“With These Rings” by Janet Paisley


(Taken from Words Without Borders)

You are fresh words
on the old stone of time.

Here, silence honors you,
here now, the earth turns,
the sun beats, the rain sings.

You are not adrift
among the wheeling constellations
but held by the hoop of love.

Ancient as the ring of standing stones,
prophetic as a snow-ring round the moon,
marriage is.

Wear your vows well when laughter
is the wine between you

or when night lies like a bolster
down the middle of your bed.

May the cold shoulder of the hill
always afford you shelter.
May the sun always seek you
however dark the place.

We who are wordless know
thorns have roses.

And when you go from this day
the burnished stars go with you.

When you go forward from this day,
the love that grew you
grows with you

and marriage is struck,
iron on stone, hand in hand.

I like two images -“Wear your wows well /when laughter is the wine between you ” and “when night lies like a bolster down the middle of your bed.” Beautiful .Especially “the night lies like a bolster” ,which is visually very evocative.

“While she slept like Vishnu” by Neha Viswanathan

The Ganges is alien to those who
eat rice of the Cauvery delta, he
says. She says she doesn’t care.
She just needs her starch. White
cotton, snakes its form with the
midnight wind. All is a deep shade
of somnambulist blue.

The cats near the Ghat are dazed
by the final flames. The milk in
their stomach curdled, and their
paws kicking dust into the winter
regret. This man, and this woman,
they have gone past the first ten
days of lovemaking.

From tomorrow they will share their
childhood. Their purest parts, the
dirtiest clothes, the smelliest aunts.
Superlatives traded for memories. He
looks wistfully at his new lover, she
sleeps on her palm that rises from
the elbow, slanting.

He will tell her, on their eleventh day
“My dear Kannamma, I will eat even
dirt with you. But rice is preferred.
But you must know this, last night,
I stole a little of you, while you were
sleeping like Vishnu.“

1. Ghats: The term ghats refers to a series of steps leading down to a body of water in many parts of South Asia [From Wikipedia] [back]
2. Kannamma (Tamil): Term of endearment, used for women/ children. [back]
3. From some vague link, an explanation of Vishnu’s reclining pose. “Some Puranic literature refers to him as the eternal, all-pervading spirit and associates him with the primeval waters believed to have been omnipresent before the creation of the world. So regarded, Vishnu is depicted frequently in human form, sleeping on the great serpent Shesha and floating on the waters.” [back]

“White cotton snakes its form with the midnight wind” is a beautiful image.It refers to her long drawn out saree against “somnambulist blue” of the Ganga. “Cats near the ghat are dazed by the final flames” refers to the funeral fires of the dead on the river steps of the Ganga in Varanasi .The most beautiful image is the woman “sleeping like Vishnu”.Vishnu is the primal God responsible for the preservation of the Universe and he sleeps on the folds of the snake in the ocean of milk from where He controls the world. On the river ghat ,witnessing the cremation fires she sleeps like Vishnu,who controls life preservation ! He of the Cauvery belt ,a rice-eater comes here 2000 kms to this ancient city to experience its intense beauty and its spirituality .

“8 Count”- A poem by Charles Bukowvski

from my bed
I watch
3 birds
on a telephone
one flies
one is left,
it too
is gone.
my typewriter is
and I am
reduced to bird
just thought I’d
let you

A very matter-of-fact style. The irony is what stands out. The only important image-“my typewriter is tombstone” brings out the frustrating creative block that the poet is experiencing.The birds leaving the telephone wire one by one -a repetitive activity recalls the classical story that never ends-one sparrow picks up the grain,then another and so on and the story goes on till late into the night. The writer’s block is humorously turned into a subject for a poem : “just thought I would let you know,fucker”

“The Moment” by Margaret Athwood

The moment when, after many years
of hard work and a long voyage
you stand in the centre of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there,
and say, I own this,

is the same moment when the trees unloose
their soft arms from around you,
the birds take back their language,
the cliffs fissure and collapse,
the air moves back from you like a wave
and you can’t breathe.

No, they whisper. You own nothing.
You were a visitor, time after time
climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.
We never belonged to you.
You never found us.
It was always the other way round.

Margaret Atwood


“the moment when the trees unlose their soft arms from around you” is a nice image. The poet is talking about how we do not own nature and the moment we claim ownership of a house or a territory we lose touch with nature .Nature whispers that we do not own her ;rather she owns us. You were just a visitor,climbing the hill and planting a flag proclaiming ownership but the hill never belonged to you. “the air moves back from you like a wave” is another nice image ,immediately followed by “you cannot breathe”.That is because the trees have”unloosed their soft arms around you” ,depriving you of the precious oxygen which is essential for your life.

“The Waste Land.” by T.S.Eliot


April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch.
And when we were children, staying at the archduke’s,
My cousin’s, he took me out on a sled,
And I was frightened. He said, Marie,
Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.
In the mountains, there you feel free.
I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.”

The beauty of the poem is the inter-woven rhythms drawn largely from
different myths of oriental as well as occidental cultures.The lyrical
beauty of the poem is not allowed to be distracted by the
obscure-sounding classical references.”in the mountains there you feel free” is hauntingly beautiful.”I read much of the night and go south in the winter”- the usage captivated us so much when we were College students.The juxtaposition of two situations in different time frames (I read ,much of the night-a shorter time frame :juxtaposed with “go South in the winter”-a longer time frame) is a clever use.

“Mary,Mary ,hold on tight” is almost onamatopaeic ,suggestive of the speed of the sled as it hurtles down.
“April is the cruellest month/Breeding lilacs out of the dead land/Mixing memory and desire” is almost Shakespearean and anticipates the impossibility of regeneration out of death that comes much later in the poem:

“Stetson,you who were with me at Mylae/That corpse you planted last year/Has it sprouted?Will it bloom this year?

“The second coming” by W.B.Yeats

TURNING and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at laSt,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

People have interpreted the poem in different ways ,trying to understand the basic theme .Despite the difficulty in putting together what Yeats would possibly have meant, the poem continues to be popular among scholars as well as ordinary folk.That Yeats is talking about the Messiah coming out of the chaos in order to straighten it out is fairly clear but the confusion is why the Second Coming refers to the beast from the sandy desert and if it represents evil why it is moving towards Bethlehem .The lines are very epigrammatic: “The best lack all conviction; the worst are full of passionate intensity”. It is as though Yeats has predicted the wave of terrorism that has drowned the sanity of the present world. Yeats had a deep interest in Hinduism which is what seems to account for the belief that whenever there is chaos thee will emerge a Messiah out of the disorder. The Gita says that whenever the world is weighed down by the burden of mankind’s sins God will take a human form and appear to set the world in order.

“The cord” by Leanne O’Sullivan

I used to lie on the floor for hours after

school with the phone cradled between

my shoulder and my ear, a plate of cold

rice to my left, my school books to my right.

Twirling the cord between my fingers

I spoke to friends who recognized the

language of our realm. Throats and lungs

swollen, we talked into the heart of the night,

toying with the idea of hair dye and suicide,

about the boys who didn’t love us,

who we loved too much, the pang

of the nights. Each sentence was

new territory, like a door someone was

rushing into, the glass shattering

with delirium, with knowledge and fear.

My Mother never complained about the phone bill,

what it cost for her daughter to disappear

behind a door, watching the cord

stretching its muscle away from her.

Perhaps she thought it was the only way

she could reach me, sending me away

to speak in the underworld.

As long as I was speaking

she could put my ear to the tenuous earth

and allow me to listen, to decipher.

And these were the elements of my Mother,

the earthed wire, the burning cable,

as if she flowed into the room with

me to somehow say, Stay where I can reach you,

the dim room, the dark earth. Speak of this

and when you feel removed from it

I will pull the cord and take you

back towards me.

From Waiting for My Clothes, 2004

Bloodaxe Books(Copyright 2004 Leanne O’Sullivan.)

The poem has some extremely pretty visual images (I have italicized some of them for identification). So much has been built around a telephone cord. Throats and lungs swollen we talked into the heart of the night toying with the idea of hair-dye and suicide .A schoolgirl ‘s prattle goes out into the sea of darkness outside of her cozy home through the telephone cable reaching her friend some distance away, talking of hair-dye and suicide in the same breath. Each sentence was a new territory, opening up doors to newer realms of topics with knowledge and trepidation. Watching its cord stretching its muscle away from her is a highly visual-dynamic image of the coiled telephone cable and evokes the schoolgirl moving away from her mother’s influence trying to build her own world. As long as she was speaking, the mother could put her ear to the tenuous earth and allow her to decipher the world. These were the elements of my mother: the earthed wire, the burning cable, as if she flowed into the room with me to somehow say, stay where I can reach you, the dim room, the dark earth –beautiful visual images.