Palace gods and false memories
25 March 2016
Raj Mahal Palace, Orccha
Chalk, orpiment, malachite, ultramarine, azurite, cinnabar
pounded, sieved and mixed take river, god, human and tree avatars.
A ceiling of bodies swirl to Krishan’s hidden song
as the old assistant points a trembling torch beam.
Through a wash of lime small clouds of passion waft
on walls: an arabesque, a reaching hand. The rest deliquesced.
In a corner veiled by the smoke of piety, the smoke of neglect,
old gods and their patrons continue dimmed rituals of glory.
The dead dream us to life alongside tart mangoes in oiled skins,
sleeping indigo water, satin dawns. In frescos of delight that rush
the blood’s magma a fish’s flash is felt in pulse; elsewhere a frottage
of steaming dung welcomes soles to sink, the stillborn’s intaglio
laugh carves into marrow, a scumbled sky of stars, moon &
swans lobs iridescence in veins, that turquoise curtain flapping
in a storm becomes the impasto of the mind while the beached
barnacle’s pentimento surfaces to swim in lymph. Then they hatch
into the brain the road with no end
They’ve leaked pigment, pus, ichor, amber imaginings. Their glide
of hands leapt to commands of inner vision; an assemblage
of sibilant cries & oozing vows escaped from the heart’s cracked
carapace as aquatint, ink-wash & lithographs that you wish
were from your mobile’s mercury eye. They’ve coughed, doubled
up, tried. Now give thanks to the mongrel who paints sunflowers
on the pavement with piss & to this, that, those in-between &
others left out of the frame & get yourself a wall on which to trace
yourself & your shadow in silverpoint that is, alas , erasable.
BIG MOSQUE, BUKHARA
The sky’s lofted firozi gleam, immaculate and unsupportable.
Jade green dome
bears down on the thrust
of tiled gateway, tiled walls
patterned and glazed as cobalt
sunbursts, turquoise hexagons, ochre
shamshas, white stars entwined by tendrils
which end as buds in frozen ascent– each one
distilled from sandy soil and stone. Massed
fortress, its decorative designs repeat and
repeat, numbing sight. The body’s
entombed in alien structures, each
cell is rejected, dejected.
Then the Big Mosque pulls a trick.
It shrinks, slinks into the heart.
the tiles are frozen reflections
of the cosmos. They now scatter/spill
embedded stars through space, the mosque reels
in prayer, constellations expand in your flesh.
A breeze lifts before the shadow
of memory falls over revelation.
Great wall, 14th guard tower commissioned in 1404
How old is he? How
often does he race up these steep steps? Where,
in this bare room, does he kindle fire
to signal, cook, keep warm?
Are his nails cracked, teeth crooked, lips
chapped and does he whistle while viewing this desolate
beauty that illuminates
loneliness like a comet scarring the sky?
This octagonal stone room
with three windows is
his gusty shelter. As he sleeps
starlight drapes him
in its speckled sheet scented
with piss risen off the steps.
his wife has died giving birth; far
away a crescent moon strums passing clouds.
He scans the empty sky
with a thirst nothing can quench
for he does not know what to seek.
seals its mouth
on the horizon’s line.
Bagan, field of merit
Night sky: we live under stars we don’t see.
Daybreak: weaver birds flit from hanging nests to call over water and lotus pollen. We hang between
each reflection, the rest passes.
Morning, afternoon, evening: drive your restless heart day after day after day after day
through mud roads and heat, waiting for sunset to end this monotonous splendour. Thousands
of pagodas – scattered pollen – rise like palms pressed together as far as the eye can see.
While departing realise the earth has as raised itself up in prayer.
Do memories change when what’s remembered
is no longer owned? Do your footsteps
disappear from those frames of time? Scent
fade? Are you dead before you are dead? Are
these feelings your own or taken over?
Are you a rose of water climbing on thorns of
glass? Are you lighter for being dispossessed?
Lighter but hate clogged? Is hate a light
emotion? Have your bones dissolved?
Is this an explosion in a vacuum? Is the
explosion dark? Do you remember your
Are the eyelids of memory peacock blue? Do
these turn taupe when its eyes are looted? Can
you hold its jelly in your hands?
Do things from your past make a special sound?
What sound does silence make as it vaporizes?
Is memory like smoke suddenly sighted in
sunbeam, coils materialising before your eyes?
Or like a contrail glimpsed as it fades?
Do feathers of memory remember their
individual pasts? Or does memory beat its wings
trying to break into your body?
How often have you cupped a wounded
memory, then put it to sleep?
Does memory live in a translucent chrysalis,
while morphing within? Are empty chrysalises
homes of memories that have fled? Do you
collect these? Whose memories are you
retaining? Yours or someone else’s? Will
anyone retain memory of you?
If you sleep on the stone you’ve made of your
heart will its memories become comatose? Can
the heart remember without the senses? Can you
detonate from the memory of things and still be you?
Is memory a fossil? Didn’t a fossil once live? Is
it merely asleep in time while retaining its
Isn’t premonition memory of the future? Didn’t
Rilke say writers have a blurred memory of
things they do not know?
Does memory exist not in parallel time but a
footloose space that can descend like a
spaceship and kidnap you?
Is there a way to cross into glow? Is this
Are you a museum of invisible things? Are you
made up of people you no longer are?
Daughter? Sister? Granddaughter?
Can we heal without memory? Can we live without
Do I have the potential to be a fakir? Say yes?
~ Priya Sarukkai Chabria’s books include speculative fiction, cross-genre non-fiction, a novel, two poetry collections and translations of Tamil mystic Andal’s songs. Awarded for ‘Outstanding Contribution to Literature’ by the Indian Government, her work is translated into six languages. Her work is in anthologies, books and journals including Asymptote, Caravan, IQ, The Literary Review (USA), The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry, Southerly, South Asian Review, PEN International, Post Road , The British Journal of Literary Translation, South Asian Review. She edits poetry at Sangam. She blogs at www.priyawriting.com.