Author of three books of poetry, VINITA AGRAWAL is a Mumbai based, award winning poet and writer. She is Editor Womaninc.com, an online platform that addresses gender issues. Recipient of the Gayatri GaMarsh Memorial Award for Literary Excellence, USA, 2015, her poems have appeared in Asiancha, Constellations, The Fox Chase Review, Pea River Journal, Open Road Review, Stockholm Literary Review, Poetry Pacific, Mithila Review and other journals. Vinita was nominated for the Best of the Net Awards in 2011, and was awarded first prize in the Wordweavers contest 2014.
step by step by step
I cross the years without you
form and shadow one now
Outside the high rise window
an expanse of shanties
that my five year old neighbor
calls paper houses.
Faded, tiled roofs,
the colour of a sparrow’s bones
conceal small dark quarters
painted a shade of Tibetan turquoise.
Narrow alleys separate the houses
Men in lungis smoke beedis on verandas
Women queue up
before the single community tap
waiting for water
that arrives like a royal guest
departs like a celebrity.
Still, in the evening,
they hang sparkling halogens on bamboo poles
around a large mud square
play popular music on loudspeakers
hold hands and dance
men, women, children
till late into the night.
Until someone from my building
says, could they please stop the blaring of the loudspeakers – It’s past ten.
The tall lonely windows can hardly bear the
abandonment, I guess.
Can hardly tolerate the putting aside
of a mountain of troubles
go with the flow
live in the moment.
A terrible intrusion
into plush rooms where corners turn inwards
rise up to drown the inhabitants.
As you graduate, we’d like to tell you this
There’s no greater joy for us or more gratifying bliss
There you are in a black cape, a rolled-up degree in your hand
Can you see our beaming faces and how proudly we stand?
When you entered the world we made sure we’d give you roots
Now it swells our heart to see your gleaming shoots
We pat your back for dedication, your hard work sublime
Your devotion wholehearted to the challenges of time
When you lay in the cradle we knew not how you’d fare
Because in life’s tough battles thorns are always there
But today seems the right time to hold you close and say
Our anxieties were unfounded, you’ve excelled in every way
A long road stretches ahead for you so go leave your mark
To light up glorious pathways with your inimitable spark
Inimitable and unique is what your name implies
May your achievements touch distinguished rainbow skies
Love is giving wings to pursue cherished dreams
It’s also about coming home whenever the heart deems
Walk right back to us whenever your heart desires
Your home is warm with love’s undying fires
Our blessings drench your path, our prayers are by your side
There are also some special stars -your exclusive guides
May the music of your soul play a melodious chime
May happiness come flooding to you, each and every time
Exile is agony
It gores my mind
I die a million deaths
Pining for my land divine
Mahakal – The Giant Wheel Of Time
Asah – “The fire had gone, leaving only ash.”
This ash is rouged
Picked in fistfuls when still warm
from cremation grounds
and smeared on the black lingam
after it’s been bathed with milk, honey and ghee.
It sticks well to shiva’ s parabolic form
the way death sticks well to colloidal life
A powdery, grey interlocutor
between destruction and creation
adorned with marigolds, sandalwood paste
and vermillion, how can transition not be celebrated?
The air listens carefully to the voices buried
deep within the milky core of cinders
A life, obsolete – the way darkness is to dawn
Open bones, flesh, sinews all calcite now
And the great Mahakal – the giant wheel of time
sucking scars from one birth to the next through the membranes of ash.
Her home –
a bare garden
a corner gardener
rooms of shadow
and smears of grey
on black corded drains
the branches of her body
in the singing
of a crow.
the murmur of the sea
heard inside shiny conch shells
Inciter of passion
catalyst for lust : You are Mara
Desolate in light
Ecstatic in shadows
Downcast today, that your cup lies empty
at the edge of your olive elbows.
What would you have us fill it up with?
Our nude pulse, coral heartbeats, garish blood, cobalt veins?
At this hour
when the candle is but a stub
Its flame but a flicker
and the muezzin’s call can be heard from
at this hour, when craving, avarice and passion are conquered
you will be empty handed.
Your limbs melancholy
Countenance green with envy
for what you want but can never have.
It is a gentle shape
this white moon
my father gave me
the night he passed away.
It hangs under the window every night.
A farewell gift.
Leaves the skies quietly at dawn
to slide into my throat all day.
Some nights it returns;
chipped, halved, sliced,
Scarred, like the face of pain
but always there… like a presence that’s never left.
All doors to the house stood open
hoping for the alchemy of friends
visitors, acquaintances…anyone, someone
Hoping they’d swoop in through the wide open spaces like gulls
nurse the old lady with hellos and hi s
Transform this rectangular space of four corners to a circle of petrichor pleasantness
but no one came.
People just too busy
to spend time with a lonely octogenarian
She gulped syllables of endless silence
despite the open doors.
The gulls flew away
Shadows lengthened inside the open doors
This is how it ought to be
Free to think, in action free
Smoke of morn from darkness freed
Light of dew on leaves of seed
Angst wiped clean from day’s sad face
Swab of gold in sun’s bright rays
Honey of sounds in robin’s song
Hope eternal through despair’s strong
Bliss of life, kiss of life
Call of sweetness brought alive
What Is Poetry
Poetry is not a mouthpiece
Amplifying the beats of a million hearts like a song
Rather, it is silent and anaemic like the soundless tired fall of an autumn leaf
Like the voiceless bundle of sad creases on an elephant’s face scrutinizing lost cover
Poetry is about the dark alleys
Lurking behind false bright smiles
It is like white piano keys
Cowering against the brittle black
Poetry might appear dead at times
But it is alive, like a wound beneath a scab
Pick on it with mind’s talons
And it oozes fresh blood always
Poetry is diffident like a lost scent
Intimate only if you have a story of your own
Otherwise like the earth’s hard crust, you can walk all over it
Without discovering a thing
For its real treasures lie buried deep within
Revealed best against the odds of life
Like the seven dyes of white light
Bursting into a rainbow, when up against the sun
I don’t know why romance exists in books
if it doesn’t on life’s pages.
Heroes – considerate, understanding, respectful
Oak and jacaranda in one
Caramel on Sula lips
perceptions that one could tune
the soul’s wavelength to.
Physiques – a never ending tropical summer
an enticing brown sapodilla.
It doesn’t exist
except in books and movies.
In reality, romance is
ephemeral as a ghost
intangible as a vision
a vapid masses of inertia on the bed
always haggard with life’s burdens
lacking the esoteric mojo
of being LOVE
as fragile as a flower stem
always threatening to disappear.
Its very presence
a heavy cross to bear.
Dunes Of Life
Without the wind
the dunes would not be shaped.
The Samoon shouldering
poisoning the mauve of the night
pumicing hillocks into sand drifts
sand piles into hazel knolls.
Crimping, pleating, kneading
fawn grit into ribbons of pleasure
like a welcome tribute to the rising sun.
Without the wind
sand would be locked in its stifling grain.
Deep between us too
the hot siroccos of forced silences
the cold Bise, chipping our eyes to stony flints
the foehns enveloping us in dryness
the Gibli- that tickles more than anything else
and the sensational, liberating monsoon winds
binding, repairing – brokenness of every kind.
We both know
that winds are the axial
to the dunes of life
the dynamics of living, enduring, conquering
dispersing the salt.
At the window of our home
without the winds
we’d be trapped.
The heron swoops up in flight
outlines of trees, earth and sky
swallowing in its sharp call
a jade green expanse.
Cinnamon Vs Syria
The farmers first shave the outer bark off the trees
The enemies first kill the men of the country
and then shave off the inner bark
and then wipe out the women and children in a bloody narrative
When Cinnamon is dried, it naturally curls up into “quills.”
When a child dies, it naturally curls up into a Cassia of horror
Those quills are then cut into sticks or crushed into a spice powder.
The prewar population is then displaced, brutally tortured
The cinnamon is dried for use
Euphrates flattened dry…Damascus is ashes
People incorrectly conclude that Ceylon cinnamon is real cinnamon
People incorrectly conclude that real Sarin (C4H10FO2P ) won’t be used in Syria
It’s not. All cinnamon is real cinnamon
It is. The notorious Redline is crossed, the holy Tigris violated.
80-90 percent of cinnamon comes from Indonesia
80-90 percent of ruins are in Alleppo
Cinnamon can be used as a room freshener and a moth repellant
Cruise Missiles can be used as gut slicers and Mosul marauders
Cinnamon can be used both as a spice and a medicine
War can be used both as an end of humanitarianism and as a beginning of hatred
Whatever you do with cinnamon, just please don’t try the cinnamon challenge
Whatever happens in war, just please don’t think that people have a choice
Cinnamon, my favorite spice
Syria, my favorite land.
some bearing the address of an old age home
some a woman’s shelter
Utensils for the Ram Roti community kitchen
where they pack free lunches for patients and their relatives.
An entire lifetime
now palpitating gently
inside crates and cartons
at the front door of a house that’s been sold
its occupants gone.
My husband’s begged me
not to get emotional
We can’t possibly have two dining tables
two sets of sofas, two beds, two kitchens…
Of course we can’t.
But I can have two goodbyes
– to two people who meant the world to me
to whom I owe my existence
The pick up truck arrives
The stuff only fills half its space
But takes up all my heart.
I turn to lock the doors
Hand over they keys to the new owner
And then I gaze long and hard
at the half full truck
about to transport a lifetime of memories.
So this is what a home looks like in the end.
Coconut palms sway, ache
Sturdy strong barks sever green fronds
despite the use of chemical weapons,
knowing that like a Phoenix it must rise,
gathering the ashes of all its resting children
summoning new strength
marking fingers of light amidst grey shadows
White as hope
against the black piano keys of death
crusted to silence in a zone of war.
Can’t understand why sometimes
the simple answer is never love.
Here in this cracked, thirsty
house the incessant rain ponders
the fate of August.
The blood of waiting
slashes the floor in places.
The yellow lime paint
on the outer walls
runs with the rivulets of water
like yellow blood of a jaundiced solitude.
Many times a thick grey cloud
walks right in through the translucent French windows
nudging my lips
with the sweet taste of another monsoon.
Fill the sunken hollows of my eyes
Fill the hollows of my throat
Slope down my shoulders
Soak the dried morels of my hope
Bring me back to life.
In the doorway,
of a house of missing embraces
I break free of my fears that fate
will intervene adversely
and tatter the carefully woven fabric
of life. For weeks I waited alone
in this quiet house for god knows
what or whom. In the airless heat
the wounds of trees festered. But
no more. No more shall the stars
strangle the navy linen of the sky
or choke me with grief.
They are diamond
hard pin points of resolve now –
that destiny’s winds will
not cause my eyes to flicker like
trapped wings inside a lantern.
The slim wrists of the unknown
cannot wield wicked swords. Cannot
wreak havoc. I will not anticipate
the worst –
the clear light of the present is at my
window folding inside the origami
of my heart like a boat of peace.
Your skin on mine
as though the Kharosthi of harsh days
scribbled on the birch barks of our dermis
should fade in rapid Himalayan rain
and discover a new script
to be etched with peacock feathers.
This mating, this rewriting of
of past imbroglios
this transition from monochrome to colour
is a palimpsest perfumed with the cirrus of grace, new resolves, carefree winds.
The rare mud of lips, borrowed from the belly of time
The pale eucalyptus oil
that warms gently above soft votives
mutes the harsh imprints of yesterday.
We are interchanged notes now
toned to gentle teal –
whatever shows up from the past,
whatever is effaced – is love
This overwriting is love.
Warps Of Left, Wefts Of Right
On my left
a husband spewing harsh words
at his son
words that converge like a scorching sunbeam
on the convex mirror of a young heart
and pierce the delicate white of tender sentiments
burning bridges forever.
On my right
the scalded convex mirror heart
downcast, every eyelash a tapestry of un sutured hurt
absorbing how words cut the worst of all
making me want to fill craters of spoken bitterness
with scoopfuls of the aloe gel of motherly love
This is the battleground of home:
a marshy wetland of vulnerability
where I am at the exact mean
of attack and defense.
I must wrap iron in velvet
and velvet in steel.
I must contain a turbulent simmering angst
with a gentle pleading look.
My voice the pacifier to one
My eyes the advisor to the other.
Left or Right
both sides intersect and cross
into a painstakingly woven nest
An Address Of Its Own
I return to my old house after years
yearning to see everything the way it was
The rubber tree with pointy red shoots that turn a dark olive
by the time the sun rays circumambulate the house
The immaculate lawns that shine invitingly every time they see someone
The weathered, faded rectangular verandah
as if it’s an address all by itself
How many times did we sink into its lime cushioned cane chairs at tea time
inviting the first pitter-patter of monsoon drops to lace our cups like heavenly wine
indulgently eyeing MooshMoosh dangling her legs over the edge
ready to pounce on squirrels, her pink conical ears cocked for the slightest sound.
The yellow 4-arms water sprinklers whir steadily
And aluminium pipes eject thin fountains of water on the emerald grass
The cuckoo drenches the afternoon with her sweet call
forcing me to admit that everything is the same
except that nothing is or ever will be again.
I murmur I love you to the spiky grey walls that cocooned the velvety white warmth of home, the gardener, the stray dogs, the cleaning man with the sweeping broom, the dhobi who whizzed past on his Luna,
to the fallen laburnums exhausted by the tar road that’s waited too long for me to return.
I love you all.
It is war time
(When is it not?)
But today is unforgiving
The bombs strike hard
Tear down barriers of mothers
and burst little children like balloons.
Blood splatters inside their tiny teeth canals
Blood splatters on my doorway
when I bend to pick up the newspaper.
My day darkens before it has begun.
Mornings are not mornings when children die in war.
The earth doesn’t want graves measuring 2×3
It doesn’t have enough rain to wash away the blood
Children don’t want territory
Mothers don’t want to collect severed limbs of offsprings.
Over the tops of conifers
where mists cling silkily to needle pines
where the scent of infinite peace lovingly darkens tall barks
where soil offers flowers and emerald grass
I gaze at the news reports and wonder
Who is it
That wants war.
Sclera Of Gates
I have locked myself in others
and my breath lies to me about my existence.
I know Gates await me near the damp sky
Near the waiting moon, near the violet vapors
where stars unlearn brightness
learn to become dust again.
The blunt leaves of life, well shed in autumn,
seek to fly softly and merge into darkness
I have made my own opaque cruelties
My own opaque weaknesses
They won’t pass through the eye of the needle
Nothing that’s not light will pass through
The sclera of those Gates swims with pure reasons
I’m collecting reasons for the Gates to open
When the seasons change
and flowers reveal what they have hidden in their folds
I shall turn into light
Know that the thread shall pass through at last.
The sun today is the same color of joy
I woke up to at fourteen.
Vermillion red in violet skies
like a poppy growing wild in ashen Kabul
Tinged with liberation
Harbinger of a day that’s happy because it’s empty.
Having ‘nothing to do’ is a privilege
A secret motto
A preset for energy to do boundless things.
The glistening carmine sunrise
is in eye contact with me again
like it was many moons ago.
I haven’t seen one quite the same since.
Mornings mean less as we grow older.
Dawns spell themselves differently from different windows.
It’s enough sometimes that we collect our aching bones
inside our skin and wake up
to wake the others up
Ease their day for them as we best know how
even if it is not enough.
It’s okay not to raise our eyes to the horizons
assess the sunrise
and log its color in the ledgers of memory for what it’s worth.