Where we came from
15 July 2016
‘Monsoon in Manhattan’ and other poems
Half a second from wingbeat
two days and two nights
above the giant desert of water,
three thousand miles
from Alaska to Hawaii.
Across Hilo Bay
the first stars rise. Constellations
assume their wandering station.
Orbit by orbit, season by season:
perfection past tongue and feather.
You may think you recognize
to pause once is to forsake
the garland of arrival —
hibiscus unfolding dawnward,
trumpet flowers stooping to kiss
the rare earth.
Monsoon in Manhattan
One a.m. I lurch from the sushi bar
to the sidewalk. The city,
I’m reliably informed, never sleeps,
but the cabbies are ignoring
this axiom tonight.
With too far to walk
I start anyway. Seven blocks pass before
Talwar Singh, turbaned angel
of Panipat and Ace Taxi Service,
sputters to the rescue.
He wouldn’t do this for any Tom
or Mary, he tells the rear-view mirror.
The wife’s raising hell on the mobile
and the direction’s awkward,
but what to do, no desi
can be abandoned to the hour—
even if he isn’t Punjabi.
The beard pivots. An appraisal
is made. Tamil Nadu, Kerala?
I tell him, but it hardly matters.
The miracle of this city
beyond the black water:
we are Indians at last.
we turn to religion.
How about that Glen McGrath?
A god, but then, they’re all
pretty close to heaven down under.
Something to do
with the ozone layer.
The eternal question is rehearsed.
Why can’t a billion people
produce a single fast bowler? Fast
as in kiss-your-gonads-goodbye fast.
We know the answers: too many vegetarians,
too much democracy.
Our wheels kiss Brooklyn bridge, and now
a battered disc is chosen.
The speakers crackle alive with a song
that is an invocation:
for rivers to multiply and wells to climb
across a land on fire,
for the smell of rain
on parched earth.
Talwar joins his voice
to the car stereo, and then
I join my voice to his. A cloud
of celebration tumbles from the windows
to tremble over East River.
We learn the world once.
The rest is practise.
Of all things man is the measure: of the things that are, that they are, of the things that are not, that they are not.
5 a.m. It feels like ten.
Jetlagged awake, I quit the lodge
and stumble to the forest’s margin
for a cigarette. A smudge
of yellow widens in the East.
The hills take body. Here our new
inventions: language, cross and wheel
seem superfluous. It’s easy to
imagine some ancestral eye
enclose my vigil in its own.
I squat and listen, fire in hand
for the strident birds of dawn
to wake the antecedent jungle:
slaughterhouse and nursery,
no measuring stick on land or water
oblivion in the canopy.
It will happen on a page of Euclid,
just before the final tangent is drawn
or the crucial angle bisected:
a heartbeat where the fog dissolves
and the grand contour of the QED
looms into view.
Of late a book of photographs
has played catalyst,
as I race past Cuzco and Oxford
(pausing to admire the full head of hair
that shielded me from the Toronto snow),
to stumble on a deeper trigger:
some elder print whose gray and white reduction
fills my head with the scent of bougainvillea,
dresses me in kurta and jeans
and sends me meandering through that dimensionless Delhi
that I wear on my wrist like a rakhi.
How the universe shifts gear then.
How lucid seem the tracks of time and city,
how amplified the drums of the soul.
My hawk-eyed daughter spots a kite
trapped in a tree. With loud delight
she rockets up and tugs it down.
I can’t retrieve a fitting noun
to state her state; suffice to say
it’s decades since I felt that way.
I can’t complain. Although I’m through
with weightlessness, it’s also true
I haven’t wept beyond repair
in half a lifetime, haven’t stood
in that same murderous despair
as when my toys of clay and wood
lay cracked beneath an ayah’s heel.
My daughter says it’s no big deal
the kite is torn – a lick of glue
and it will be as good as new.
~ Shekhar Aiyar was born in India and educated at Delhi, Oxford and Brown Universities. His work has appeared in the Atlanta Review, Able Muse, Formalist, New Formalist, Avatar Review, and other journals in England, Sri Lanka and Canada. His first collection of poems, Continental Drift, was published by the Writer’s Workshop, Calcutta. He lives in Washington, DC.