Chandramohan Sathyanathan

 

The Earth
The earth
Adorns herself alternately
In thick foliage of green and
The capricious ebb and flow of the blue,

Each ray of the sun
chisels  her a garment for her curves of
Mountains and gorges
Like a layer of dense air.

I start unwrapping this onion- like layers of drapery.
They are plaits of soiled bed-sheets
Branching out from her midriff like
rivulets of a river.

I discover cavities
With girths like
Hips of Venus
Or chest of mars.

She hides herself
In different layers of fabric
Through its mantles
Like a poem drifting along
A rainbow -like shard of an arc.

Scrolls of scriptural injunctions
Ooze from her orifices with the hiss of uncoiling snakes.

Certain inner layers are like
Holy books,
Light once entrapped
Never escapes: illuminated for eternity!

The heat from the earth’s core
Drives the machinery of
My muse.

 

THIRTEEN WAYS OF LOOKING AT A BLACK BURKINI
(after Wallace Stevens )
“I created the burkini to give women freedom, not to take it away “-Aheda Zanetti

1
Burkini is a language
Terrifying those ignorant of its text.
2
Cops patrol her tan lines
Like dams patrol
Rivers flowing above danger marks.
3
All you need is in that bag:
Change into a garment
More palatable for the cops in uniform.
4
Some garments cling too close to your surname
Like a metaphor
Too loud for good poetry.
5.
Sea surfing can be tiring
Like an infinite ebb and flow of a questionnaire.
Batting an eye lid can be a tad too immodest.
6
Tether yourself close to the beach.
Do not surf too deep into the ocean.
Never self-intersect in circles of knots and tangles.
7
Bruises sustained from frisking
Metamorphose into festering wounds.
Gangrene could gnaw at your surname.
8
Erase your footprints from the sands.
Waves of time rarely wash the footprints of a scuffle.
Prolonged scuffle can bury us all in a deep hole.
9
Do you remember the first corpse
The sea sucked off a turbulent beach?
The sea spat it out after three days of frisking.
10
The footprints of scuffle
Implicates you from shore to shore,
Blowing up all bridges between you and anyone.
11
During this conversation
Some territory has been ceded across
The tan lines of your body.
12
Your body stripped of the garment
Remains an evacuated language.
Can a language be a scarecrow?
13
History will catch up with you
In your rear-view mirror
Even if you are full throttle in your
Pursuit of happiness.

 

My language

The language we speak now,
Once had no fences;
Aggravated trespassing
Has rendered it barren.

At the frontiers of my language
Deployed with an insidious intent
Is a domesticated erstwhile stray-dog
With its bark worse than its bite;
But carefully tethered to harm no one.

If you frequent my tongue
The rust on your tongue-cleaner
Can cause tetanus to your soul.

Introducing an alien tongue in elementary schools
Is like building dams on rivers
Too close to their origins.
The river will be sedated for eternity.

Bitter neem  paste
Smeared around my
Birth-mother’s nipples
To wean me away from my vernacular-
For me to go and kiss the world.

Our minds like bedding with synthetic bed spread
Love betraying us like
My muse calling out the name of her ex-lover in ecstasy.

It requires an inter-generational
Surgical procedure
To remove white man’s bullets
From the spine of my book of poems.

In the autobiography of my vernacular
There were a few suicide notes
Transliterated with an indelible ink
Like the legacy of slave owners
Passed on to the hardbound of my poetry book
-once a stepping pedestal for imperial boots.

My language
Was a tax-free transit point
At one of the world’s shores
Like the Cape of Good Hope.

Now, history of mankind
Snores in my language.

The Muse in the Market place

In the Neo-liberal world
A dog with a collar crosses
The road at the zebra lines.

The vernacular was never its surrogate womb
This poem was not conceived with translation in mind
Will never let itself be adopted
Or exported to worldwide markets
Nor will the metaphors mellow down
To make it amenable to translation
Into an alien tongue.

This poem refuses to undergo painful procedures
Like the long intrusive questionnaire
Cleansing its tracts
Before it is granted a visa
To be read at international festivals.

To be frisked
Through its taut contours
Of line breaks and paragraphs
At airports and check points
With every image bent like a question mark
In ludicrous submission.

Portrait of the poet as a young woman
Her hair
Freshly harvested dreadlocks
Unedited gospel of love
Off limits to combs.

Tresses like streams
Of eternal fire
From the arsenal of her body.

Poems conceived in a celestial tongue
When stars align with caesarean precision.
It is our own language.

Her verses
Are neither left nor right aligned
Time zones hinge at every line break
Like sunflowers UN-aligned to the scorching heat.

Every evening, on her terrace ,
she lets  her hair down and flies kite,
Her verses tell vivid stories
Stitched together in myriad colours.

Her verses gurgle like rivers let loose.
She never braids them
With her bare hands
Before a poetry reading.

When her poems are read
No boyfriend or pimp is allowed
Inside the reading hall.

Her kite, un-tethered to her surname,
Soars high, till it gets entangled with the stars.

Attempting to translate her poems
Is like making love to a capricious mistress.

Her curly, kinky stream of verses
Sway to the rhythm of her gait
Untamed by the clanging of her anklets.

Her book of poems,
a treatise on dishevelled hair
and tresses on fire.

 

Killing  the Shambukas
(Inspired by a famous poem on black lynching)
Jim Crow segregated hostel rooms
Ceiling fans bear a strange fruit,
Blood on books and blood on papers,
A black body swinging in mute silence,
Strange fruit hanging from tridents.

8.My psychological lynching
(written after watching Shankar’s “I”)
I was at a movie-hall the other day
the hero hailing from the slums
speaks in an uncouth slang,
his Angle Saxon girlfriend sets him right
with a tight slap!

From then on
The hero sways in sync with his heroine,
a paler version of his former self.
Keep the body ,take the mind.

plus-size poem

This poem refuses to be
The world’s wife.

This poem is not pimple-free
Is printed on rough paper.

This poem has cellulite in its rear end,
Its rump out sizes itself off the market.

This poem walks the ramp with a self-edited gait
Without introduction or foreword from veterans.

This poem does not opt for offshore liposuction
To make oneself eligible for international prizes.

This poem eludes the trap
In the hourglass of time.

 

When cops come to frisk you

1. Batting an eye lid
In the midst of an excruciating questionnaire
Could be a tad too immodest.

2. He could try mock intimidating techniques
Like the cacophony of revving a car
Engine with gear set to neutral.

3. Learn to steady your breath
Like an undercover cop
In a trigger happy gang.

4. You both have each other’s face
To ascertain the time epochs
Each of you is living in- untranslatable in time.

5. He could lop some withered branch
Of your family tree and ask you to
identify the leaves.

6. If he greets you in your rustic dialect,
Return the serve.

7. He may try to ascertain the blood pressure
Of your privilege coursing your veins.

This whole conversation is jarring like a poem translated
Into a language with no word for the missing rib.

UNTITLED 

I
A poem curled up  in a wrinkled
piece of paper- I read it.

Every reading
unfolds new layers
of previously pulped
meaning

between the lines
between the bars of Guantanamo Bay.

II

A word
lost from a poem
asks another for the way
back into the poem.

Both the words
accompany each other
to the poem.

III
When the police come to frisk you
They will first give you a name,
then distance themselves from you!

Grapes of Wrath
(A poem on migrant labourers in Kerala)

The displaced of capital have come to the capital- Anne Winters

Faceless migrant lads
Tread landscapes of tongues
To be greeted with a lisping embrace
At God’s own country.

 

 Caste in a local train
Caste in a local train can be deceptive
like the soul
of a Pakistani fast bowler camouflaged
in a  three piece suit
and Anglicized accent.

Though seated opposite me,
I can feel him charging on to me.

If my surname is too long
I could be –caught behind.

Will I be trapped leg before wicket
If I attempt a bloodline crossover?

I try to camouflage
into stripes of concocted ancestry
along fresh water currents.

Can I switch over to
My mother’s surname
like switching from
active voice to passive voice
in the midst of a harangue?

Hope I do not lose my nerve
at abrasive queries like bouncers.

I try to find myself a place
in his skull
beyond his caste mark, amidst his eyebrows:
like trying to find my way around
an ever changing map!

He tries assessing me with an in swinger first
“What is your full name?”

Then he tries an out swinger that seams a lot
“ and   what is your father’s name?”

By this time, he loses his nerve
And tries on a direct York-er
“What is your caste?”

 

 

UAPA
(A protest poem against UAPA)
It is like a virus, all of us could be tested for it.
When you are being tested for this virus
And if the test turned out to be negative
The cop will plant the evidence from his
Kit,
With your signature coerced on it.

It is contagious,
If your friends protest your
Being injected with this virus,
They too get infected.
The virus attacks after long gestation periods
Of surveillance.

This virus feeds on its excreta.
Those inflicted and quarantined behind bars
Act as deterrents for anyone who might
Want to mess with those in power,
Even long after their release.

This virus takes various sizes and shapes
But always the teal of the flag opposing
The incumbent .
Tomorrow it could be your turn
And silence is not always golden.

 

Chandramohan Sathyanathan is a Dalit poet based in Thiruvananthapuram .