Constructing A Poem

There are words dancing in my mind tonight.
The sky composes a waltz that only I can hear,
And thunders with a will to burst open.
We breathe together
And watch as ideas fall and disappear
Like motes of dust beyond the oblivion contained
In a sunbeam.
When I shiver from the inability to see through the dusty panes of my heart’s extent
I do
See that the world is ending somewhere tonight.

My friend rolls all his sorrow
and smokes it with tobacco
Under the night sky they painted over a billboard.
He is bored, so he lets his mind wander
And wonder
if he will be able to count the lights in the windows while he’s falling.
There are twenty seven storeys,
Stacked on top of each other:
Tin cans that rattle
with the emptiness of lives that clink at the bottom
Like small change.

My friend wanted to change the world.
His eyes were set with stars named after every
Child who did not learn to smile:
He went to the beach as one and fell in love with foam,
But try as he might to cup it in his hands
It became the sea and flowed away,
Wanting to be one with its kind.
He now tells himself that his depression had a mother
Who never picked up its calls
And figure skated on the edge of his consciousness
Waiting for the ice to thin.

My friend wanted to win
The confidence of his own heart
To be the voice that fills up the entire room
And leaves no place to sit.

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House of Grief

The grass is always green on the other side of the glass. Your side is a trap, a greenhouse – it traps you in with the heat, with the helplessness, and it chokes you. The glass is soundproof, and you, like a caged animal in a zoo –  they can all see you, no less as a spectacle, but none can help. None want to, either, for it’s too risky a business – these animals are known to have a sharp bite.

Your house is a funny place, full and empty at the same time – you crave company but won’t wish for anyone to go in, or through, it. You find a new door every time you go looking for the key out of another. It isn’t your house anymore. The house renovates itself. The house owns you, just you – one rentier, one tenant, no boarders allowed.

Maybe a distant lover is your best bet.

So, when the moon peeks through your window at night, you get used to it. You wait for it – the guest knocking on the sill – without even knowing, not aware that your own vacancy signs are alight.

But it knows. It sees, it hears, and one can see the ghost of recognition on its greying face. It suffers, too, silently telling the story of its own plight.

The moon gets smaller and smaller as it consumes itself to satiate an inherent appetite for self-destruction. It takes a holiday ever so often, trying to digest the meaning of its own being. It disappears. The world – your world – is plunged into darkness. The harsh daylight hurts your eyes. The never-ending blackness numbs you down. You wait. It’s cold in here.

The moon reappears, vomiting itself out, forcing growth; all because you’re alone with the night. It walks with borrowed light, always beside you even as you try to run away from the house – especially when you try to run away from the house.

The winds tell you that the moon is in love. You do not believe them, for they do not exist in your world – the window is shut, and nothing comes in or out of it.

Wolves wail at the sight of your white-faced lover at his prime, they say that the shadow on his face is beautiful too. If you listen carefully, you see that the sounds of laughter and wailing are indistinguishable without the emotion. You know how to tell them apart, for you’ve been roommates with grief for a long time. Some say that the moon is friends with her.

You’ve lived together for so long that you think you are friends with her, too.

And how it hurts.

On some day suspended in the time after you stepped inside; the floorboards creak under your careful – but unsuspecting – footsteps as you go looking for the feeling you have been living with, but she is gone. Your lover has wished her away. Your lover, a mere reflection – of your worshipped suitor, of its own daring enemy, the Sun – lacks the heat which makes its competitor dangerous. But he has wished grief away. He has pushed her out, and in her place, there is nothing. Nothing.

The moon never decided to come in himself, either. It stood on its perch in the sky, your lover from far away.

Grief packed up well. She left without a trace, like she was never there. Like she never set foot in a place you verily named after her. And now there’s no reason for your sadness. Now, you’re just alone in a house with no name, waiting.

The grass is always green on the other side of the glass. Your side, it is but a memory.

Helium

When I was a little girl far newer to the world than I am now, I was given to my mother as a bundle washed and clothed; and, for the first time, she held me on the outside. My tiny hands kept themselves in fists for a long time after I was born, she tells me. She tells me it’s something all babies do till they gain control of their hands.

I know I did it for a long time after.

When I grew up a little and made a few friends in school whose names and faces I have long since forgotten, I thought that I was happy. I was told to draw smiling faces and sing happy rhymes in class, and I assumed that since it was the only emotion I was surrounded with, it was the only emotion at all. I had no reason to feel otherwise, none that I could catch on to at that age.

A few years later, I learnt that my heart was about the same size as my fist, and I wondered if other people could see how tiny my clenched fists were. I decided that day, subconsciously now that I think of it, that it will be bigger in all other ways that were possible. I had to believe that it could stretch to accommodate important things.

Important things, like promises, memories, and the hope of a share in something beautiful.

Important things, like people.

Many a wind passed, many a solstice I saw, and when the grass was yellowing yet again did I finally get hit. My fists were bigger now, and I had started to feel the beginnings of what they now call loneliness. I breathed in and let it out, and let my heart open to whatever – and whoever – could find it. And so, it stretched a little, and it filled me up. Unable to stop, ignorant of the dangers of going on, it stretched and stretched and stretched, till the pressing weight of others was all my heart was – it had become a fist, it hit me hard and again, and I couldn’t escape.

But fists break too, and things leak out of them. Then they lie by your side, cut open and damaged beyond the point of healing completely.

And so did I.

My illusion broke all at once. There was so much more to the world than happiness, and now, with my eyes wide open and refusing to shut, I could see them all. I was forced to see them all. I saw them right back to the nursery rhymes and the drawings of smiling faces taped onto windowpanes, behind which were faces contorted with hatred.

Hatred existed. Sadness was there – sometimes at first, and later, always. The people  I held close had let themselves out, leaving behind the shell made of my arms. It wasn’t just a prison break, but a breaking of the prison itself. Funnily enough, I was the only one left behind, stuck in a rut. I was hearing the departing footsteps of people who had never really arrived, at least not on my door; and the more I realised this, the more I withdrew. I still wanted to reach out, but my hands were clasped into fists and my nails were biting into the flesh of my palms.

Who knew who I was? I wasn’t sure of it myself. I wasn’t sure if I existed beyond the dying meadow full of withering leaves of solitude that were crumpled underfoot as lightly-packed travellers passed by. Sometimes they stopped to take pictures, other times a relic; and sometimes they left a small token I could hide in a coffer crafted with my fingers – I thought I could never really call them fists again, not allowing them the ability to throw punches and cause hurt. A few people noticed that the meadow was singing, and they often deemed me human enough to ask me about the song.  On days when the wounds in my buried heart would be singing too, I would tell them.

I would tell them, filling them up with my whys and hows like balloons with helium, and whenever they found themselves full enough they would tie the ends and float away. Maybe they let the air out somewhere far and distant, but I – still rooted to my old spot – will never get to know.

Who knew who I was? I am still not sure of it myself.

I took to wearing gloves a while ago. In the cold. In the summer. When the rain would soak through. Even then. They don’t last too long, but they always keep my heart warm. The red wool is comforting. It is like second skin in some places, and bandages in others. Maybe someday my hands won’t be balled up, and a gust of changing winds will take them off. One thing is for sure, though – the day those fists beat again, the heart will not.

The Poet

Far beyond the maze of words 

That ensnared him into loading his pen with ink 

And made him run it over

Sheets as fresh as blades of grass

There is a boy who doesn’t want to write:

His whole life was about putting his thoughts to paper 

And letting them bleed till they materialised into 

worlds that existed only in his head 

And sometimes behind the doors he closed.

But now he lays down the gun 

With which he shot down his demons 

Whose blood made the stories his heart sang for him 

And says that he 

He doesn’t want to write.

He hid his journals somewhere out of sight 

And thought he could let the pain out of his mind 

And try he did, and die he did 

The death of his brightest smile.

Like a bird who built her nest into a cage 

In the confines of his own mind,

The grey walls bare and unforgiving 

His palms pressed against them, feeling for a crack 

Waiting for some light

The boy says he doesn’t want to write. 

His faith hangs onto a fraying rope

Despondence breaking the dams to rush into a river 

Of sorrow, of the inability of words 

To tell himself what he wants to speak

Or to tell me, through his letters 

The little windows to his soul,

The musings of his mind, if it were musing at all.

Sometimes his mouth opens 

And he lets me trace the words on his lips 

They sing, to the tune of his melancholia 

That dejected, he doesn’t want to write. 

The boy sits alone in his cell 

Mulling over the things he left unsaid, unwillingly

Rolling them into a dough of handicap 

Eating them up, to keep himself from retching 

The liquid remains of his shaken hope

Heart suspended from the very same rope. 

Now the tears well in his beautiful eyes 

And the ink of his poetry runs dry 

He curls his mind into a fetal position 

The poet says he doesn’t want to write.

And so,

I’ll do it for him. 

Between Life & Death

For Kurt Cobain and Layne Staley, Kings of Grunge.
_
For Harper Lee, Alan Rickman, David Bowie, Scott Weiland, Glenn Frey and Lemmy Kilmister; and everyone else who died, but lives on.

 

inter vitam et mortem

Premise

When a powerful star dies, it leaves behind a black hole. Cosmic Emptiness. When a person dies, they leave behind destruction, too. They leave behind people and places and things that remind everyone of the permanence of their absence. They leave behind irreversible hurt and trauma, that can be buried but never forgotten. Just like themselves.

1

I met her in the winter of 2014 in this very cemetery, at the very place where she now lays buried. I look at her headstone, her full name engraved on the smooth white marble in cursive. She would have hated it so much. I run my hand over it, tracing the letters with my finger – the name she never let anyone call her by, followed by the day she was born and the day she died, written an inch apart. An inch that stands for her whole life, her every breath, her every thought. Lost in that one inch of space somewhere is the time that I knew her. I never thought we could ever measure things like those.

                                                          ________________________

I remember the day we first met like it was an hour ago. She had been picking flowers from over people’s graves when she saw me here, sitting on a patch of dead grass, trying to put out a cigarette. “I would suggest not putting out fags like that. Unless you mistook this place for a crematorium”, she shouted.
I looked at her, confused. “What a moron”, she sighed, loud enough for me to hear, as she walked up to me. She took the ‘fag’ from my hand, and crushed it against the headstone next to the spot where I sat, leaving a black mark on the granite surface.
“What are you doing?”, I shouted, as the snub dropped on the ground and rolled out of my sight.
“Stopping you from starting a fire”, she said. “Although,” she added, “You won’t kill anyone. Everyone here is already dead.”
I stood up and wiped my hands on my jeans. “Except for you and me”, I said, looking at her.
“I don’t know about you, but I feel pretty dead already”, she stated,as she walked over to another grave and pocketed the roses an old woman had left there half an hour ago.
I rolled my eyes. “Is that why you’re taking those?”, I snarked, pointing at the flowers in one of her hands.
“Well, yeah”, she shrugged. “It’s not like these guys need them,” she said nonchalantly, walking away.
“Wait!”, I shouted, going after her. To this day, I don’t know why I did it. I guess I just wanted company. Or maybe I just didn’t want to make this random girl think I was a fool.
“I am not a fool”, I panted, as I struggled to keep pace with her. She raised her eyebrows.
“Yeah? Then who are you?”, she asked me in a bored tone.
“I mean, I didn’t know how to put out a cigarette. I don’t really smoke.” I admitted, looking at my feet, the tops of my sneakers smeared with dirt.
I felt her eyes on me, heard her laugh, and watched her feet as she walked away to the other side of the cemetery.

    ************

I do not remember when we became friends. Every evening that winter, I had stepped inside the cemetery to pay a visit to my dead boyfriend’s grave. Every evening, I ended up sitting on a patch of land on the opposite side of the cemetery for hours, lighting cigarettes and stamping them out without putting a single one to my lips. Most days, that girl was there, too. From what it looked like, she had been coming there to steal the things people left on the graves and sell them later. From the way she dressed, it didn’t seem like she would need to do something like that for money. Then again, I thought, maybe the leather jacket was stolen, too.

I do not remember how we began to talk. This one day, when she was sitting on top of a big black headstone that belonged to a man who died in 1985, and when I had run out of cigarettes to waste, she asked me why.

“Why do you waste all those fags?”
“Why do you try to sound so British?”, I replied, ripping out blades of grass from the ground.
“I like the accent”, she said, coolly.
“I like the wastage”, I retorted.
She laughed.
“My name is Dee, by the way”, she said, hopping off her perch to go pick up the flowers someone had left two spots away. I swear, in that moment, I hated her almost as much as all the mean girls from back in high school. I got up and began to leave, but she had returned, and was blocking my way. So I asked her, “What kind of a name is ‘Dee’ ?”
She told me it was the kind of name that saved people from calling her by her real one. I chuckled.

In retrospect, maybe that chuckle was the moment when we became friends.

    ************

By February that year, we knew almost everything about each other. She knew why I blew my money on cigarettes that I never smoked, or why I visited the cemetery in the first place. I knew her real name, and why she preferred not to be called by it. There were quite a few things we did not know – and will never know- about each other, but the night before she was run over by a car on her way to the local asylum, Destiny told me that she took the flowers from the graves and gave them to abandoned people who never had any visitors.
On the evening of her death, I finally visited my boyfriend’s grave, and found a bouquet of flowers resting there that had only just started to wilt.

 

 

 

2

I wouldn’t say I had started loving him the moment we met – and that’s not because I am a skeptic when it comes to the idea of love at first sight – ; but I can swear that I loved him more and more every day since I had fallen in love with him. I do not believe in the idea of ‘the one’, but he was so close to what that would be like.

I had met him after he had been in remission for two years. He had his hair long, played bass for ‘an up and coming’ band, and was the kind of guy whom all girls had the hots for even before they met him – except me. He was the kind of guy that ultimately won the girl who never really fancied him before, like in the movies, and that’s exactly what happened. Our whole story was out of the movies, just not the right kind. For there was no happily ever after.

_______________________

He was a chain smoker. Smoking was to him what burgers were to me. He was as passionate about it as he was about his music, if not more.

“What feels better : making music, or smoking?” I once asked him.
“I’m almost as good at this” – he played a 20 second bass solo – “as I am at this”, he said, lighting a cigarette and blowing out three smoke rings.

It was impressive at that time. I didn’t know he once had Cancer.
I came to know about that when I told him that I wanted to try a cigarette.

“Don’t do it”, he told me.
“I thought you would be enthusiastic about it”, I said, pouting.
“Don’t do it for me”, he said as he looked straight into my eyes. “Don’t do it. For me”, he said, his voice deeper, and started to tap his feet to the beat of whatever song was playing in his mind. I decided to watch him do it, and let the subject drop. For the moment.
Later, he told me that smoking was just a way for him to deal with the despondence of not making it in the music scene.
Much, much, later that day, he told me his way of coping had almost killed him two years before. And that it was killing him again.

He refused to undergo chemotherapy. “The first time was bad enough”, he told me. “Why didn’t you stop smoking after that?”, I asked him angrily. I looked at him. I looked through him, at how amazing he was, and how foolish. It was breaking my heart. But It was him who was dying.

“I didn’t know how.” He said, and reached for my hand. He held it for a while, and then lit himself another cigarette.

  ************

“Why did you not tell me before?” I asked him one day when he had gotten worse, as he lay in bed with his eyes closed.
“I wanted to”, he said in his new squeaky voice.                                                                                     “But why didn’t you?”, I asked him,softly.”I guess I just didn’t want to give smoking up. Or give you up”, he said, squeezing my hand. After he fell asleep, I kissed his forehead. “But you’re ready to give yourself up”, I whispered in his ear.

Later, he told me how addictive it was. “It’s a part of me”, he said. “I wish it wasn’t, but it is, just as much as cancer is”, he added, while signalling me to adjust his pillow. I did.           “I started doing it again a few months into remission”, he confided.

“with a new band, a new city, I thought I had been onto something. But the phoenix effect wasn’t working for me…” he sighed. “…so I went back to the ashes I thought I rose from.”

“Cigarette ash”, I whispered.

“Yes”. Then under his breath, he said, “I’m so sorry”.

And then, then at last, we both cried.

************

He passed away 3 months later in his sleep. I like to think he died painlessly, but I know the pain he went through before it. And I know the pain I went through after.

The last moments I spent with him were on the terrace of his apartment block, looking at the stars. We had to look intently to spot them in the tar black sky laced with the city’s smoke. It was so difficult to find them, but we knew they were shining just as bright beyond. He took my hand, and told me that I had to live my life like the stars. And then he lit cigarettes and laid them out on the floor, and we put them out together. When it tired him, he closed his eyes and pulled me close. “I have come to acceptance with all of this”, he told me. “Death, cancer and cigarettes are a part of me”, he stated.”But they’re not the part I want you to keep alive”.

I gave him my word.

I never went to his funeral.

I was like the stars, and this was my smog.

Coda

Between your life and death, you lose a lot to life and death. You lose a lot to lessons being learnt, to mistakes being made, to things left unsaid. You lose a lot when you lose the people who mean something to you. But you are the stars. You are the unblinking, unwavering light, floating in the universe. You are energy, and everyone who meant something to you is energy, too.

 Energy never dies and neither do people. They just stop being human and start being the universe itself.

Dysfunction

For Kurt Cobain.


I open my eyes and my mouth to a cheerless narrative;

A stark depiction of what life has become,

Every action pushing towards a common motive

To render this heart of mine numb.

I want to paint it black

Not seek to absorb what it finds itself to lack —

So when the sun pokes through my window

I pull the blinds down low.

 

I go about the day in a mindless stupor

Here, I break glass; here, blades break skin,

In my mind I am myself an intruder

Betting on a game I can’t possibly win —

So I give up — douse myself in the pot and the pills,

Cut lines on the mirrors, the windowsills.

 

If I do have a soul, it’s all but lifted

My mind so numb, a boat I no longer row

My body takes the brown sugar thrust in through the piston

And I watch it take control, let go —

An instant of regret vanishes too soon

The high is when I’m at my biggest low.

 

As the poisonous rapture wears off

I find myself slumping, my head on my knees.

With disdain I look at myself and scoff,

Do nothing but watch my appetite for self-destruction increase —

There is just so much pain in sobriety

Seeking refuge in moonshine becomes a necessity.

 

Only in the dead of the night do I give in

(To the tears, the emotions, the hopelessness — for I gave up long ago)

And when heavy eyes no longer weep

I dissolve myself into a dreamless sleep —

Tomorrow will be the same.

Deception

I feel incongruous with the people that surround me.

It is hard, so very hard, to get the hang of people. How do you explain why one person can make your skin crawl, and another makes it tingle? Isn’t it scary that you never know what someone might really be feeling or thinking,whether they really mean what they say, like all of it can be one colossal lie?

Lies. Lies and people…people and lies – they’re synonymous. To both of them, there is a variety. It is the experience of this variety that makes the act of trusting someone so difficult. Trust is like money – you have to earn it. Sure, you can, at times, cheat through it, but unlike money, once you lose it, trust can never be gained again.

What is the biggest falsity that can be uttered? Forever. Forever is a fictitious term, every song ends. Flowers wither, seasons pass, people leave – and some leave for good. No matter how much your heart yearns for them, or how much you will for them to come back, they do not. They can not. Everything has an expiry date. The train has to leave this platform and the sooner you say goodbye to it, the better, for it will not come back – the tracks do not allow it to. But of course, this does not mean that there will not be any other trains coming your way – after all, you are a junction, and a junction is meant to be stopped at. But only temporarily.

Have you ever seen the pebbles in the rivers as the sun shines on them? So colourful, so beautiful, almost unreal. They make you want to look at them again. They make you want to touch them. They make you want to pick them up and pull them out of the water. But know this – the pebbles are colourful only as long as they’re in the ebbing river. Some people are like that,too – they turn grey and dull just as soon as you pull them out of the water.

It is funny how we are so important, so constitutive in our own lives, we can not imagine being any less essential in those of others. Some people will claim that you’re more important to them than anything else, but again, it is just a lie. Truth is, there can only be one true protagonist in every story. You can be her in yours, but you have to be content with being just a filler in their story, a piece in their game. Because, that’s how it works – it always has and it always will.

But who are they? They’re all of us, of course. They are you and me and every other human who ever has inhabited the planet or will do so in the future.And knowing this, we can at least think, that if deception was an art, perhaps we would be masters of it.