Three Poems
    by Vinita Agrawal

     In the Language of Grief

     

    The Natural Language of Grief
    Author: Vinita Agrawal
    Publisher: Proverse Hongkong
    Pages: 104

    “A beautiful achievement. Her poems speak up for humanity, turning a compassionate lyric gaze on the physical landscapes and natural history of India, but also dire social injustice, and on domestic spaces like the private room of a lost grandmother, ‘curling softly around her absence.’ Above all we meet the ‘traveller inside you’ – and love: ‘A door left ajar in the winds’. “

    Ruth Padel, Author of Tigers in Red Weather Professor of Poetry King’s College London

    Vinita Agrawal’s Twilight Language takes its title from sandhya-bhasha, the coded language of the spiritual questors who have traversed India’s sacred geography across the centuries, the Siddhas, the Nathas, and the Pashupatas, who have spoken of the deep interrelationships between self and cosmos, between human individual and nature’s web of being, through allusion and allegory. Traditionally, therefore, sandhya-bhasha has also been sandhi-bhasha, the language of conjuncture, of communion, of bridging.

    Agrawal’s pellucid, moving poems speak to both meanings of the word: they come to us at a time of gathering darkness, as our planetary future appears bleak and uncertain, placed in danger by our own delusions of species sovereignty, our brutal despoliation of the natural world, and our exploitation of our fellow sentient beings. And yet they remind us of the linkages between ourselves and animals, birds, terrain of diverse kinds, the breathing organism that is the earth. Achieving a throbbing unity of person, built form and natural environment in which division and its attendant fragmentation of consciousness ceases, Agrawal writes: “The winds turned me inside out/ I’m an ashlar floor of fallen leaves/ curling against the base of tree bark.” These finely wrought poems teach us how to redeem ourselves from isolation, through the enlargement of spirit and senses that follows, once we learn how to craft forms of solidarity with our neighbours, across classes, races, species and seasons, on this planet.

    Ranjit Hoskote, Author of Hunchprose, Poet and translator, Visiting Professor of Creative Writing, Ashoka University.

    Poems

    1 – Stillness

    What does it mean to be still?
    An unblinking eye of a revolving fish
    A musical note flung high
    pausing, stretching
    before sliding into the ear.
    You a dot
    inside the circumference of stillness
    jade in a forest.
    Your silence, turquoise
    sieving through mangled yellow noise.
    You, absorbing the truth
    that you‘
    re reborn for your own sake
    though you know full well
    that there’ll never be enough time
    to reach yourself.
    You becoming your own goal.
    You a sea beneath a gaunt moon
    hardly moving.
    Stillness, the only wings to know
    what it’s like to inward fly.

    2 – Version of Me

    I’m not what I was. Not anymore.
    The winds turned me inside out
    I’m an ashlar floor of fallen leaves
    curling against the base of tree bark.
    The more self-contained I become
    the more intolerant I am of sunlight
    —giver of warmth, keeper of life
    enclosure of the burning heart.
    Yesterday I closed-up completely
    howled in solitude
    as though the licence to be alone
    was a license to cry, cause floods.
    Screen, Zoom, Meet, Live
    Won’t be not enough. Never.
    Do you think
    the liquid crystals of a screen
    can afford touch?
    I know well
    how many leaves inhabit
    the right angled branch of the Gulmohar
    outside my window.
    I‘ve counted them a zillion times.
    (A day bitten blue with teeth marks.)

    I chase scattered dots
    that cannot be connected again.
    (like fallen leaves)

    I turn awkward
    if I hug or kiss.
    I’m a string without beads
    a sky without stars.
    I’m trying to preserve the look in your eyes.

    3 – Pelt, Fur and Chamois

    I hear calfskin differently.
    Sheepskin, lambskin, goatskin, kidskin
    — the shaved pile surface of a life.

    Somewhere at the back of my vision
    an intolerable mangled mess of flesh and blood,
    hatching a new palette, flinchingred.

    When father was on the ventilator
    I saw time expand to eternity
    whenever he regained consciousness and sought my eyes.

    Recognition is the best gift.
    Inside the white shroud of the hospital, his
    consciousnesses was receding
    quitting the warm walnut crevices out towards the
    faultless space of skies.

    I cowered under the thin, blanched gauze of hope
    seeking acknowledgement one more time. My face
    as sallow as the desert he came from.

    Our togetherness butchered by the sawbone of death
    The cleaver of time exposing marrows of longing
    The muteness of life—changing moments getting to me.

    So too the soundless slickness of knives.
    Flesh removed by hand. The soaking, liming,
    machining. Unhairing, degreasing, desalting.

    The wind burying scents of terror beneath finger nails
    the way the image of the napalm girl running in naked
    agony
    is buried in our collective conscience.

    The breeze ruffles the pelt, fur and chamois wherever it’s
    worn
    like a blind grandfather feeling his children with his
    hands.
    Like it failed to save a precious thing.

    The scent of roses baulks against the blood
    oozing nick by nick
    scar by scar.

    Vinita Agrawal Author of four books of poetry, – Two Full Moons (Bombaykala Books), Words Not Spoken (Brown Critique), The Longest Pleasure (Finishing Line Press) and The Silk Of Hunger (AuthorsPress), Vinita is an award winning poet, editor, translator and curator. Joint Recipient of the Rabindranath Tagore Literary Prize 2018 and winner of the Gayatri GaMarsh Memorial Award for Literary Excellence, USA, 2015. She is Poetry Editor with Usawa Literary Review. Her work has been widely published and anthologised. Her poem won a prize for the Moon Anthology on the Moon by TallGrass Writers Guild, Chicago 2017. More recently her poem won a special mention in the Hawker Prize for best South Asian poetry. She has contributed a monthly column on Asian Poets on the literary blog of the Hamline university, Saint Paul, USA in 2016-17. In September 2020, she edited an anthology on climate change titled Open Your Eyes (pub. Hawakal). She judged the RLFPA poetry contest (International Prize) in 2016 and co judged the Asian Cha’s poetry contest on The Other Side ‘ in 2015. She is on the Advisory Board of the Tagore Literary Prize. She has curated literary events for PEN Mumbai. She can be reached at www.vinitawords.com.

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