“The Maggots”- A poem by Kamala Das

At sunset, on the river ban, Krishna
Loved her for the last time and left…
That night in her husband’s arms, Radha felt
So dead that he asked, What is wrong,
Do you mind my kisses, love? And she said,
No, not at all, but thought, What is
It to the corpse if the maggots nip?

[from The Descendants]
Kamala Das

One of the finest of Kamala Das, a forthright female(not feminist) poet of India ,equally comfortable in her mother-tongue Malayalam and in English, the poem strikes one for the terseness of her language and the beautiful narrative form she has adopted here in this poem. First , the narrative form.

The poem begins at the beginning. Krishna had loved Radha that evening on the river ban. “Loved” is a usage that suggests a continuous emotion .How could Krishna have loved her for the last time? Was it that he made love to her for the last time, a sensual act by a lover to his beloved and is one- time? No.If that were so ,he would not have loved her and left.

The narrative goes on to what happened in the night after Krishna had loved and left.Her husband made love to her (not loved her) . In his arms Radha felt so dead that his kisses felt like maggots on a corpse.Did she mind the kisses,a considerate husband would ask.No. Not at all.It hardly mattered to Radha who was already dead to any love.After Krishna had left Radha became dead to any love.The kisses were just maggots on her corpse.Did the corpse feel the maggots nipping it?

The narrative form adopted is beautiful.The first two lines tersely deal with the events that happened before what unfolds in the next stanza, which is about the love act between Radha and her husband. The first two lines are a preface to what the poem speaks about in the next stanza.

The event of love making between Radha and her husband is dealt with not in a third party narrative style but as a dialogue:

what is wrong,
Do you mind my kisses,love?

And she said
No,not all.

(but thought)

What is it to the corpse if the maggots nip?

The maggot thing Radha merely thought.She did not say it to her husband, So we have a prior event of Krishna having loved and left,told in a third party narration. Then we have a narrative of what happened in the night by a dialogue between Radha and her husband , followed by what Radha thought, i.e. what happenedinside her. A beautiful narrative form.

“She felt so dead that he asked…” is layered with meaning. Love(not love making) is what makes you alive. The moment Krishna loved and left Radha felt like a corpse to all sensations. The husband’s kisses are mere maggots feeding on her dead body. So she thought. She did not say it. But she felt so dead that…made all that clear.

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“Astronomer”_ A poem by A.K.Ramanujan

Sky-man in a manhole
with astronomy for dream,
astrology for nightmare;

fat man full of proverbs,
the language of lean years,
living in square after

almanac square
prefiguring the day
of windfall and landslide

through a calculus
of good hours,
clutching at the tear

in his birthday shirt
as at a hole
in his mildewed horoscope,

squinting at the parallax
of black planets,
his Tiger, his Hare

moving in Sanskrit zodiacs,
forever troubled
by the fractions, the kidneys

in his Tamil flesh,
his body the Great Bear
dipping for the honey,

the woman-smell
in the small curly hair
down there.

 

A.K.Ramanujan

Love A.K.’s short poems like this. A thumb nail sketch of an astronomer-astrologist , a Tamil home-grown scholar who dabbles in the twin subjects of astrology and astronomy. Not that the subjects are inter-related but in our culture the man who fixes the auspicious time for your son’s marriage or your grandson’s school entry is also an astronomer of sorts, who claims knowledge of the skies. A sky man in a manhole. He knows the Great Bear constellation ,with a great bear of a body with a hunger for the female flesh, the woman smell down there.

Great bear dipping for the honey

A lovely image.Bears are known for their love of honey. This bear dips for the honey in the small curly hair down there.Exquisite .Mark the physical act of “dipping” in the woman smell down there.

The bear image extends from the Great Bear of the stars from the high sky (Sky Man) to the man in his hole , with astronomy for dream, astrology for nightmare. The sensual imagery used here contrasts with the airy words of the man who speaks authoritatively from the astral charts (squares of zodiacs) precisely pinpointing the influence of the stars on our lives.But he is a poor man who has astronomy for a living ,trying to grapple with the holes in his own shirt. For ever troubled by the fractions, he deals only in whole numbers and has a language of the “lean years”.

When called upon to point the stars he has to squint at the black stars in a parallax , at his Tiger and his Hare because their position appears different each time. He combines the knowledge of astronomy fitfully with astrology to make his living. His constellations are always in a state of flux based upon the squares of his almanac ,which themselves reflect the changing views of the sky.

The sky man is essentially an earthy soul who dips just like the Great Bear for its honey down there.

 

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“THE POET”- by P.Lal

For all his wild hair like an aureole,
Stammer at parties, slipping from a tram,
Putting off the mending of a sole,
And putting on a mock-heroic Damn!,
He notices the spider’s intestines
Claim harlot, smuggler and blackmarketeer,
And in the clicking grin his eye divines
A moody world of artifice and fear.

Above all, this: When a woman turns
Black clouds of hair, with a rhythmic hand
Weaving their silk in the possessive sun,
He sees her common eyes stretch to a land
O lost, lost; as when repentance yearns
For hope,and love, and finds that there is none.

http://www.geocities.com/varnamala/plal.html

Of course the the poet is talking about a poet. A clumsy poet who wears his hair like an aureole,stammers at parties,slips from a tram and puts off the mending of a sole. But he is agile and observant ,noticing all those things like the spider’s intestines claiming harlot,smuggler and black marketeer .In the “clicking” grin he divines a moody world of artifice and fear.

The most beautiful part of the poem is the image that comes in the second stanza .In this the poet “sees” an exaggerated poetry in the woman’s eyes when they were just common.When the woman turns black clouds of hair ,with a rhythmic hand weaving their silk in the possessive sun,he sees her eyes stretch to a land lost ,as when repentance yearns for hope and love and finds that there is none. Delicious.The poet ,rather too quickly,divines a moody world of artifice and fear.

One wonders if the poet is having a quiet dig at our poet friend who is spinning fancy tales about the woman who is standing in the sun to comb her hair.

“THE HILL” by Nissim Ezekiel

 

This normative hill
like all others
is transparently accessible,
out there
and in the mind,
not to be missed
except in peril of one’s life.
Do not muse on it
from a distance:
it’s not remote
for the view only,
it’s for the sport
of climbing.
What the hill demands
is a man
with forces flowering
as from the crevices
of rocks and rough surfaces
wild flowers
force themselves towards the sun
and burn
for a moment.
How often must I
say to myself
what I say to others:
trust your nerves–
in conversation or in bed
the rhythm comes.
And once you begin
hang on for life.
What is survival?
What is existence?
I am not talking about
poetry. I am
talking about
perishing
outrageously
and calling it
activity.
I say: be done with it.
I say:
you’ve got to love that hill.
Be wrathful, be impatient
that you are not
on the hill. Do not forgive
yourself or other,
though charity
is all very well.
.

The poem has some very nice images. I particularly like the image of the wild flowers that burst out of the rock crevice to burn briefly. The metaphor of the hill runs throughout: the hill is normative ; the hill is for the sport of climbing , not for musing on from a distance and in the end ,you flow into another kind of time which is the hill you thought you always knew. The image of–flowing into another kind of time does not seem to jell with the idea of flowing into the hill unless one imagines our consciousness entering the hill like a kind of stream flowing through the hills.

The last lines are very rich :

Do not rest
in irony or acceptance.
Man should not laugh
when he is dying.
In decent death
you flow into another kind of time
which is the hill
you always thought you knew.

“POEM” By Gieve Patel

What is it between
A woman’s legs draws destruction
To itself? Each war sees bayonets
Struck like flags in
A flash of groin blood.
The vicious in-law
Places spice or glowing cinder
On that spot. Little bird-mouth
Woman’s second,
Secret lip, in-drawn
Before danger, opened
At night to her lover.
Women walk the earth fully clothed,
A planetary glow dispelling
The night of dress,
A star rising where
Thigh meets belly: target spot
Showered
With kisses, knives.

The poem talks about destruction inherent in the human condition,the inevitability of love and regeneration leading to death and destruction.Little bird-mouth,woman’s second,secret lip,indrawn before danger,opened to her lover . For a brief while,after wars and domestic violence, born of the power games of nations and homes, love prevails.The planetary glow of the archetypal woman dispels her night of dress and a star rises where thigh meets belly but the target spot is showered with kisses and knives.

I like the poem for its tautness of construction and the amazing economy of words which make the poem sound almost classical.Some very rich lines like little bird-mouth…,bayonets struck like flags in a flash of groin blood ,a star rising where thigh meets belly,target spot showered with kisses and knives make the poem a memorable one.

“Love” – a poem by Hrishikesan B

Love

My mother never told me
Love is a bottle of mango pickles
She used to put in my cotton bag
Every time I leave my home town

One day
Her season of mangoes ended
And never returned”

A simple poem on a very simple theme ,very effectively used image .Those of us who know what mother’s mango pickles signify for a son who is studying in a different city will understand this.
Heart-rending is the “season of mangoes never returning” .

A Malayalam poem in English ! That is what he says in the other poem
Thinking somewhere …

The bus conductor
Pushed me out
As I was leaning on a foot board
For support
In an open public bus
Going somewhere
In Mumbai city
In the early
Twenty first century
Thinking about
A Malayalam poem
In English.

Indeed ! Here is my poem on the subject of a mother . A Telugu poem in English ?

My mother’s brocades

My mother’s moth-balled
Brocades , a whole lot of them,
Are lying systematically stacked up
In her ancient wooden cupboard
They smell of her ,the smell
That belonged to a slice of her life.

This yellow one which she wore
Just once in her life had wrapped
A coy twenty-year-old bride
Tentatively setting her dainty foot
Into the hesitant bridal home .

Somewhere in the backwoods
Several industrious silkworms
Had spun miles of salivary yarn
In the foliage of the mulberry tree
To make this gorgeous five-yard saree .

The rustle of the silk drowned
The wails of the boiling cocoons
These worms died that beauty would live
In their plaintive cries lay new bridal hopes .

My mother, the coy bride of yesteryears,
Is now as non-existent as the worms
That had ceased to exist spinning
The smooth silk for her bridal finery .

Her bridal fragrance lives on among
The delicate folds of these gossamer silks
That the worms had died weaving
Death is so fragrant and so memorable.

 

“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 .