The Lie of Dawns: Poems 1974-2008
Authorpress, 2008, 198 pages
ISBN 8172734743 9788172734749
topics: | poetry | single-author | indian-english
Selection of hundred and eight of his poems, starting from his very earliest collection, Rain of Rites to a selection of poems for this book.
Not yet. Under the mango tree The cold ash of a deserted fire. Who needs the future? A ten-year-old girl combs her mother’s hair, where crows of rivalries are quietly nesting. The home will never be hers. In a corner of her mind a living green mango drops softly to earth.
[the version here has been edited from its original publication in the volume Waiting (1979). Personally, I am not too sure the edits are for the better. The poem is one of the more philosophical ones, and perhaps JM is trying to work on the craft, but I would have been happy with the earlier craft! ] Afterwards when the wars of Kalinga were over, the fallow fields of Dhauli hid the blood-spilt butchered bodies. [originally "red-smeared voiceless bodies"] As the earth burrowed into their dead hunger with its mercilesss worms, [was "tortured worms"] guided the foxes to their limp genitals. Years later, the evening wind, trembling the glazed waters of the River Daya, keens in the rock edicts the vain word, like the voiceless cicadas of night: [was "shuttered silence, an air:"] the measure of Ashoka's suffering does not appear enough. The place of his pain peers lamentably from among the pains of the dead.
Endless crow noises A skull in the holy sands tilts its empty country towards hunger. White-clad widowed Women past the centers of their lives are waiting to enter the Great Temple Their austere eyes stare like those caught in a net hanging by the dawn's shining strands of faith. The fail early light catches ruined, leprous shells leaning against one another, a mass of crouched faces without names, and suddenly breaks out of my hide into the smoky blaze of a sullen solitary pyre that fills my aging mother: her last wish to be cremated here twisting uncertainly like light on the shifting sands
(from https://mailman.rice.edu/pipermail/sasialit/2006-November/043728.html) The yellowed diary's notes whisper in vernacular. They sound the forgotten posture, the cramped cry that forces me to hear that voice. Now I stumble back in your black-paged wake. No uneasy stir of cloud darkened the white skies of your day; the silence of dust grazed in the long afterniin sun, ruling the cracked fallow earth, ate into the laughter of your flesh. For you it was the hardest question of all. Dead, empty tress stood by the dragging river, past your weakened body, flailing against your sleep. You thought of the way the jackals moved, to move. Did you hear the young tamarind leaves rustle in the cold mean nights of your belly? Did you see your own death? Watch it tear at your cries, break them into fits of unnatural laughter? How old were you? Hunted, you turned coward and ran, the real animal in you plunigng through your bone. You left your family behind, the buried things, the precious clod that praised the quality of a god. The impersihable that swung your broken body, turned it inside out? What did faith matter? What Hindu world so ancient and true for you to hold? Uneasily you dreamed toward the center of your web. The separate life let you survive, while perhaps the one you left wept in the blur of your heart. Now in a night of sleep and taunting rain My son and I speak of that famine nameless as snow. A conscience of years is between us. He is young. The whirls of glory are breaking down for him before me. Does he think of the past as a loss we have lived, our own? Out of silence we look back now at what we do not know. There is a dawn waiting beside us, whose signs are a hundred odd years away from you, Grandfather. You are an invisible piece on a board Whose move has made our children grow, to know us, carrying us deep where our voices lapse into silence. We wish we knew you more. We wish we knew what it was to be, against dying, to know the dignity that had to be earned dangerously, your last chance that was blindly terrifying, so unfair. We wish we had not to wake up with our smiles in the middle of some social order.
The long, dying silence of the rain over the hills opens one's touch, a feeling for the soul's substance, as for the opal neck spiralling the inside of a shell. We keep calm; the voices move. I buy you the morning's lotus. we would return again and again to the movement that is neither forward nor backward, making us stop moving, without regret. You know: I will not touch you, like _that until our wedding night.
At Puri, the crows. The one wide street lolls out like a giant tongue. Five faceless lepers move aside as a priest passes by. And at the streets end the crowds thronging the temple door: a huge holy flower swaying in the wind of greater reasons.
Over the soughing of the sombre wind priests chant louder than ever; the mouth of India opens. Crocodiles move into deeper waters. Mornings of heated middens smoke under the sun. The good wife lies in my bed through the long afternoon; dreaming still, unexhausted by the deep roar of funeral pyres. [Note: midden = dunghill]
It was hard to believe the flesh was heavy on my back. The fisherman said: Will you have her, carelessly, trailing his nets and his nerves, as though his words sanctified the purpose with which he faced himself. I saw his white bone thrash his eyes. I followed him across the sprawling sands, my mind thumping in the flesh's sling. Hope lay perhaps in burning the house I lived in. Silence gripped my sleeves; his body clawed at the froth his old nets had only dragged up from the seas. In the flickering dark his lean-to opened like a wound. The wind was I, and the days and nights before. Palm fronds scratched my skin. Inside the shack an oil lamp splayed the hours bunched to those walls. Over and over the sticky soot crossed the space of my mind. I heard him say: My daughter, she's just turned fifteen... Feel her. I'll be back soon, your bus leaves at nine. The sky fell on me, and a father's exhausted wile. Long and lean, her years were cold as rubber. She opened her wormy legs wide. I felt the hunger there, the other one, the fish slithering, turning inside.
Of that love, of that mile walked together in the rain, only a weariness remains. I am that stranger now my mirror holds to me; the moment's silence hardly moves across the glass I pity myself in another's guise. And no one's back here, no one I can recognize, and from my side I see nothing. Years have passed since I sat with you, watching the sky grow lonelier with cloudlessness waiting for your body to make it lived in.
from http://sumasubramaniam.blogspot.com/2007_08_01_archive.html Awaken them; they are knobs of sound that seem to melt and crumple up like some jellyfish of tropical seas, torn from sleep with a hand lined by prophecies. Listen hard; their male, gaunt world sprawls the page like rows of tree trunks reeking in the smoke of ages, the branches glazed and dead as though longing to make up with the sky, but having lost touch with themselves were unable to find themselves, hold meaning. And yet, down the steps into the water at Varanasi, where the lifeless bodies seem to grow human, the shaggy heads of word-buds move back and forth between the harsh castanets of the rain and the noiseless feathers of summer - aware that their syllables' overwhelming silence would not escape the hearers now, and which must remain that mysterious divine path guarded by drifts of queer, quivering banyans: a language of clogs over cobbles, casting its uncertain spell, trembling sadly into mist.
The strong south wind hits our faces again, it's October; sunsets are fiery red and the waters of wells are clear already-- there we are, under the mango tree, in the old house, amid the drift of things, the vase on the bookcase with shadows of swifts reeling round it, and we don't know whether we are alone any more. But each day we watch the swifts come and go, watch the still-slender, teasing whore who shuffles down the crowded road and finds out that the middle-aged man surreptitiously following her is only listening to the slowing sounds of his own heart; and we sit and long for the child who left in 'seventy-three, and behave like our bitch that catches a scent and sniffs about in the air. We look around today and the day after tomorrow, remembering those who caught us like irrigation-canals across the dry nights in the distant countryside, and remembering, suddenly, someone who once envied us and our bodies so impudent, glistening with rain. Ah, this voice I hear now, what answer do I owe you? The tree trembles in the wind, the house where we once made love now weakens at the knees. And all the time that gathered into those moments fills the grave of the vast vase with dust.
The faint starlight rolls restlessly on the mat. Those women talking outside have clouds passing across their eyes. Always there is a moon that is taking me somewhere. Why does one room invariably lead into other room? We, opening in time our vague doors, convinced that our minds lead to something never allowed before, sit down hurt under the trees, feeding it simply because it is there, as the wind does, blowing against the tree. Yet time is not clairvoyant, and if it has the answer to our lives, proud in its possession of that potential which can change our natures, beating the visions of childhood out of us, the socialism and the love, until we remain awkwardly swung to the great north of honour. What humility is that which will not let me reveal the real? What shameful secret lies hidden in the shadows of my moon? All these years; our demands no longer hurt our eyes. How can I stop the life I lead within myself-- The startled, pleading question in my hands lying in my lap while the gods go by, triumphant, in the sacked city at midnight?
The substance that stirs in my palm could well be a dead man; no need to show surprise at the dizzy acts of wind. My old father sitting uncertainly three feet away is the slow cloud against the sky: so my heart's beating makes of me a survivor over here where the sun quietly sets. The ways of freeing myself: the glittering flowers, the immensity of rain for example, which were limited to promises once have had the lie to themselves. And the wind, that had made simple revelation in the leaves, plays upon the ascetic-faced vision of waters; and without thinking something makes me keep close to the walls as though I was afraid of that justice in the shadows. Now the world passes into my eye: the birds flutter toward rest around the tree, the clock jerks each memory towards the present to become a past, floating away like ash, over the bank. My own stirrings like the wind's keep hoping for the solace that would be me in my father's eyes to pour the good years back on my; the dead man who licks my palms is more likely to encourage my dark intolerance rather than turn me toward some strangely solemn charade: the dumb order of the myth lined up in the life-field, the unconcerned wind perhaps truer than the rest, rustling the empty, bodiless grains.
1. Summer 2. Dhauli 3. Pain 4. The Day After My Friends Became Godly and Great 5. Dawn at Puri 6. Village Evening 7. Grandfather 8. Again, One Day, Walking by the River 9. The Abandoned British Cemetery at Balasore 10. Shapes by the Daya 11. The Indian Way 12. The Lost Children of America 13. Taste for Tomorrow 14. The Quality of Ruins 15. The Faith 16. A Summer Poem 17. Events 18. A Monsoon Day Fable 19. If s My Room Once Again 20. Samsara 21. Landscape 22. Hunger 23. This is the Season of the Old Rain 24. Sickles 25. River 26. Life Signs 27. A Country 28. Myth 29. Sanskrit 30. The Absence of Knowledge
1. Relationship 2. Traveller 3. The Trail of Poetry 4. Doors 5. Shadows 6. The Hour from the Window 7. Another Hour's Bell 8. Trying to Keep Still 9. A Day of Rain 10. The Vase 11. A Missing Person 12. Of that love 13. Dust 14. Ann 15. Shadow 16. The Mountain 17. The Moon Moments 18. A Hint of Grief 19. Of a Questionable Conviction 20. Someone in My Room 21. The Hollow Mouth 22. Rice 23. The Predicament 24. The Hour before Dawn 25. Unreal Country 26. Father 27. Bone of Time 28. The Dawn of a New Year 29. The Looking Glass 30. Ash 31. Dead River 32. Collaboration 33. The Woman Who Wanted to be Loved
1. Possessions 2. Death's Wild Land 3. The Fifteenth of August 4. All the Poetry There is All the poetry there is in the world Appears to rise out of the ashes. The ash sits between us And puts its arms across our shoulders. It makes the world so empty quiet. For there is nothing like the ashes To remind us how little there is to say. Because poetry Doesn't have to raise its voice. Like the death of my father It lies only a year down the road, Supporting the days too heavy for us. No matter what games the ashes play, Poetry simply wants to know What sort of thing was war, or a sunset, Perhaps a bizarre crime… 5. Of Independence Day 6. Mother Teresa 7. Freedom 8. Scream 9. The Land that is Not 10. In God's Night 11. Violence 12. Waiting for the Summer of 1994 13. The Stones 14. Dawn 15. Deaths in Orissa 16. A Morning Walk in Bhopal 17. The Hill 18. The Wound 19. Heroism 20. About My Favourite Things 21. The Stories in Poetry 22. The Lines of My Poem 23. Postcard from Home
1. I Hear My Fingers Sadly Touching an Ivory Key 2. Farewell 3. The Door 4. Things that Happen 5. The Shore 6. The Plot 7. Making No Secret of Death 8. Talking of Death 9. From a Requiem 10. From Temple : The Shrine
1. The Sprouting Grass 2. Silence 3. Four Poems 4. Pain is Something that Happens in the Room 5. Illness Something moves backward, suddenly, more like words without letters or sense like the flintstone's fire an empty stare of seas feeding back into streams, leaving behind a sky so white one can't find the way out. The deep voice of the scarlet hibiscus has just strength enough to reach its own shadow... 6. The Poet's Death 7. A Full Moon Night 8. Here and Elsewhere 9. At Times a Man Growing Old 10. Old Things to Talk Over 11. A Grey Haze Over the Ricefields 12. The Lie of Dawns
The Hindu 5 sep 2010 [...] This comprehensive volume... has representative poems from fourteen out of sixteen volumes of poetry he has published till date, starting, appropriately enough, with the third volume, Waiting (1979). With this, Mahapatra burst onto the scene of Indian English Poetry in the nineteen seventies with his, to quote him, ‘language plus' approach to writing verse. The volume includes, alas, just one poem (“The Sprouting Grass”) translated into English by the poet from the original Oriya, permitting us a quick glimpse of his bilingualism. Creating worlds [his] verse hinges on ambiguity. But ambiguity is not a mere formal matter in Mahapatra. It cuts to his poetry's very bone. Since Mahapatra creates his world out of ordinary words and things such as stone, ash, wood, dust and bone, he cannot make them take on a burden of meaning without pushing them beyond their linguistic borders. The stretching makes the cultural coding of these words, their significations, explicit in order for us to die for or vie against them. To give just one example, the Oriya deity, Lord Jagannath, who is a pervasive presence in his poetry, is carved of wood and hence the troubled reflection on the ‘haunted wood and the hunted myth' and the ‘swaddled sod' (“The Lost Children of America”). In invoking these words and their subconscious meanings and associations Mahapatra's poetry operates simultaneously on the sacred and the secular planes. We see the mythic invocation at the start of his Sahitya Akademi award-winning iconic poem “Relationship”, which is an extended meditation on the sense of place, identity and belonging. These lines, reminiscent of Eliot's gesture of expiation, show why: Those who've been my friends … have known only how to keep walking toward themselves along the upraised road, unsullied by guilt and belief: the rapture of ownership on their voluble faces As the long poem unfolds, myths of his home land are seen in close interplay with what Mahapatra calls ‘this earth-sense'. “We are delivered by the myth”, says the poet. But poetry for him clearly has many other uses and ruses, not the least of which is a simultaneous interrogation of and quest for the self. The fact of the self being trapped within a ‘social order' (“Grandfather”) produces the angst of Mahapatra's poetry which then has for its goal the self's authentication.