Sentence and Other Poems

By CP Surendran

SENTENCE

Questions arise with the sun. Now that your bed is empty,
What unites us but your failings? What to talk at tea?

In the afternoon, the commas stretch the unease between us,
Survivors. How freely you distributed your gift to us all, italicizing

Our lives to a constant neurosis. We do not trust the tears
The mirror sheds as we run past each other, uncertain as ellipses,

Into our rooms. Nor the breakdowns in the shower, subtext
Of hyphenated silences that fail to explain the context?

From your vacant chair, we can still hear, like echoes from afterlife,
Peremptory appeals for your teeth; then, the semicolon, the bored wife

Of pause, before your peacock’s screech of triumph on discovery,
When your suicidal daughter finds it laughing in water in a glass.

(Last night, in the hall, you made a sickly appearance: thin as a line
With a rounded head, an exclamation mark, aghast at your own absence.)

The who you looked for through your eliding selves down the years was
The what you never met: your father, the captain. You put him, enemy

At birth, to trial at all hours; awarded death by hanging in media res,
A sentence without a beginning or end, so unlike his army boots. Drilled,

We swore by decorum, and fastened ourselves to prayers as in a nave.
Against the oiled sky, the banyan chatters, the wind shaking the leaves
Without caesura or sense as we, lost, follow your many voices to the grave.

THE CONFESSIONS OF A MASK*

At the zenith of the sun, the tanto enters the horizon of the word
Made flesh.With iron and words we dig all our lives to return
To the earth; each good ruin once answered to a call, had a name.
Buried in our flowering heads, always the patient skull of time.

You call the army* to pride and arms to defeat the Yank’s dull
Popcorn reign, and, laughing, they raise their wooden swords
And jeer: a hero turns clown in the endless November noon.
You step back into the room and kneel down the farthest

From Hirohito’s* crown. By the sword’s* sharp ease, you cut
Your muscled abdomen in two; in your word-breeding hands,
Lift out your gut steaming, like noodles, offering the lost king
Other-worldly victuals, divine grace. Morita’s* sword

Wavers in his hand like the banner of an ancient empire caught
In an AC’s draught; and, so, Koga* strikes. We lower our masks:
A puzzling fiction is borne of blood, the ink powering the arts.
We search for a pattern and meaning in Mishima’s scattered body parts.

* The name of Yukio Mishima’s first novel.
* The US would not allow the Japanese army to wear arms.
* After Japan’s defeat at the hands of the US in World War II, emperor Hirohito said he was not divine in his origin as the political and cultural right wing would have it.
* Mishima committed Suppuku, a Samurai rite of committing suicide by disemboweling himself, and then allowing himself to be beheaded by an assistant. This was on November 25, 1970.
*Masakatsu Morita, an assistant of Mishima, who could not sever his master’s head as the rite demanded-after Mishima stabbed himself.
*Hiroyasu Koga, another assistant who was present and did the needful.

PRAYER

Tonight the fever burns bright
The symmetry of bones visible
Like loops of tiger-light.

A black swallow collects the dead
Down the smoke-tower of sleep.
The houses are silent,
Angels on pins
Crowd the attic
In confusion.
In the eye of a tear
A crystal cathedral
Travels to its pier.

Spring depleted breasts,
Helmets of their heads.
The summer carried
The dead by train
To the king.
He wills broken hearts
And shakes the hands
Of orphans.
The earth narrows and splits
Like his forked tongue.

The wind flees on metal wings,
The still night and altar,
Onwards to cities come down
In dust.

In my prayer, no one’s child,
There is no faith

But your breath,

Faint, uncertain as dawn.

CP Surendran is the author of five poetry collections: Available Light, Portraits The Space We Occupy, Canaries On The Moon, Posthumous Poems, and Gemini II. He has written four novels: One Love And The Many Lives of Osip B, Hadal, Lost and Found, and An Iron Harvest. He is a screenplay writer and a columnist as well. He divides his time between Delhi and Kerala.

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