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s little save

poetry and prayer

to put up with

rising darkness in and out

and god too is silent

 

 

 

 

 

Couldn’t be happy with

my present nor could realize

any dreams all these years—

there’s nothing to look back

to say I lived my life well

 

 

 

 

                                                             

 

 

 

The chart predicts

I must keep the company

of the righteous

but how to find one among

the wicked that write our fate

 

 

 

 

 

Psalms or no psalms;

workers of iniquity

shoot their arrows

with praising lips and god

flees to see their shrewd schemes

 

 

 

 

 

Recedes into self:

crooked trees and leaking roofs—

the city conspires

swarmed with listless spirits

young and living, slowly dying

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hiding or waiting

it raises its head when least

expected, a snake

glitters in the eyes, looks for

the moment  to reveal fangs

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                

 

 

 

 

 

Crudity

of the stone conceals

grace of nudity

the image of Kali

reveals to her devotee

 

 

 

 

 

The sun

on a mountain

grave illumines the path

to divinity unrealized

in soul

 

 

 

 

 

With steel flow

the rolling water

pierces the rocks

shapes them into stars

turned into river’s song

 

 

 

 

 

She visits

a beauty parlour

to erase wrinkles

and returns with the same

wintry darkness

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                

 

 

 

The lips in her eyes

and long hours in the mouth—

no moist secret

between us to reveal:

now our backs to each other

 

 

 

 

 

 

All her predictions

could come true had I paid her

the fees for her writing

psychic reflections on dreams

I failed to realize in life

 

 

 

 

 

Wrinkles on the skin

remind me of time’s passage

year by year traveled

long distances renewing

spirit and waving good bye

 

 

 

 

 

Stray fungi grow

on the broken window frames

beside my bed

watery smell swells as if

a corpse in the river

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                           

 

 

 

Feeling the difference

between a tin house and

 a weather proof tent:

on the  Yamuna’s bank

Kumbh deluge to wash sins

 

 

 

 

 

 

With black and white marks

and nest of ants on its skin

the tree grows taller

shining through the geometry

of sun, moon and halogen

 

 

 

 

 

 

My voice

brown like autumn

crushed in noises I can’t

understand days pass in colours

buried

 

 

 

 

 

Layers of dust thicken

on the mirror water makes

the smut prominent:

I wipe and wipe and yet

the stains stay like sin

 

 

 

 

 

                                                             

 

 

 

In the forest of your hair

my finger searches

the little pearl of blood

that stirs the hidden waters

and contains my restlessness

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sun couldn’t help

nor fish protest:

river has no sex

so it dried up

trapped in its own banks

 

 

 

 

 

I’m no river

flowing toward the sea:

I must find my way

asking strangers in strange places

sensing soul, using insight

 

 

 

 

The otter watches

a duck walking on

the frozen river

icicles drop bit by bit

from a lone tree

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                              

                                                                 

                                                             

 

I couldn’t understand

what’s Hindu about having

fish and onion

after prayers by the river

in the temple  courtyard

 

 

 

 

 

Fears to see

his own image in

her eyes so

avoids seeing her again

betrays his cowardice

 

 

 

 

 

They watch her bare back

to feel the body through crotch

thank engraving pen

she loves the etching on skin

to enhance nudity

 

 

 

 

 

Dancing on

the car top a girl

holds the mike

to express her love

twists the audience

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                   

 

 

 

 

Slung-jawed awake

two grinning skeletons sit

bolt upright in bed

hear the shrieks next door but

too scared to call the police

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The nightly ghosts crowd

my mind’s passage to forge

gods’ names in disguise

I fail to scan the face

of thought and life in the dark

 

 

 

 

 

 

The chill outside

deprives me of the bright moon

I breathe in my fears:

asthmatic bouts haunt and

jealousy itches the throat

 

 

 

 

 

 

Night’s prisoned friends

keep me awake with planes

flying over the ashram

every now and then I watch

the directions matter

 

 

 

                                                                   

 

 

 

One thousand miles

traveling together

in tense silence

he and she contemplate

the next round of duel

 

 

 

 

 

 

I can’t cement cracks

nor save the frames from collapse:

the wreck reveals the myth

I need not knit new dreams

if truth’s so cold and stingy

 

 

 

 

 

The yellowing patch

on the lawn won’t green with

pesticides—

the water infects the roots

even if I am drying up here

 

 

 

 

 

 

Each night speaks to me

in flatulence, wheezing

and pain in the legs:

god intervenes at times

in momentary union

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                  

 

 

 

 

With years of rubbish

he reeks of aborted dreams

lives a stagnant pool

cut off from the running source

rots in the marsh like a frog

 

 

 

 

 

They own little earth

and seek to auction the sky:

excel by default

god too becomes a party

to their flight with wax wings

 

 

 

 

 

Lying all day

with pain in the heels

and sinking heart

I read tanka and wait

for  miracle to sleep

 

 

 

 

 

 

Burning without warmth

one more hot and sweaty spell

of summer, restless

down with stroke, without light, fan

exhausted, alone in bed

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                

 

 

 

 

Ageing he thinks of

the ashes and the long trip

ahead in spirit

feels the earth he would

become celebrating life

 

 

 

 

 

 

New leaves welcome

his shadow near the window

the telephone rings

perhaps to greet Naw Ruz:

I didn’t pray or keep the fast

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like tramps and dogs

they piss and shit I see

I’m sucked in my own cracks:

now curl and cry

but none bother

 

 

 

 

With moral twists

name of god or religion

they fly planes to bomb

sheep of his pasture and

expect grace for humankind

 

 

 

 

                                                              

                                                                  

 

 

 

 

 

Preaching peace

explode ‘plane bomb, car bomb

human bomb

and bluff the living corpses

with politics of terror

 

 

 

 

 

 

They claim to kill satan

mass murder innocents

and blow themselves up:

I wonder how god condones

vague prophets and their cult

 

 

 

 

 

From the border rings

he’s stationed dangerously:

any moment war

may break out for their follies

he must kill and live…to kill

 

 

 

 

 

In my impatience

I werdle or opup more:

they take their own time

here waiting is more aweful

than meeting or going

 

 

 

                                                              

 

 

 

 

Vibration of thought

with their venom in groups

my spirit disturbed

I lose desire to live here

conceal my angst in tanka

 

 

 

 

 

Concealing mourning

in twilight gaze he explores

the shaping nightmares:

colours of the rainbow guard

the beasts at the day’s entrance

 

 

 

 

 

Their loose tattle

or loitering on the street

changes nothing

not even the hand they wave

to penetrate the body

 

 

 

 

 

Surging like a wave

they image in the air and

end up wriggling worms

hiding through the thick hedges

digging the dark undergrowth

 

 

 

 

 

                                                         

 

                                                              

 

 

 

Naked children crowd

as I pass through the alleys

between smelly slums:

dogs bark to alert them to

the presence of a stranger

 

 

 

 

 

Swallowing capsules

he trusts in absent healing

seeks intercessions

to cure allergic asthma

and the cyst  not contracting

 

 

 

 

 

Is it the water

or sweat flowing from the cleft

they queue up to drink?

not far away the masons cut

rocks to build a new highway

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sun of knowledge

shining through the beer bottle

under the neem tree:

carousing, singing in praise

of gods and ghosts that never drank

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                 

 

 

 

 

He takes out the letter

and writes a poem on its back

recalling the last words

winds whispered through the stars

that still shine in the sky

 

 

 

 

 

 

Waving arms of trees

conspire with overcast day

to drench again

the two of us look for shade

under leaking umbrella

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over the dried moss

rains have grown new layers

making the path more

slippery for all of us

falling is a postscript now

 

 

 

 

 

Laden with new shoots

the trees promise mangoes

to celebrate summer:

the dust-storm and rain shatter

all hopes hanging by snapped wire

 

 

 

 

                                                                   

 

 

 

 

Waiting for the remains

of sacrifice vultures

on the temple tree

stink with humans and goddess

on the river’s bank

 

 

 

--R.K.SINGH

 

 

 

The tanka are part of my collection, THE RIVER RETURNS (2006).