nthposition online magazine

The orientalist, Quietus, Shore leave, Vigil, Golden orioles & Dome

by Ranjit Hoskote

[ poetry - december 03 ]

The orientalist

He went back to drafting policies of state
but never forgot the courtesan in the Sanskrit play.

She wrote him letters on pages folded
in triangles like betel leaves

but did not wait for the beloved and spring;
creepers soothed her, her lamp-lit hours passed

among the scented shadows of lovers.

 

Quietus

Silence is clean, a frigate leaving a harbour
with no siren wailing.

Silence is a tureen that needs no scouring
for the last stains of grammar.

Silence is fire,
a threat with no reprieve.

Silence is a panther
that stalks us through jade eyes.

 

Shore leave

The sea floods your canals, heaves at your gates:
inside you, our child learns the sail-maker's art.

 

Vigil

Lover, listening at the keyhole,
married to a whisper on the phone,
the rustle of a dress.

How many rivals he has shot
across the hedges
of sleepless nights.

Hiding behind the arabesques
of the mirror, scarf knotted tight
as his breath, conspirator.

 

Golden orioles

for Anju Dodiya

The window's aflame with sunset
but she isn't looking or really there.

She floats above the couch,
a hypnotist standing by

to catch her dreams. She's shivering,
afraid to close her eyes at night:

Will her lids burn, her images escape,
her eyes fly away, a pair of golden orioles?

The wakeful hypnotist falls asleep at last.
She drifts, the room too small to detain her.

She dreams of flying naked through the air,
unhindered by the costume of who she is.

 

Dome

for Masud

Dates never change
on the calendar of faith

but light and wind are playing tricks
with the past.

Words split like isotopes
in this peacetime landscape

of abandoned courtyards, empty cradles,
withered gardens and broken roofs.

Only the madman, in his garland of dried flowers,
has the right of passage here

and the blind beggar who recollects nothing
except the spider ticking in his wired skull.

For a second, between two versions
of an echo, the past doesn't happen:

the dome remains, a roc's egg
veined blue, shelled by wind.

Confess
to no crime of identity.

Wait until the guillotine falls
in the vast silence of the heart.