The Natural Language of Grief
Author: Vinita Agrawal
Publisher: Proverse Hongkong
"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.
1 - Stillness
What does it mean to be still?
An unblinking eye of a revolving fish
A musical note flung high
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
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
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
is buried in our collective conscience.
The breeze ruffles the pelt, fur and chamois wherever it’s
like a blind grandfather feeling his children with his
Like it failed to save a precious thing.
The scent of roses baulks against the blood
oozing nick by nick
scar by scar.