Author: Afya

Poet

Groundwork 


There is benign strength 

In my poet’s legs

To keep my words

From falling off in a dishonest dance routine

Noted among people

Who even served worms 

in gourmet,

With candlelight.                               

                              

      
I pity 

the words stuck like phlegm 

in their throats

Dying in the purpose of throne-making 

for a self in state of decline,

Reciprocal to

Each bite in the name of ‘taste’.         

              
                
Then in death

There is always a radioactivity. 

The charged words bump against the glass

Like a moth or a housefly

Like a lover or a businessman 

And at last

The mind breaks with its own ambition. 

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Vanitas

Mariano Peccinetti, Mount Moon


As I must grow old 

And wilt

With the laws of gravity;

The horror is surreal

Of balding the moon off her throne

Into the sterile. 

How is that they must define us as a lack 

And in the same breath

Call the lands which could not bear the life

A null 

A void? 

So must I be

Either empty or full?

I wish I was easy as the glass. 

Automated

urizen.a.p11-17.100

Plate 16. The First Book of Urizen. William Blake

There is a death star

Dramatic in its capital transition

Which rises above my head

Eating my dreams

Of absurd

For the normality of traffic jams

And toothpaste advertisements

 

Imagine if all your favourite poetry

Were to be turned into

A brute of straightjacketed

jaw-aching ‘normal’

sound of the second-hand;

Time without seasons

and sleep without dreams.

 

Of smothering of the consciousness

In the sweaty palms of

Fabric conditioners and slime coloured detergents

That surely leave no stain

And are optimum for steel utensils.

From the naive poet

The Painter’s Daughters Chasing a Butterfly (c1756) by Thomas Gainsborough

I think of the times

When I was a child

I wrote with crooked pencils

To a merciful little girl with a pink umbrella

 

Of what I wrote first

I wrote of gratitude,

Surrounded by the dark cushioning skies

That ate mirrors

To an affect—

That only people who could trace

 the shape that was my shoulders

Told me of the true prophecies 

that I made.

 

Cassandra hung up by her legs;

An underworld

Of imagination

Untouched by the ears of ‘career men’,

I wrote,

till they inflicted me

With an ambition of

Turning wine into water.

The Imposter Syndrome

The Equation of Desire. Martin Soto Climent. Mousse Publishing.

He would always sit ahead of us

In his citric orange T-shirt

Sultry

Against the abandoned air-conditioned classrooms

Made by the Japanese and

Maintained by the miniature birds,

Who often get trapped in lecture-hall limbos.

 

I cannot write him

He’s a plant that does not germinate

Into wishful thinking

Of infatuated hearts, struck by poverty

Of lack.

A lack that begins to define you,

Your illegitimate parent.

 

But here’s a trick, 

Chance a find

you have to look.

Glance upon his quivery brow

Or

the rickety case of criss-crossed legs

That dares to announce

—If just for a second—

The same lack as you

And your

Out-of-the-league desires. 

The dragon’s tail

When Freya was little, her mother was always upset because she knew she would not get to be a part of her future. Not because of any physical ailment, but simply because she knew she would try and she would not be allowed to do so. Like swimming an up-tide.

Of her marriage, her mother could not even picture her own drawing room. It was her aunt’s. An opening hallway. Some guests passing around turmeric-colored rice. Rhythmic plate music. An audience of irregular desert dunes sitting at every piece of flat surface they could find. And whenever she saw herself in this place of future, her sadness was rather pictorial—her mouth turned in an upside-down U, at the sheer in-credulousness of strangeness of her daughter. Of people suddenly deciding to wear their clothes the other way around one day; as if Freya came out of some communal womb, up from the discolored sky. Do babies just fall after all?

She thinks about the word ‘daughter’ that the world created for her mouth to take up. She had not even remotely contributed to its invention. A daughter, because the world says so. But if the world gave it to her, the world can take it back too.

Freya married a painter anyway, in a place with mules circling around the leaking smell of the City trying to push in. Freya’s mother was upset. But then, she was already upset before.

It was as if the mother lived in a non-linear sad-time. Of knowing. Then, living. Of introspecting whether her knowing caused the living. And at last, if it was worth an ounce to give a shit about Freya at all.

She could have gone to business school.

*

In November, it snowed with a smell of woolen hats, florescent lights and falling men.

Trekkahum was a village of smiling eyes. Every second week of November, they stood at the other side of bridge (or whatever was left of it after the yearly slaps of winter-storms), cheering in their brown-velvet clothes and caps. It was a work of art—the whole view around the village—making me wish I was a painter rather than a writer. But here I am your writer in any case, and at the other side of the bridge stood a row of old men with some very rigid shoulder lines. Their silhouettes were dark against the white of snowy winds that blushed white at the normal symmetry of landscapes. It was as if someone had chafed the bridge with the lick of their wet thumb like rainy skies do to the autumn moon. 

Those who stood at the left, their dark contours roughly overlapped upon the distant village-night, in a much more humane bloom. A faint remote planet, it was as I f night was a phenomenon created by spaces between the people. A domestic darkness where snow is ceremoniously cleaned off. But that was the village. Where it was not, an ominous silent stood at the other side of the bridge. It was inconsiderate of human divisions of both night and day, hour or seconds. If you could be here–where I stand, you would have believed  me. The wind was louder than a village full of people.

They fought in the war. Old men of the ‘November Ceremony’ (termed thus for you and me because translations are often appalling) But none of them really understood what it meant. But then, did they knew what war itself meant? Ah, I cannot possibly answer that.  As far as they care, it is the general’s command. A school rhyme.

‘Old men cross the bridge/ Old men cross the bridge when the winter is nigh.’

The bridge was not rickety, as most people are force-fed to imagine. It was a long rock solid boulder. Cement. Originally a pathway for a pipeline. The snow reigned it now. Little hills of snow dunes conspiring to push away the bag of flours that men had lain to let this ceremony pass without any death. Under it, a raging height. Most people think of the heights as empty. Stagnant. But the air at heights have veins, they pop like an athlete’s leg. Each man who stepped on the bridge, stepped on the wind too. It had its cheeks full of ice. Fingers crick. Eyes bat.

And so the men cross.

Cheered by a crowd of people that sounded like a blown-away candle against the magnanimity of mountains that towered above their village.

And so the men cross.

A Ritual.  

After gulping down sips of some rice-wine, they joke. They joke about each other’s death. Cracked skull. Funny shaped limbs. Blood on ice. Winter crackling upon their bald heads. And when some of them do die, they drink some more and wait for the next November to come.

A Gamble.

*

May. Trekkahum. Freya and her painter. It had to be May; Painters color well in a writer’s writing in the summer season.

They sit under the dark cavern. It’s ugly as if full of blisters and bird-shit. Yet ‘they’ wouldn’t be the right term to use. They are divided at the moment. She sings at the opening of the cave like an ancient bird. He sits right in front of her, cross-legged, with his papers and paints hungry for the slanting rays of the giant sun that almost burns his hand. Naturally, he is employing more reds today.

She loves the smell of the damp. She thinks it gives her the tangy-ness of an acoustic song, much more than the bubble-like stomach of the cave that cannot taste her music as she does. It is so very dark, she muses…it could be anything. A wolf’s eye. Endless dark fur of a giant black bear. A star in its deathbed. The viper’s widening jaw. Time.

She senses some movement. She stares and stares. The painter looks up and is irritated by all the staring. He goes back to his work, his hands should not cease.

A man in a grey suit and a woolen fedora hat comes out of the dark of the cave as if it is the most normal thing in the world.

He has a crooked smile. He pays no attention to the painter and sits near the girl. The painter hates his presence but he keeps sitting nonetheless, like a little child who does not know what to do when his mother stops near the billing counter to converse with her neighborhood friend. He puts on his disinterested demeanor and continues to toy with his paints.

The fedora hat man claims to be a magician.Freya is charmed like a little red-cheeked girl. He praises her music and gives her a coin. It is not a roadside-tip. The coin is magnificently worked upon. The painter looks up. It is silver. Moon. It also looks like a dragon that is trying to eat his own tail. The painter had never seen something like this ever before. And he was certain, what he saw, only he could see.

For days, the painter tries to copy this design; he is so obsessed with it. His hands are rummaged with all the stress. His fingers don’t bend well anymore. And one final day it starts, the dragon starts appearing all over the village. Every hut. Under a tree’s rolling chin. In the moon. In the sky. It is beautiful but it is not what the Fedora hat man showed her. The villagers do not like it. But he keeps painting it. He has abandoned all the mountains. The bridge. The falling men. Her eyes. Everything but the fedora hat man’s design.

Somewhere in the mind of some reader appears the caricature of poor Sisyphus. Is it me? Is it you?

And they say, every day he sits in the black-blistered cave and paint one dragon on each blister of this dark space. If you happen to pass by Trekkahum, you will find him closer to the original than I did. He is turning blind but it is no harm because colors come like instinct to him now. His hands move on their own accord. But even still, he cannot perfect the original. And I suspect he already knows that.

A dragon eating his own tail.

*

 

Set of words 

Let me read you
 the opposite of poetry.

I pull out a letter knife 
And toy with red-lettered words
Till I no longer have a thirst for the apple juice
Or the Antarctic sky.

Whatever comes up
The blood or blues
I gulp it down with white wine
Until my feet are cold, enough for sleep,
I dream 

And then I weep in poetry. 

Camouflage

Yoshitoshi Kanemaki’s Sculptures

Asphyxiation. The town is clean as a chalk. It is the men, the rodents of the empire that roam around on their regal horses in an anachronism, something that just makes my breath itch. Tyrants, however jewelled up, are tyrants. They retard everything in the vicinity. We have some sleeping hut houses here. All their colours faded into a metallic uniformity. But truth be told, we were always dreaming here—that’s how they got us. This was one of those parts of the world where people go to escape their identities. Fucking wishful thinking and a load of crap, that’s what I say.

The blue men on the horses are out on patrol. It feels like they are walking on my neck. My steps pick up their pace even though my age no longer allows it. The curving street seems to shield me. From here the slope rises up. I am near the stairway now—it is a hill covered in stairs. I hold onto the roaring gales when my back breaks. They howl above the town where the silence is no more ringing. But I don’t bother about it. I feel like I can finally breathe. Down in the colony, they had roped up the sun too it seems. It balms my face here at the twirling angle of the stairhill. Probably a bad idea to stick out like a sore thumb. If I can see them, they can see me too. But I think I see some of our own now. No, there is nothing to think, I can see the very lines on their faces. I know for a fact they are our own as if their horses were trotting in a different rhythm. Our kitchen song.

But I do not understand it. If they had to confront the blue men after all, why are they dressed like them? Well if they fucking wanted to intimidate them with all the horses, they still look like they’ve pissed their pants. Two of them stand facing the curving street. They are hiding their faces, but from where I stand, I can see them. One man takes courage and trots to the centre. Him against five blue men who stand in the shade—their horses rocking gently, shifting their weight from one leg to another.

‘Do you have the medicine?’

‘Sir, we would request you to step down from your horse.’

Without losing a moment, the leader of this gang swirls his horse around and run to his waiting men. One of them is a teenage boy. He is crying, but cursing. They all run as blues prepare a chase. Just as they do, the copper haired man on the pastel brown, whistles his officers back. He knows it is a stage. The ship is a set. The waves are made up of third market mist fans. Turbulence. Rebellion. Drama. He wipes his brow and move out of his shade into the impotent sun.

He waits. He whistles.

Footsteps. The teenager from before. He must’ve run all the way back from wherever his friends were hiding. He is no longer wearing the regal blue. An oversized pastel brown T-shirt. Tousled mud like hair. Wind-eaten. The face same as before—crying-cursing. The copper haired man steps down from his horse and goes up-close to study his face. He has to slightly tilt his head to reach the boy’s height. There is a mocking in his manner. He is testing the meat before putting it up on the pan. The teen stretches his left arm out, his jaws locked in submission to the incoming pain.

‘Willy, bring me my kit’, the blue chief has his nostrils all flared up.

Will trots off to the left. Despite the elevation, I can’t see him no more. He is back in minutes though.

‘Thank you Will’, the blue chief exhales like he could finally breathe.

I despise hospitals. But yet I’m familiar with how the doctors go about their routine. Will they be doctors if they are stripped away from their coats and hand-sanitizer odour? I mean it would freak me out to be cut open in a random tailor’s shop. It was indeed a scareshop. The crossroads they all stood must have folded like a cup and all I could see was that man trying to find the right vein to push his injections into the boy. The boy’s lip quivered and before you are pausing for breath, this fucking devil is putting in another one.

‘What colour do you like boy? I have chocolate.’

The third one now. Three injections dripping into the boy’s arm, taped with a black ribbon tape—the ones that athletes used to wear to rebel some wrong.

Seconds trickle like blood. I become the boy. I am as frozen as him. But my jaws are still locked. He is sobbing. It should be over now. But the man has a last trick up his sleeve.

Some kind of screw driver is the only way to describe it. A drilling machine for human flesh. But the boy has stopped sobbing. Perhaps, he is relieved that there will be nothing harsher than this. Certainty is good. Or is it?

Revolution is no fun.

*

She squats on her legs and plays with her hairclip. She is smiling. He had placed a small box on her head and left. The box had this hairclip. 24 carat gold.

The sky is dead as usual and an eagle circles it. Behind her is the open-gapped fence they put outside garbage pits. She plays around with her hair for a moment, daydreaming. Makes two pigtails out of them and roll both of them in a bun, tying them around with the golden hairclip. Gold hairclip.

But there is no time to fix your hair, wash your face or even sleep, these long-long days. They don’t need calendars in this part of the world. Everyday, people like her remember everyday. No time for amnesia or numbness. Short term quickness. On your toes. Cat like—wild-cat like. Sometimes you hunt, sometimes you get hunted.

Or just sleep and die—it’s not that bad, some days she would think. That’s what people used to do here. Sleep and die.

Not today though. Thursday. You have to keep things in motion. 11:45. She was never late. 19th Block. The building that looked like muck. She learnt some maps. Blonde haired man. As if all the rain fell on only one spot in the town. 11th floor. Why did she choose the stairs? Black Jacket.

Black Jacket. That’s what they called him. She was going to meet him for the first time. For some reason she put her clip back in her pocket and let her pigtails fall.

‘Black Jacket?’

It really felt absurd when she said it. The girl with the pigtails talking in secret code names. But he just opened the door and stared at her. His apartment looked handsome from what she could see. But she couldn’t see it for long. There was some sort of hunger in his eyes. His teeth were sharp, she knew and he didn’t even smile. But she knew. And she had a job. She had to go through this.

‘Not now.’

He closed the door.

There was ruckus outside the lobby window. The sounds from the road came up as if travelling through tunnel. It felt like listening through a wall, she thought. It was a woman. She was wailing. They had killed her son. Overdose. There had been more than 40 cases of this and they call themselves civilized—the blues? “Vessels for medicines”. How cruelty breaks in some men’s bones, she had no idea.

Black Jacket must be tackling this. When this happens, they personally come to meet the relatives. Often the relatives get violent. The result is predictable.

This is what was going to happen now. The boy had two siblings. Teens. But in times like these, you become a soldier pretty early on. Things were in motion. But unplanned. Unplanned was never good. That is why they had people like Black Jacket, people to govern the outbreaks. Though whatever he was doing wasn’t going to prevent the immediate massacre that could happen. She had to be quick. Cat-like.

She used elevator this time.

The power went out.

*

‘Threy Oceane?’

‘Black Jacket. Yes?’

‘There was bloodshed. That lady. She lived in your building. Thursday? Did you see a girl? Dark hair. Brown coat. Golden clip?’

‘Oh YES. I had fever that day. But of course we can’t have the luxury of that. I did negotiate and saved what I could. But I told her to reschedule. This was before Marcel Red come trotting by.’

‘I see. Sorry for taking your time. I mean I’ve heard a lot about your work…man. You have saved so many lives. I better leave now.’

Black Jacket walks back to his house.

‘Oh and use the elevator.’

He smiles. He does have sharp teeth.

*