C P SURENDRAN
C P Surendran is a writer and journalist based in Bombay. His first novel
An Iron Harvest was published earlier this year by IndiaInk/Roli. His
poems have been collected in Gemini II (Penguin Viking), Posthumous
Poems (Penguin Viking) and Canaries On The Moon (Yeti Press).
Catafalque is a 30-poem cycle written in the shadow of his father's death;
he was a writer in Malayalam, the language of Kerala, India. The poems
constitute the centrepiece of CP's latest collection, Portraits of the Space
We Occupy, scheduled for release in the first quarter of 2007.
Catafalque (excerpt of a work in progress)
"I go as the first, at the head of many (who have still to die); I go in the midst of many (who are now dying). What will be the work of Yama (the ruler of the departed) which today he has to do unto me?
-Nakiketas to his father in Katha-Upanishad
A room secreting smells.
Breathing out camphor. Old Spice, old books, soap ghosting
Air with scent of pine. Blue ink gleaming thick in a vat of glass,
On the roll-top desk, the fat green pen on its side, run dry and smoking
Where it stopped. Lunar blips gilding the corner basin of water.
The floor waxed black verging on the brink
Of light, a dark pond mirroring the advance of the night.
Wet whiff of body wasting.
My father on the cot in white, straight as a corpse in a coffin,
The hours crawl about him in ambush,
Detonating memory cells like bombs at each intractable breath
Burning synapses down like a bridge,
Weighting his tongue down
With speech slush.
Between flashes he wakes up blind, shakes a hand at the carnage
Laying him bare to the crib. Remembers neither the revolt
Of beginnings, nor the submission at arrival. Between birth
And death, there's nothing. Not even sorrow.
My father is a big baby, born today, gone tomorrow.
Caught in the cross wires of a farewell sun
At the far end of a long, long passageway
He sits or stands, moves or pauses,
Comes or goes, as you please.
Glad or otherwise, he's naked
To the eye.
He is not here or the far there,
Where shadows sleep.
If you were a good son,
You'd hold to his head
A steady gun.
The roses are on their own.
The grass spreads
Like water from an upturned urn.
Between mornings smudged blue like bruises
And evenings bubbling up like blood
Along broken arteries of the sky
The road narrowing through hedgerows,
Hens, fallow fields, darkening stream,
Slows towards home to halt
At my father's feet, far from town.
He clasps his hands over his head,
The softening crown.
And I see
His hands are no longer hard or brown.
At first you did not let on,
Bent over the rampart of your desk, an old king surveying
What's left, the sunlight flagging white the paper
On which you were surrendering, face close
To fabled pen, the last of the language you lived by,
Writer redivivus, inhaling ink, memory's blue blood.
I look over your shoulder at the random craft
Practising on you its witchery
And see, with eyes that praised the kingdom
You set up once with your phrases,
Mutant shapes, in singles and droves, freak letters
In riot, while your hands shake in time's fetters.
(Poems here selected and edited by Jayne Fenton Keane.)
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