Jeet Thayil's most recent book of poems is English (Penguin/Rattapallax 2004).
He edited the anthology Give the Sea Change and It Shall Change: Fifty Six
Indian Poets (1951-2005), published by Boston-based poetry annual Fulcrum.
The Two Thousands
In the end it took so little to do us in:
the imaginative use of fuel,
the fuzzy grammar
of this or that group of logicians,
gifts of money
to the strongest among us.
Who could resist those voices raised in unison?
"Travel broadens nothing,"
the Great Martyr said, "except your tan."
It was the official position,
broadcast without commercial interruption
every evening at 6.
The time for lyricism had passed.
Also - kissing, sculpture, coq au vin, the tango,
and other items of behavior
too commonplace to mention.
They had G_D on their side;
we had fear.
Same difference, you might have said.
I kept a wet finger to the wind.
Depending on who was winning
I shaved or I didn't.
I am over you at last, in Mexico City,
in a white space high above the street,
my hands steady, the walls unmoving.
It's warm here, and safe, and even in winter
the rain is benign. Some mornings I let
the sounds of the plaza - a fruit seller,
a boy acrobat, a woman selling
impossible fictions - pile up in a corner
of the room. I'm not saying I'm happy
but I am healthy and my money's my own.
Sometimes when I walk in the market
past the chickens and the pig smoke,
I think of you - your big talk and wolf's heart,
your Bonaparte hair and eyes of Poe.
I don't miss you. I don't miss you when
I open a window and light fills the room
like water pouring into a paper cup,
or when I see a woman's white dress shine
like new coins and I know I could follow
my feet to the river and let my life go
away from me. At times like this,
if I catch myself talking to you,
I'm always surprised at the words I hear
of regret and dumb boyish devotion.
New Year, Goa
The midnight's cataracts whiten,
and here's the sea hissing
its one stuttered consonant.
Leaf-printed, you track the moon
to a beached, bearded hull, a room
of vertigo or freedom
that narrows like memory.
Small flames ascend a tree
of light. The two-and-thirty
palaces of Bodhisattvam
tremble on the vellum-
smooth water, like flotsam.
If tonight the mind is queasy,
drawing thoughts like flies, he
is fine too with every crazy
scheme you devise, none crazier
than this pilgrimage to a pier
that seems to have disappeared,
leaving you seaborne at last,
ahead of you the past,
and all its famous cities lost.
I'm back where my life and I parted ways.
I'm talking to the coffeemaker, to the face
towels folded by the sink, to the air
conditioner that conspires with my enemies. Even now,
in the midst of my extremity my eyes are dry,
and if I jump repeatedly against the window
I can tell myself I'm being lifted by a great joy -
until the glass smites my face and I cry out
your old name. The room is empty, lonely
as a still life, but the water stains speak
with your voice, Honor me, honor everything.
(Poems here selected and edited by Jayne Fenton Keane.)
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