Arundhathi Subramaniam

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Poems

Arundhathi reads out eight poems from Where I Live: New and Selected Poems (Bloodaxe, 2009): 'Winter, Delhi, 1997', 'To the Welsh Critic Who Doesn't Find Me Identifiably Indian', 'Prayer', 'Home', 'Madras', 'I Live on a Road', 'Recycled' and 'Confession'.

 


Leapfrog

Epigrams for Life after Forty

Catnap

Another Way

Tree

Home

Strategist 

Heirloom

Prayer



Leapfrog


(“Anyone who has sufficient language nurses ambitions of writing a scripture” – Sadhguru)  

 

 

Not scripture, no,

but grant me the gasp

of bridged synapse,

the lightning alignment

of marrow, mind and blood

that allows words

to spring

 

from the cusp of breathsong,

from a place radiant

with birdflight and rivergreen.  

 

Not the certainty

of stone, but grant me

the quiet logic

of rain,

of love,

of the simple calendars of my childhood

of saints aureoled by overripe lemons.  

 

Grant me the fierce tenderness

of watching

word slither into word,

into the miraculous algae

of language,

untamed by doubt

or gravity,

 

words careening,

diving,

           swarming, un-

forming, wilder

than snowstorms in Antarctica, wetter

than days in Cherrapunjee, 

 

alighting on paper, only

for a moment,

tenuous, breathing,

amphibious,

before

         leaping

to some place the voice

is still learning

 

to reach.  

 

Not scripture,

but a tadpole among the stars,

unafraid to plunge

deeper 

if it must –

 

only if it must –

 

into transit.

 



Catnap


 

This shoebox started out

a stiff-upper-lipped quadrilateral,

Upholder of Symmetry, Proportion, Principle,

sanctuary to an upright couple

of pedigree leather moccasins.

 

This week

shoebox learns

to sigh

de-

    cant,

contemplate

 

gravity.

 

Old idealist softens,

grows whiskers,

paw,

drowsing chin,

slumped tail,

Arctic eye.

 

Form is emptiness

Emptiness is form, Shariputra.

 

Shoebox abdicates

shape

and Gucci worship,

 

secedes from

nostalgia.

 

Pukka sahib

learns

to purr.




Another Way



 

To swing yourself

from moment to moment,

to weave a clause

that leaves room

for reminiscence and surprise,

that breathes,

welcomes commas,

dips and soars

through air-pockets of vowel,

lingers over the granularity of consonant,

never racing to the full-stop,

content sometimes

with the question mark,

even if it’s the oldest one in the book.

 

To stand

in the vast howling, rain-gouged

openness of a page,

asking the question

that has been asked before,

knowing the gale of a thousand libraries

will whip it into the dark.

 

To leave no footprints

in the warm alluvium,

no Dolby echoes

to reverberate through prayer halls,

no epitaphs,

no saffron flags.

 

This was also a way

of keeping the faith. 

Tree

 

 It takes a certain cussedness

to be a tree in this city,

a certain inflexible woodenness

 

to dig in your heels

and hold your own

amid lamp-posts sleek as mannequins

and buildings that hold sun and glass together

with more will-power than cement,

 

to continue that dated ritual,

re-issuing a tireless

maze of phalange and webbing,

perpetuating that third world profusion

of outstretched hand,

each with its blaze of finger

and more finger -

so many ways of tasting neon,

so many ways of latticing a wind,

so many ways of being ancillary to the self

without resenting it.




Home

 


Give me a home

that isn’t mine,

where I can slip in and out of rooms

without a trace,

never worrying

about the plumbing,

the colour of the curtains,

the cacophony of books by the bedside. 

 

A home that I can wear lightly,

where the rooms aren’t clogged

with yesterday’s conversations,

where the self doesn’t bloat

to fill in the crevices.

 

A home, like this body,

so alien when I try to belong,

so hospitable

when I decide I’m just visiting.





Strategist 

 

 

The trick to deal

with a body under siege

is to keep things moving,

 

to be juggler

at the moment

when all the balls are up in the air,

a whirling polka of asteroids and moons,

 

to be metrician of the innards,

calibrating the jostle

and squelch of commerce

in those places where blood

meets feeling.

 

Fear.

Chill in the joints,

primal rheumatism.

 

Envy.

The marrow igloos

into windowlessness.

 

Regret.

Time stops in the throat.

A piercing fishbone recollection

of the sea.

 

Rage.

Old friend.

Ambassador to the world

that I am.

 

The trick is not to noun

yourself into corners.

Water the plants.

Go for a walk.

Inhabit the verb.



 

Heirloom

 

 

My grandmother,

wise even at eight,

hid under her bed

when her first suitor came home.

 

Grave and serene

her features, defined

as majestically as a head

on an old coin, I realise

through photographs, clouded

by the silt of seasons, like the patina

of age on Kanjeevaram silks,

that in her day, girls of eight didn’t

have broken teeth or grazed elbows.

 

Now in her kitchen,

she quietly stirs ancestral

aromas of warm coconut lullabies,

her voice tracing the familiar

mosaic of family fables, chipped

by repetition.

 

And yet,

in the languorous swirl

of sari, she carries the secret

of a world where nayikas still walk

with the liquid tread of those

who know their bodies as well

as they know their minds, still glide

down deserted streets --  to meet

dark forbidden paramours whose eyes

smoulder like lanterns in winter --

and return before sunset, the flowers

in their hair radiating the perfume

of an unrecorded language of romance.

 

The secret of a world

that she refuses to bequeath

with her recipes

and her genes.


 


 Prayer

 

May things stay the way they are

in the simplest place you know.

 

May the shuttered windows

keep the air as cool as bottled jasmine.

May you never forget to listen

to the crumpled whisper of sheets

that mould themselves to your sleeping form.

May the pillows always be silvered

with cat-down and the muted percussion

of a lover’s breath.

May the murmur of the wall clock

continue to decree that your providence

run ten minutes slow.

 

May nothing be disturbed

in the simplest place you know

for it is here in the foetal hush

that blueprints dissolve

and poems begin,

and faith spreads like the hum of crickets,

faith in a time

when maps shall fade,

nostalgia cease

and the vigil end.