Pragya Vishnoi
From
Small Consolations



 


Varanasi

There's another kind of beauty
that fills the in-between.
There's dawn light where silence was.
There are hands of women — wrinkled and smooth,
cupping ghost moons from the river
and spilling them back.
Their bodies—half river gleam
like a language rubbed raw.
Every devotion is a face
truth wears when it marries beauty.
The sound of the river
is bluer at this hour and
the sound of temple bells
offers no apology
for lack of translation.
A stone calls another water
and the water does not speak.
We are visitors in our bodies,
but, here, we are the natives.
The wind collects prayers
in its cupped hands
and scatters them back into the river.


These poems are dead

fattening with an obscene splurge of dusks
and half-lights bred underneath an exhausted sea.
In a poem, especially in a dead one,
you cannot escape rains
and twilight
and sex, obviously, or the lack of it —
even then it's there, the space between two words,
a negative sexual space —
full of the possibilities of debauchery.

These poems are forgetful,
just like you after you witnessed your lover
mimicking the moon one cold night.
When you read these poems, sky fills your mouth
and when words leave your lips,
the bluedark air burns with its humble ambitions.
They rise like a rotten chortle,
beckoning you to make love with the softest part of the night.

These poems are blind,
their sight left forgotten in the winter of an owl's belly.
Their hands tender like twilight,
and as clueless, reveling in ignorance born of their own passion.
A blind poem is full of knots,
for your soul to unremember and unwalk
all the roads that lead to language.

These poems are you—
after you wake up naked and alone in a train coach,
faced with the retribution of your own beauty,
only to laugh at the sun on the other side of the window.


Kissing Selfie ft. Taj Mahal

We were pretending to kiss for a selfie
in front of the Taj Mahal, when my lover bit me
a little too hard. When someone asks me
the price of love, I always tell them
it's forty thousand hands chopped off from their torsos
and fourteen royal fuckings leading to eight princes and six princesses.
I was a fish when my mother drowned me into the inky waters of Yamuna.

A woman is an infidel
from the moment she's born
and an act of love by a man
is more often than not an act of violence,
inflicted on a woman and a country alike.
I warmed my daughter's tiny body in my hand
before I entrusted her to the cool waves of night.
I was sleeping, -slipping through spirals of years
when I first saw piles of my brothers' heads in each life,
melting into the waters of Yamuna
(Ibn Battuta proclaims proudly the great Timur unleashed Qayamat on the infidels)
and invaders fucking corpses of open-eyed women in saris.

Each midnight, I gargle warm salt water,
spitting out one moon after the other.
Everytime I am born,
angels pluck both my eyes,
placing them at the base of paper lanterns,
to be released for satisfying the lust of each
devoted-alive or dead.
To survive, I'm relearning
how music can dry up a man's sperms
and books can make a woman wh*re.

When I stand inside the courtyard of a temple
razed yesterday, or five centuries ago, I don't know,
I can hear the blameless blue sky crunching upon our land and
I dream of burning the centuries again and again
till the blood of every devoted is corrupted with the ashes of infidels
and the ashes of every man are corrupted with a woman's blood.


Footnotes on a Poem by a Forgotten Bhakti Saint

If the rains should arrive,
shed your body,
and walk into the echo of the music coming from the flute
against which his lips are pressed.

The universe begins with his flute
and ends in the ruins of his dance.
Death is just another prayer
shrinking back to the cosmic egg,
and then exploding again.

He, whose name means dark,
He, whose name is sweet honey,
he, who lifts the heft of unborn light,
on his delicate, dark shoulders.
My mother told me when I was born
that I was a fragment of a fish's dream
and I see all my lives, past and future,
drifting like headless octopi.

I see my daughter,
who is not yet born,
autumn light soaking through her curls,
and I find myself slipping
into the spirals of dream inside dream outside dream...
The temple bell counts
another breath of his —
a billion multiverses
born from the exhale.

Days are all bones
over which the flimsy skin of Schrödinger's equation is thrown upon,
the rips at places
revealing what is not the dream.
But time peels us open,
revealing the sound
we're all made of.
We think there must be another shore,
but we all return to the same sea,
carrying the light
as thin as our existence.


Omens

How about we call death a certain moon?
How about we call the moon an apple?
Will it make the emptiness glowing and sweeter and redder?

No one knows why a body opens.
No one knows why a river opens.

A man came, sat beside me on the bed
and ate my hands,
which I didn't even know were there.
My soul was green
but my hunger was ripe.

My cup was overflowing.
My cup was empty.
Rain fell like a leaf curling into itself.

The light: too cold to carry the sweetness of giving up.
My hands: too frail, too awkward to carry it all.
Witnessing beauty is like a knot opening.

My name: a red apple in the mouth of dark hour.
The tea: indulged in its own darkening in the saucepan.
The curtains: sharpening the darkness of moths and cricket-song.

Moon: multiplying the silence
into owls and hymns sung in a dead language.
Inside me there are colors without shapes
and shapes without any color.

The hour of sleep has come
but when was I ever waking?


Reading Tagore in Autumn

These days I have stopped
leaving a bucket under the bed
to hold cold dreamscapes dripping off the white sheets.
Wandering among autumn moons,
I am Suman, telling everyone who'd listen,
that loving is an act of lighting a candle,
and then waiting for extinguishment as you catch the flame
like a moonburnt seeking the eclipse.

Having just discovered that every man was a woman once
you watch the songs hardened from July heat
once again fly across the moondark river.
It is the season of new endings,
and, like Binodini, my lips part
to drink the dark glow of the mountains,
the sound of railway engines
grow into the first note of a hymn,
and a petal of smoke, shaped like a wailing,
pulls itself from my lips.

In the softness of sapphire shadows,
together we see Charu holding dusk like rains
and a burning flickers
in my body turning to bones,
the heat echoing in the valleys of Amar Porano Jaha Chai...
As our breathing slows down to desire residued, with me dismantled
and rearranged again and again,
pieces of me fly out of your reach
like time shoots out in all axes of the Cartesian cosmos.
Slipping out of you, I reclaim I-less-ness
like Mrinmoyee abandoning her conjugal bed,
pulling herself far from a husband, far from womanhood,
towards everything ungendered.

Every morning is an idiom
in a language I can't read,
but I've learnt from Lathika,
that we can only love
those who don't linger long.
In a matrix fogged with fallen leaves,
I see the light disappearing at my feet
and you are relieved, glad even,
because in the end,
we're all fine autumn rains.


Some Poets Write about Dusk

A few poets wrote about the hard eyes of an eighteen year old bewildered by her own body's need for ache.

And the painters sing about how the word they use for love, rain, and death is the same in a language bluer than a peacock's throat.

Some violinists were satisfied painting the cold rice fields being readied for the bawdiness of moons and lanterns.

While some others chanted about the tenderness of rain altered by the sudden light of a day moon.

Quite a few philosophers boasted about a wandering woman who shed her breasts dancing in the wet night straddled with keys and dirges.

And some had even seen an enraptured red song walking out of the river alongside the silent dead.

But the elders won't ever speak about how ghosts leave their teeth inside their eye sockets when they wake up.

And lovers won't recount the private pleasures of the shade of green that lingers in the cleavage between the hills in the warm hours of dusk.

The dancers repeat how certain loves are only rains filling the realm between dusk and dusk.

But I won't write about the candles lit by my unruly ten-year old twins to honour their own deaths.

The physicists have foretold about death holding a lantern to show love the way.

And the mystics never revealed the secret of a violin's sound halving the light of a May twilight.

My lover never wrote about the philandering moons hovering at the edges of our lives only to wreck our neatly-packed loves stored in Bento boxes.

And I won't write how I ate a half-song for dinner every evening whenever blue eyes of ghosts started growing in the fields instead of rice.

The children won't write about the light flying on the wings of quiet longing.

And their parents won't speak about the eyes worn by the candles to look at and console the grieving.

Some poets write about the dusk.
Some never write.
Some never dusk.


An Autumn Evening

It's a delightful evening to be alive.

A teen holds the shape of a cello in her arms,
but not the cello.
Moon shines like a plum
without its rotten part.
I'll never know how the last cuckoo
singing on the oak branch
turned to tall rain rising up from my feet.

My body: a field of light —
always too blued to fly.
Rain shines like the clear
sound of the cosmic bell.
An old man picks up a fallen acorn,
and stands, his eyes: the underside of an oak leaf.

The sky clears and sounds pour in:
of birds, of children, of ordinary hurts.
Across me — a cat contemplates bird droppings.

Soon to arrive is night:
as wide as the milky way.
Open your eyes
before the autumn light runs of sweetness.


Spring, Not Yet

Enough about ghosts. Enough about the other side.

Light is returning like a wave returns to the land.
We've been rained on. Now
it's time to leave Rilke and read the skies.
The hymns are fattening again with sun
and darkness has kept its violin
back into its black case.

There's still stillness:
but it's unmarried to the perfect silk of death.

These last days of January are
but an occultation
to the disciples of a koel's song.
The well is still there in the town
but whoever will die now
will die after knowing beauty.

If not the precision of loveliness,
then the green hands of water.

If not elegance,
then a calf's half-opened eyes.


Consolations

I was in love with a man once.

At night: the sweetness of flesh.
At day: the ambition of spirit.

He left the cottage everyday when dawn tiptoed its way between us.
I kept lying on the cold bed, not pretending to sleep,
listening to the absence of sounds I was familiar with.
Such silence,
such light:
I slipped into moccasins and walked towards the kitchen
to make tea.

Sometimes I watched from window
rain standing dazed in front of our door.
Sometimes I opened the door.
Sometimes I didn't.
The spirit of rain
and the spirit of hers sometimes added up
to make more silence.
I was learning love then
as water learns its cold.

A knock on the door:
This time it wasn't rain.
The silence was bluer when I kissed his cold brow.
Any more light
and the air would split into day moons.
He told me about cows half-merged in pond
and the mating of wheat fields
with the blueness of skies.

He always skipped telling about the rain
with its dark wetness.
He dozed off talking, one side of his face
resting on his arm,
leaving me to ponder upon our inevitable small deaths
like a pile of leaves burning at the foot of these hills.


Melancholia

The light is irritable and blind —
her slow hands building the world blue by blue.
There are no cherry blossoms here
nor are there cats in love.
The lamps are still lit
and the wheat in the fields is still dark.
When everything opens all at once,
I am wounded by the stoic face of ripeness.
When I look for desire,
I find the lights from a distant train.
When I look for the reddest apples,
I find your eyes lifted by the muscled arms of wind. At loss to understand,
I begin singing, like an insufficient Rilke translation,
and somewhere in an exile,
a koel replies, and I hear—
Beloved! Beloved! Beloved!


Meditations

Darkness is no music
and the night speaks only in the language of falling pine cones.
Above me a veil of the Milky Way
beyond which are my eighty-four lakh eyes — blinking.
I don't know when, instead of carrying the song
like the ghost forest growing inside my rib cage,
the song began carrying me.
The words on the pages are shimmering
but they are just pretending to be alive.
The dark is more than the sky above
and the cold air is still burning with the scent of past rains.
I touch my grief, feel its smooth luster
and cradle it in my lap.
My grief is just a flicker
against the blue hills and the bluer quiet,
and yet it's the only thing that's mine.
In the petaled lunar mirrors,
the form of beauty is thinned to the pure sound of a flute.
The night sky is just a trick
to deepen the earth but
that trick never will never get old
as long as the song doesn't abandon us.


A Garden doesn't Speak

It doesn't take a man and a woman
to make a garden.
The garden only needs to open its
heavy-lidded eyes
and pull out a dream from its forehead
and plant it into the earth's consciousness —
ancient as an elk,
momentary as a flutter of butterfly wings.

A myth rises in the East every morning,
and leaves brittle-hot truth tangled in the
spruce branches.
Faith is a function of just enough distance
and the right pinch of days.
The man and woman have just learnt seeing
but they already know of shame.
But the garden is kind,
like a cranky but well-meaning grandmother,
so it weaves a net of light so soft
that they could wear it.
The earth is turning her face
away from the sky
and the woman's eyes are flying up and up and up...
The left hand of moonlight
scoops all of them,
and now there are just two eyes
on the woman's face.
The man touches the woman for the first time,
but he's searching for the missing eyes.
He names his search love.
The woman doesn't believe in names.
The garden closes its eyes again
letting the man and woman
search for each other in its giant belly —
both of them unaware
that every leaving leaves a clue for beauty.


Spring Rain

I've watched you as I was birthing
and being birthed —
you combing your hair, you
staring into the crow-grown quiet,
your mouth still some of me
in the dark softness of your room.

Look at the sky:
what you see there is me.
What you hear on the earth is also me.
Time is most tender in March,
so speak aloud.

Tell me: What was important to you?
What is important to you?
Dusk rises like a mountain
and flowers glow in the garden
but without warmth.

Open your eyes —
I've heard you.
I can translate all the death inside you.
There's another life,
but to claim it, you must remember your name.


Soulsong

It's 6 o' clock
and rust falls from air.
When you were born
the midwife found an orange
in place of your heart
and after peeling,
she ate it and spat the seeds in the hollow of your body.

Your therapist told you
that aging is same as making love
and as you feel hours opening their red mouths around your skin,
you cannot think of a more ridiculous and a more accurate analogy.
As the teeth of night chew everything living
in the rhythm of sex
you write a memo to the next body you'll wear
and end it with —
P.S. We are all morsels to satiate the hunger of time.

You try to console yourself
that if you become one with the unborn,
the rain may answer you.
The milk of night
are the bones of your lovers returned to you
and as labourers pass tobacco among themselves under the moon,
you see your ancestors' bodies splitting with light.

A yearning blackens your bones
and the moon cracks and falls down,
and it takes you an hour
to brush the dark from your hair.
Your body moonburnt
and your desires distracted,
everything sacred confuses you
and you wander
in and out of the walls of time.

When you wake up, you can swear,
the tall poplar outside the window,
almost floats, its branches tearing the clouds.
Light has failed you once again
and now the hills around your village
are turning to moons.

The fog opens like a lover for you
and now you know,
it's possible to believe in both
cemeteries and cherry blossoms.


Middle Age Crisis ft. Ragini Todi

No one told you
you'll fall asleep to the sound of dreams creaking under the weight of darkness.

No one told you
the faces of lovers will vanish into waves of hours.

No one told you
you'll stop peeking every minute through your existence fogged with desires.

No one told you
your body shaped by lover's hands is no more important than noon.

No one told you
all rivers on earth are a form of light.

No one told you
the musk of time rubbed onto you in that far-off green galaxy will never vanish even after dying and getting birthed eighty-four lakh times.

No one told you
you will crave the sour milk of dusk even when you're making love.

No one told you
light hardens the shape of death.

No one told you
even if you pick out the sins between each of your teeth, your mouth will never be clean.

No one told you
each scent you inhale during spring will blacken your blood.

No one told you
all the light in the cosmos is equal to dark.

No one told you
even after menopause the moon will darken inside you every month.

No one told you
the flowers lifting to the summer rain are the faces of your ancestors.

No one told you
about the rough, hard grace of mystery present in the metaphysics of beauty.

No one told you
salvation would confuse you yet you'll understand it at once.

No one told you
the trajectory of the sacred touching the old banyan and even older snake residing in its hollow begins and ends at your heart.

No one told you any of this
and yet you knew.
You always knew.


The Only Cure to Oblivion is Anguish
A poem for Bhagwan Shri Krishna


And look how light lifts the decaying day.
Tall rains watch as a calf breaks free of the hills and shadows.

Didn't I tell you?
The soul waits tables when we are busy eating summer noons with butter.
Nothing matters in the century where everything can be translated into wild geese.
When August light touches me,
I am summered, my hearts flying and
crashing in all directions.

The sky is so cold that only crows can read it but they are busy reinventing the rain.
Till then, I carry the husk of your light on my shoulders, my edges losing themselves to the colour blue.
It just took a flute song to separate me from me.

After all,
what's music but an abridged version of Yamuna?
You only need to braid the truant waves in the curls of the dusk
and hush, don't hurry, because there'll always be noon beyond the mountains of soul.


Midsummer Merry

It's midsummer
and each midsummer night
motherhood falls off you
the way horns fall off a stag's head
during each full moon —
yYou wake up,
feverish from the pure heat of lust
and see your daughter munching popcorn
while a lovemaking scene (along with a French/Spanish/Portuguese song...screw it you're so bad at languages...accentuated with humphs and moans) plays on TV
and just like that, her face catches fire,
the flames around her amorphous features
like petals of a sunflower.
This is the softest part of the year,
yet you try to swallow it with honey and hunger
but it always burns your throat up.
When your daughter was too young to talk or walk,
there was a certain sun you kept in your bag
which you produced every time she cried
but she's too old for these games now — too far.

You are made of water.
You are made of earth.
You are made of everything.
You are made of nothing.
The moon is tattered at the edge
and the planets have all gone nuts,
crashing into each other's orbits.

The first moment after you woke up,
thirty-two parrot feathers fell out your mouth
and you were toothless.
Your daughter arrived to you as if through water,
even with all those hills collapsing on each other outside.
Your daughter was such a sweet child —
she's no longer sweet
and you sometimes suspect, she was never a child,
even during her existence as a seed inside you,
simmering along with the soup of everything sinful.

How can everything be born out of nothing?
How can salvation be born out of damnation?
The world is nothing but a picosecond of false dawns
and your body is nothing but a made-up game by your daughter.

Everything is cracked.
Let there be l̶i̶g̶h̶t̶ nothing.


August Abecedarian

August arrives in the dark, its
bruised blue hands wicking at my body that
catches not even a ghost spark.
Death stole a cup of light from our years, or maybe more than that as we witness
endless churning of sky only
for watching it fall into a forest of water. It's drizzling and now even
ghosts are offering every hurrying passerby an umbrella.
Humiliated by late summer hours,
I drown my head again and again into the cauldron of stars — Breathe in: light, Breathe out: night.
Just as rain rises up towards the sky, I
kneel before the dark charm of trains roaming across the wet night like spirits let loose.
Let the Emails from the other side be unread. I know it's my dream that has dreamed us into being.
My existence is nothing more than an ache made of dusk fireflies. It's too late for
Nabokov to make me cry.
Offering all my lullabies and
psalms to the ghosts of summer, I arrange my failures and yours too, into
queues of cloud-songs and rain-haikus.
Red spiders seek my lips. Hurry,
scoop at the ghost-violet dying in my mouth.
Three times you've turned your back on me — (Once when you cheated me with that tumor. Second when I checked your breath between my thin sleeps the same way you checked our newborn's, some forty, no fifty years ago. Third when you passed me a moon, or two after we made love for the last time.)
Under the torsoless moon, we're all a
velvet dream on the verge of a warm awakening
wrapped in the sheet of black rain.
Xanthic blossoms have covered the sky and
you've still not rosen and just like that the sky, the sea, the hills, the forests all have been
zipped back in preparation of a slip of light.


Federico García Lorca writes from the land of dead

This is the saddest street of the century.
Virgins open their window to rains
as a beloved poet's soul walks doubling with laughter
after being assassinated by a headless character from an Andalusian soleá.
Revolution! Revolution!
The lovers whisper inside each other's lips
as they make love under the trees named upon different shades of red
where our brothers went to hang themselves out of too much happiness.
Each virgin in the brothel wakes up with a different face
after long nights of dreaming, their skin — wet stone.

This is the saddest street of the century.
Shameless spectres catcall the poet's widowers in broad daylight
as they hurry for the funeral with heads bowed after touching
the bodies touched by their beloved.
Their lover's body rote memorized by their hands has long been made a sacrament
to teach shame and sin to the youth making love inside their own graves.
We live in the north-peach part of the country —
the evenings here are fond of reading doomed Russian romances
and watching soppy telenovelas as lovers
peel each other open to the hour of smoke and rot under the open sky.

This is the saddest street of the century.
Obituaries, obviously, sell here more than poems
and cleaning up blood and guts is the highest-paid career.
The dead shapeshift into tomatoes — all flesh and red juice,
turning into blistering moons inside our mouths
whenever we heed a call to kiss.
A song sings the earth through cobalt bones of dusk
and the street calls out, as if in a dream, its
shoulders floating away, wet with Milky way.
The light is abandoned once again,
leaving the street gleam in its sorry sorrow.


I will never write a poem

I won't write about
the river watching us with its silver eyes.

I won't write about the green grass
where my soul wipes its wet feet clean
before entering the form.

I won't write about the moons boiling at the edge of
the dusk.

I won't write how sky shines like the clear sound of
the cosmic bell.

I won't write about the rain breaking into multiple
imitations of my lover's tangerine soul.

I won't write about the rain tripping over its own shine.

I won't write about mother's form made of moon and rain.

I won't write about the sideways smile of blind blue hills.

I won't write about the warmth that spreads beneath a body after it dies.

I won't write about mother's bare face creeping
over this century like a blistered moon.

I won't write about my roofless soul
where lambs walk and kneel down
and pray to whatever God they pray to.

I won't write about my ripened heart
hanging low like a plum moon.

I won't write about the shrill voices that sing hymns
and lullabies and cry Dusk Dusk Dusk.

I won't write the woman boarding a train in a half-torn Russian novel
that will take her away from her lover.

I won't write about the face of death
stretched between the hard and soft parts of the sky.

I won't write about the purple souls floating
among us—their mouths perpetually open like bees.

I won't write how everything is humming
and dying at the same time.

I won't write again.

I've never written before.


Cremating my lover in Varanasi

When I woke up to the hour of incense,
the day had already gathered all my loneliness in its palms,
and crushed it into the copper baritone of kerosene lamps.
Moon fell in the narrow lanes lifting through air like black rains,
and I saw it — the light in the river holding the tender light of the sky in its muscular arms.

In the most ancient city of Kashi,
Gods and ghosts stroll the streets hand in hand,
sometimes dropping a dime or two in the aluminium bowl of the blind singer
who croons hymns in the praise Gods and the worlds they weave from their pinkie fingers.

Sometimes the Gods too need to be reminded of their divinity.
Sometimes the Gods too need to be reminded that everything in this universe is just a manifestation of theirs.
Searching for the hotel that accepts only dead as the guests to check-in,
I watch an aghori bless a toddler
by slapping a handful of cremation Ash across his forehead
and an old Bollywood song wafting from the smartphone of a cycle-rickshaw puller
reminds me that this is the city of the Lord of dance,
who also rules the realm of time and death.

The burning pyres on the Ghats.
Only what'll be touched by death holds beauty,
but beauty is born from the lotus navel of the unbodied and unborn.
I am just another voice lost in the twilight-lined throat of the one who masters moon,
a red-eyed dream kohled with charcoal time.

What'll I do of this fixation with a particular form?
It's trash; it tastes like vomit in my mouth.
Your absence ripened into the April greens the air like dappled moonlight through amaltas.

Even in my dreams I inhale the cobalt-blue of your smoke-body,
but here one temple bell at a time, the air cleans itself of the imprints of every dead and living.
As I lie in the palm of the music coming from the blind singer's iktara,
my surrender is small and complete.


betweenthehighway CCLA 0.4
wherever
visible and invisible
streets meet