Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The coming storm

In some subway
In some town off the road
In some autumn afternoon
The rain dribbles on
Wet coats, the sheep huddle closer
Boats argue. Rising waves are impenitent.

Wordsworth wanders: lonely. A cloud swarms with intent.
Walls begin to speak. The storm is imminent.

Friday, 23 September 2011

One life, three poems

From childhood's hour I have not been
As others were — I have not seen
As others saw — I could not bring
My passions from a common spring —
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow — I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone —
And all I lov'd — I lov'd alone —
Then — in my childhood — in the dawn
Of a most stormy life — was drawn
From ev'ry depth of good and ill
The mystery which binds me still —
From the torrent, or the fountain —
From the red cliff of the mountain —
From the sun that 'round me roll'd
In its autumn tint of gold —
From the lightning in the sky
As it pass'd me flying by —
From the thunder, and the storm —
And the cloud that took the form
(When the rest of Heaven was blue)
Of a demon in my view —

Edgar Allen Poe, "Alone", written when the poet was only 20 years old.

                When I talk to my friends I pretend I am standing on the wings

of a flying plane. I cannot be trusted to tell them how I am.
Or if I am falling to earth weighing less

than a dozen roses. Sometimes I dream they have broken up

with their lovers and are carrying food to my house.
When I open the mailbox I hear their voices

like the long upward-winding curve of a train whistle

passing through the tall grasses and ferns
after the train has passed. I never get ahead of their shadows.

I embrace them in front of moving cars. I keep them away

from my miseries because to say I am miserable is to say I am like them.  

How I am, a poem by Jason Shinder.
Copyright© 2005 by Jason Shinder. First published in The American Poetry Review, November/December 2005.

                              An open door says, “Come in.”
A shut door says, “Who are you?”
Shadows and ghosts go through shut doors.
If a door is shut and you want it shut,
     why open it?
If a door is open and you want it open,
     why shut it?
Doors forget but only doors know what it is
     doors forget.
Doors a poem by Carl Sandburg, from The Sandburg Range.

Monday, 19 September 2011


The song outside the window is familiar. There is only one tiny bird that can sustain such a long and complex song– after all it is the most complicated song performed by any bird. The females of the species must be complimented on their exceptionally high musical standard and the near impossibly perfect singing ability they seek for in their future mates.
The song of the winter wren brings back memories of another wren and a poet who once wondered, "is my... verse alive." Her poems not only breathe but are daring, original and melodic just like the song of the wren.

We have had a new visitor to our garden; the few pots on our second floor apartment for us are our ‘for the time being’ garden. Blue tits and great tits visit our bird feeder daily. And the chaffinches too come by to meditate upon life, universe and everything. While the blackbirds have occasionally felt compelled to put in a show. But this new visitor, diminutive with its tail cocked upwards, has recently started stopping by once every few days to skip up and down our Fuchsia ‘Mrs. Popple’. And without disturbing a twig leaves as it came - very quietly. For a bird that’s supposed to have an ‘astonishing loud song’ for its size this one for the time being seems, regretfully, to have nothing to sing about.

But I write about our honoured guest because it always symbolized for me someone who famously described herself as "I am small, like the wren, and my hair is bold, like the chestnut bur, and my eyes like the sherry in the glass that the guest leaves." Scholars have debated these few words ad nauseam. What did Emily mean by ‘like the wren’? Theories have filled many books lining the libraries of many colleges. Probably many scholarly careers have been celebrated and ruined just by ascribing some appropriate or erroneous characteristic to the bird of choice - the wren.

So, here I sit on an exceptionally cold December morning watching our little wren move from twig to twig and I too recall some more of Emily Dickinson’s words:
Shall I take thee, the Poet said
To the propounded word?
Be stationed with the Candidates
Till I have finer tried –

The Poet searched Philology

And then about to ring
For the suspended Candidate
There came unsummoned in –

That portion of the Vision

The Word applied to fill
Not unto nomination
The Cherubim reveal -

The Winter Wren's inimitable musical repertoire can be sampled here. It is magical!
First posted as  The Wren, Mrs Popple and Emily Dickinson.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Thinking, Tangling Shadows

Thinking, tangling shadows in the deep solitude.
You are far away too, oh farther than anyone.
Thinking, freeing birds, dissolving images,
burying lamps.

Belfry of fogs, how far away, up there!
Stifling laments, milling shadowy hopes,
taciturn miller,
night falls on you face downward, far from the city.

Your presence is foreign, as strange to me as a thing.
I think, I explore great tracts of my life before you.
My life before anyone, my harsh life.
The shout facing the sea, among the rocks,
running free, mad, in the sea-spray.
The sad rage, the shout, the solitude of the sea.
Headlong, violent, stretched towards the sky.

You, woman, what were you there, what ray, what vane
of that immense fan? You were as far as you are now.
Fire in the forest! Burn in blue crosses.
Burn, burn, flame up, sparkle in trees of light.

It collapses, crackling. Fire. Fire.
And my soul dances, seared with curls of fire.
Who calls? What silence peopled with echoes?
Hour of nostalgia, hour of happiness, hour of solitude.
Hour that is mine from among them all!
Megaphone in which the wind passes singing.
Such a passion of weeping tied to my body.

Shaking of all the roots,
attack of all the waves!
My soul wandered, happy, sad, unending.

Thinking, burying lamps in the deep solitude.

Who are you, who are you?

XVII (Thinking, Tangling Shadows...) a poem by Pablo Neruda from: Twenty Love Poems And a Song of Despair, (1924).

Sunday, 11 September 2011

there's a bluebird in my heart

there's a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I'm too tough for him,
I say, stay in there, I'm not going
to let anybody see

For most Indians the first bird that comes to mind when someone says bluebird is, but naturally, the peacock. For me, the bluest of blue Indian bird is the Indian Roller. Just a flash of its wings and even the dullest, most drab and monotonously brown landscape gets drenched in a shade that can't be called anything but brilliant blue. However, the blue bird in my heart is a much more diminutive one– but it can sing and it feeds hanging upside down. Who would be so hard-hearted to not allow such a little blue bird into one's heart? And then sometimes the bird in my heart isn't blue at all. It is red.
And here is *Charles Bukowski reading Bluebird– the poem that started all this rumination about birds in the heart. Blue and otherwise.

Friday, 2 September 2011

The Amsterdam Scrapbook


Tot morgen meneer
The eyes catch these words on your wall and life becomes a paper boat floating down the canal. 80’s disco music being optional. The mind asks, “Hoe gaat het met u?” as the boat glides by Lauriergracht passing under the bridge with baskets of red geranium hanging on the rails. There will be snow. Then there will be school children walking in pairs. Then there will be families dining out; the tables with fine cutlery set outside their houses on the curbside along the canals. All the time the coots will be patrolling the canals. Everything will be gezellig.

De appeltaart
There’s you, there’s me, there’s F and there’s D and we are always looking for something. Or more precisely, many different things but often they can all be summarized in one simple word– food. This Saturday we come looking for de appeltaart (met slagroom). Yes, the one. We find it somewhere near Noorderkerk. And we feel akin to the little golden haired boy on the back seat of a bicycle shaking his head in the gentle breeze, and the sun gets in our eyes.

Not the last supper
There are twelve of us sitting down to dinner. And that’s where the similarities begin and end. Later, in the early hours of the morning, I write in my diary– no two people (besides us) were of the same nationality. Isn’t that incredible! English is not the language of the world. Though it is English that in a large part helps our evening flow along.

M is flying back to Sao Paulo the next morning. N is going to ride his bicycle all the way to Barcelona. From Amsterdam to Barcelona! Someone is handing G a Heineken coaster. She flips to the plain side and in a few pen strokes sketches the gist of the night. Chicken and conversation. Food and friendship. Soon all the art people join in.

Some hours later while clearing the table the waitress places the upturned coasters side by side. They form a square 4X4 grid. There’s a story in it somewhere. She stares at them for a few minutes. But the opening sentence, that all too crucial beginning, eludes her. She goes back to wiping the tables.

I look at my plate. Still life with crumbled feta and asparagus. J too is looking at my plate. In fact has looked at it more than once. Aren’t you going to eat that? His Swedish side asks a question that is a precursor to another more pertinent one that his Argentinean side is waiting to ask (or is it the other way round?). But it remains unsaid. Go ahead, I smile.

We will meet again a few days later when the city is painted orange. Compelled by who knows which side, he’ll try to push me into the Prinsengracht. But that’s a different story altogether.

The Bench
There is wine, there are two wine glasses, there is takeaway in paper bags, there are three swans gliding past the houseboats, there is the canal burnished gold, there are the seagulls flying above the spires of the Westerkerk, there are boats and more boats, there is the sound of bicycles going down the cobbled street, there are girls in heels on the bicycles, there is a young man whistling a song that one has heard many times before, there is a glorious day coming to a close; it is summer in Jordaan and a hundred steps away from our front door a bench, the best seat in town, waits.

The Moonlight
Tiny bulbs sparkle along the arches of the bridge. The water is pitch black. Tiny yellow drops of light drip softly and melt into the dark. The streets are full of people. The people, the streets, the gingerbread houses all meld into black. Just to the left of the Westerkerk tower the moon hangs like a silver bowl. An enormous silver bowl. Unreal. This could be a dream. This is a dream. The bells of the church chime the midnight hour.