Welcome to my A-Z 2018, for which I am revisiting Africa, the continent of my childhood and my dreams. The posts are, as always, infoheavy and opinionated, but they are sectioned off - some music, the day’s topic, couple writers, a slideshow from the safaris – plenty ways to cherry-pick. So you may consume just as much, or as little, as you're cool with. Zero obligation to agree with any of my views either, feel free to air yours :)

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Precious and nil




I’ve given away of myself
though of me nothing was asked
but one step led to another
and they pulled me along so fast
it was impossible to just stand
and let things slide, flash past.


No-one threw me a banner,
neither gave me a torch.
I dipped my toes into a stream
I found and clutched at straws
I swam against the currents
I followed their heartless laws.


To follow a thread and thought
guarantees no concrete results
to get answers to make sense
first questions must be mulled
dipped toes don’t lead anywhere
when toes are simply enthralled.


Swimming against the current?
oh, I did it for the thrills
when everyone rushed down
going solitary uphill
was fun in a precious way
but precious often equals nil.





Sunday, 25 May 2014

White!






Some days my mind is not on writing, unfocussed
everywhere, maladroit, awkward with every word
like any truant child forced to do what she must
against her will and the will of the universe.



It’s not into page, paper, screen, longs for release;
vaults over every language, every verse and form
where white waters writhe on shorelines, far galaxies,
uncharted blazing white-hot stars throbbing in them.



Where the white dove sat on a fig once, intimate
the afternoon and small its wrap; she cooed her angst
and still it played out as a song, misconstrued yet
beautiful. Till the lightning unleashed white forked tongues



and lashed the branch on which she sat and it splintered.
She fell without a single sound, dead burnt white bird.









Friday, 23 May 2014

Fading henna




Henna as it fades doesn’t look pretty
the depth of colour washes out too pale
maybe these hands can’t hold their complexity -
designs that bleach out and colours that fail.


I’ll recite the words this time too, dry-eyed,
knowing that no colour lasts on any palm;
whatever the motifs scrolled, slurries applied,
however high petals travel up the arm.


Rare the symbol that can match shade for shade
the real thing; and rare, my love, this love that
you bear for me, too intricate to be made
a fluid dark green paste in cones and piped pat


into peacock feathers. And no colours stand
for my love too, no symbols, nothing in hand.







Love the traditions of henna; dislike marital symbols that only women are supposed to wear. I know, I am conflicted like that :)










Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Write...Edit...Publish... : May 2014. Failure? Is it?







This Write...Edit...Publish... prompt.  And my WISM. (That's Work-in-Stalled-Mode in case you were wondering).  Totally made for each other. It started as a 1000 word flash and somehow grew to a novella and spilled all over the place because I had no idea what I was doing, which is how most of my writing gets done anyway.  The basic structure is more or less in place, but it needs a huge amount of rewriting. Especially it needs tense correction from the present, which is fine for a flash but completely insane for anything longer.  I have been putting it off forever, such a daunting prospect! 

An excerpt with the tense redone and hopefully crisper and neater.


Moonlit waters




Abeer pulled up the withered stalks violently from the planter.   Late Friday afternoon in spring, the terrace was bathed in a diffused light preparing for sunset.  His terrace had sunlight the whole day, the summer months were pitiless here on the top floor.  So he just could not understand this, why none of the seeds he planted grew for him, why they shot out an eager tendril and then sighed and died.  He looked at the earth clinging to the dried up roots, and shook it back into the planter.  A little residue remained on his hands, black and almost sticky.  The most famously fertile soil on the planet, earth that had supported growth for millennia, yet he could not make anything bloom on it.  He shredded the bunch with unnecessary violence, and they crumbled into bits the same colour as the desert. 

A few things had changed over the years, he had changed too, much to his own consternation.  Catch him trying to grow sunflowers and moonflowers and hibiscus in containers!  His need had always been for dead stuff, voices trapped in dead machines and played back with their bass and tonal qualities immaculately preserved.  Dead words traced onto dead, pulped and pressed trees, rather than ones shouted and sung live around his home.  Beautiful eyes painted on canvas, their fixed gaze over his life and its sterile neatness, accepting, uncritical. 

That was why it did not work out with Meenakshi.  He could not bear those living eyes like moonlit waters with unfathomed depths, following him, smiling at him.  She had wanted the clutter of kids too, he shuddered at the thought.  He had desired companionship, not to dandle babies on his knees.  And he had been careful, but the one time the precautions did not work, he had been adamant.  So what if it could not be done here? it was perfectly legal elsewhere, he had arranged the details.  Her eyes grew a strange patina to them afterwards, crystallised reproach and longing, smeared on the irises without clouding their beauty.  Even more intolerable. 

No, he did not allow himself any regret for the ending.  It was neatly done, no messy emotions, no wrangling, no dramatics.  Later, he had heard vaguely that she had remarried. He had never felt any urge to marry again, bring a different pair of reproachful eyes into his life.  The job, this home high above the noise of the city, over the thread of the river; his books and music and occasional forays into the countryside;  sometimes a raucous get-together at the Buddha bar with friends, each event and each action pinned on his life as a deliberate shining badge of normality.  More than enough.

He really had not noticed when it had stopped being enough.  When exactly did this hankering to have other living things around the place start?  It came on gradually like a silent disease.  He had toyed with the idea of a puppy, and then quickly abandoned the thought.  It would be alone here the whole day and slobber at him as soon as he got home, walks and bones and barking, never a minute’s peace.  In the end, he had got some fish, the cold eyes, the iridescent colours, the swirl of water and ornamental foliage fitted right in, into his cool steel grey-blue sitting room and his cool steely blue life. 

He had delighted in their exoticness initially.  Then one day looking up suddenly from reading, he found a single eye fixed on him, and somehow all that had once followed him around was there again, magnified and unblinking.  Meenakshi, meen-akshi, fish eyes, eyes shaped like fish, eyes like moonlit waters, eternal longing and reproach in their unfathomed depths.  He had quickly burrowed back into his book; and soon afterwards packed off the lot to Sameer’s son.

Back home on holiday he heard about Meenakshi’s family, she had children now, he had chanced upon her snaps accidentally through a common friend, and her eyes were still the most achingly beautiful eyes, flanked now by enormous baby pairs.  The turmoil had washed out of the mother’s, they had looked radiant and restful.  He had looked at his own face and his eyes just looked emptily back at him, surrounded by folds of flesh.  No pointers anywhere in them of any emotion whatsoever.  Dead eyes, sunken, mottled flesh, sagging slowly towards final oblivion.

He came back and saw the gulmohurs and cassias bloom in their season along the river bank, cover pavements with their fallen petals.  In the far distance, the island fields turned brilliant green with the sown crops milling and swaying in a strangely restless peace.  He looked far out to the blurry butterscotch coloured horizon of the desert plateau, and the pyramids standing out crisp against the setting sun.  A fierce longing had possessed him suddenly, to have that movement replicated here at home, the movement of green stalks responding to warmth and water and winds. 

He had got seeds and planted them.  They sent up shoots an inch long and then drooped and withered.  He had got others, and kept them shaded, kept them in the sun, watered them frequently and held back on the water, but there was no change in the outcomes, all sprouted and then died.  The more they had died after that joyous green spurt, the more all-consuming his obsession had become. 

He dusted off his hands and looked out over the shimmering strand of the river in the fast failing light.   One seed, just one that had taken hold and he had not let it grow, yanked it out without thinking about it twice.  Now nothing would grow for him in some weird cosmic revenge? The sunset azaan was sung from the mosques; the strains wavered across to him in a choral performance of devout voices, raised as though in a great despairing lament on his behalf.  The moon rose above the city, over heaped clouds in the east, and stained everything unequivocal silver.  His eyes glistened as he watched the river change colour and morph into moonlit waters.


WC - 1020
All feedback welcome.




Read more about Write...Edit...Publish hosted by Denise Covey, and the other entries here.





  

Monday, 19 May 2014

Extra alert





The plane falls gently back on the runway
the last time it will wobble me home here
the landing’s been smooth, the people cheer.
I’m extra alert, I’ll be going away


again, no place for me in this city
too, bricks and roads spilled along the riverbank
the pointy sailboats, the scorching blue blank
almost-summer sky. The staunch dignity


underneath it. And the seething unrest
that I’ve seen blossom; all of this will fall
away, every time. Only hearts recall
what they take in and cling to, and lest


they forget, this red alertness, this blade
aware of its thrust as homecoming’s replayed.








I'm back in Cairo, but don't know for how long - we are being relocated back to the Gulf.  The wedding went off well, the bride looked breath-takingly beautiful and a super time was had by self and whole family. Happy to have been there, and happy to be back at ye olde blogspot.





Thursday, 15 May 2014

No white mares, please






Image credit here


There was no need for white steeds, harnessed mares
you could have come on your own two feet, straight
and unafraid, like a pilgrim without finery, bare
of foot, and I’d have still unlatched the gate.



There’s enough water to pour at your feet
to wash you clean, there’s enough grain and fire
to sear fish and flesh, enough to drink and eat
you needn’t have brought a single sapphire.



All we need is here in front of my eyes
an ear of fresh grain’s tucked behind my ear
a jug of water silvered by the moonrise
and the distant riversong, soft but clear.



Drop the reins, turn her loose, let go your mare
come with your dusty feet, love needs no fanfare.





Very much in the wedding mode here and now! Indian grooms traditionally come in a procession to the bride's home to marry, in some parts of India, they ride a mare.  Warli is the name of a tribe in Western India who make these astounding paintings on the walls of their house with rice paste as temporary decorations for festivals.  



Monday, 12 May 2014

The naming of the child




That word was like a torn up half page
and floated gently in through the window
on it scribbled in some far off language
first name first time in eerie TV glow
across the room the father sat in his place
the news as usual, hyped up talk show
each pixel jammed froze as he turned his face
and looked straight and said, ”Yes, I think I know.”



And they matched the two halves like an old password
like a dollar bill torn and used by two spies
in some nightclub where the two edges fit
one half this line, the other half that blood
and both clicked close without an air of surprise
as if all prearranged and really, that was it.






Today my child is a teenager, a year closer to growing up.  He asked me a few days back if I ever wrote about him!  I said many times, but I rarely put it up over here.  So this is for him, if he should ever visit :)  Happy birthday to the greatest love of my life!




Friday, 9 May 2014

The way grandmothers go out






I remember her at every wedding, birth, death,
ritually marked with gold, and sandal and tact,
and earthen pots of water, grasses woven into pallets
the warmth of fire and the staunchness of faith;
just a made-up memory, a figment, nothing exact



for I wasn’t present, young and raw then, in any of it.
I heard it later, from the ones who were there
how composed she was in that dimly lit
room, on the shabby death-bed, sounds of gully-cricket
played by slum children hung like flies in the air.



All her offspring around her, but her eldest;
they sat weeping, silent.  The eldest beyond the wires,
the ken of postal men and Morse codes, the rest
had gathered. She made her last bequests -
this brooch to my grandkid. As per her last desires



I hold it now, it has my grandfather’s likeness
a romantic token he told me later; and I their last witness.









Sunday, 4 May 2014

Elaborate











When I left my father’s house the first time
there was no elaborate leave-taking
of this tree, that pet fawn, that other vine.
It had to be done quick and clean, no aching
memory beads colour-sorted in straight lines;
just a single snap and the twig breaking
raw and free, oozing a transparent slime
between blood and tears, nothing epoch-making.



I still leave homes that are not mine, and yet
they feel like they are, they twist dancing knives
and sharp star-barb diamonds, oh elaborate
the farewells I must take! onionskins of lives
fall apart at first cut, and the consummate
traveller knows zilch who leaves or arrives.







Friday, 2 May 2014

..a bug in a rug...






Every dawn draws a new poem

every day sings a new tune

sometimes as deep as an ocean

at others as high as..... whut..? it’s over? Oh okay, this is the A-Z survivor post I am doing, whew!  no more rhymes marching in their little stiff uniforms...free-e-e at last, free at last...That’s actually so not true. Weirdly.


I am pleased of course that I made it through, no question about that. And I am glad also that I can write what I pretty well feel like now, theme and forms and rhymes can be luxuriously given the boot. But that does not feel very important right now. What is rippling under the surface of my brain unobtrusively is something completely different: that I might have learnt rather more than I thought I would, in directions other than I had expected and/or thought possible. Story of my life, boss!



First things first


But first off a shout out to Arlee Bird of Tossing it Out, the creator of the A–Z Challenge, and to the co-hosts and their teams who visited, commented and shared the entries and kept the morale high. Special thanks to Alex J Cavanaugh, M.J.Joachim, Madeline Mora-Summonte and last but not the least co-host Damayanti in that context.


A vote of thanks and appreciation to all my fellow bloggers and friends who supported me through out the challenge.  The top commenter awards have to go to Sabeeha Parack of Midnight Scribbles and Yolanda Renee of Murderous Musings and Defending the Pen, and Denise Covey. All these ladies have given unstintingly of their time and opinions here on this blog throughout the month, Yolanda in spite of her own participation in the challenge, and a far more serious health challenge, as well as editing schedules of her novel, kudos. Thank you all!  



The learning that's happened 


This is the stuff that happened here in April:


  • First off, I learnt whole new fixed forms – Welsh and Chinese and Burmese and Malay, cool verse forms I had not even heard of before and had no inkling about how to write them.   But in spite of all my hesitation and anxiety, and starting off with the most difficult letters undone, I managed something for each new form, and well in time to schedule each post.

  • That brings me to a minor learning which is most inconveniently also a major one, and will have many bloggers ready to be instantly outraged, so I will whisper it: I don’t really like scheduling weeks in advance. This is a gobsmacking self-discovery! Scheduling should have felt like a gift for a control-freak old-womanish person like me, but it didn’t! Given half a chance, I would prefer to make do with unscheduled, thank you very much. I must be younger at heart than I thought, ha!

  • I learnt some proper prosodic terms too.  Like the fact that what a lay person calls a “line” in a poem, is actually called a “verse”.  And finally it fell into place, what “give me chapter and verse”, actually meant. A totally a-ha moment.  Many other moments like that.  Anaphora (not a particularly fancy-shaped Greek urn, you know, not a different take on the amphora), paralepsis (not some kind of disease, at least not medical) and so on.

  • Did you know that Excel is a natural ally of poetry bloggers attempting form, as well as a nifty way of keeping track of various other blog-related stuff? I refreshed that nugget of knowledge big time all through April, especially for the writing part. Rhyme words, syllable counts, internal rhymes, penta-, hexa-, dodeca*&%$#- metres and feet - all was a total breeze with Excel. 

  • I came across some seriously awesome blogs.  I did not begin with quantified goals and all, maybe I should have!  I just started off with the vague notion that I’d like to read more than 5 blogs a day.   I managed to be on target with that, so I am happy.  I also had new people, visitors, commenters, some of them subsequently even signed on as followers of dis here blogshphot, which are all lovely (I particularly dislike the term "follower"! but can't find a non-cutesy alternative, I have to admit. Any suggestions welcome). Number-wise, value-for-effort, of course none of it makes any sense at all, I and this blog should just fold up like telescopes as per Alice and get off and go home :)


  • I found a few blogs that were obviously not participating even during my last week of visiting, that was a little off-putting.  Some participating blogs had the word verification on. It would have saved other bloggers time if there had been some way to point this out to the co-hosts’ teams. Or maybe there was, and I didn’t know?  If I felt motivated enough to comment, I did try in spite of the verification, but some times I did not. Finding non-writing/non-book related blogs was a mini-challenge within a challenge too!


  • I found that I was okay with not commenting sometimes, even where the verification was off. I visited more blogs than I commented on. There are subjects I know nothing about, such as art or all the techie stuff, and I am simply not qualified to comment on them. It felt wrong and rude to just write “great post” or “informative” or whatever, I am just not comfortable with that. On the whole, the work bloggers put into their posts is impressive, mind-bogglingly detailed, and it feels kind of shabby and dismissive to put in a superficial comment only so everyone can see that I have been there.


  • Likewise, I am fine with readers here if they read and then go away without commenting, many people did/do exactly that.  Not everybody likes poetry, or has something to say about it even if they do. That’s perfectly alright, and neither side should feel inadequate or hassled about it. 

  • Talking about the techie stuff, I learnt a whole bunch of blogging nitty-gritties, real handy! And I discovered a number of nifty sites for useful poetry writing tips as well.


  • If I had to do it over again, then I would start off with the real difficult letters X Q and Z and maybe pre-schedule the first two/three posts, and leave the others to fall into place later. Things do fall into place most of the time, that’s a long-held belief just reconfirmed through this challenge!  Would I do it over again? I'll see....lots of time...always wrong to rush to decisions, small or big or blog-related, based on first reactions :)

  • Most of April had a whole lot going on as far as the offline life went, unexpected news and unplanned stuff intervened; and I managed to compartmentalise that and be calm and carry on. Remaining calm, as I have said before, is NOT my speciality.  So no drumrolls or anything, but good to find that I can multi-task better than I thought, I can switch the insanity off, of whatever is going mad at that moment and just focus on the writing, or vice versa if necessary.  A control freak has got to love that bit of self-awareness!


  • There are other lessons that have been vaguely reconfirmed too, about relationships and friendships, offline and online, the core group that sees you through every challenge and crisis and all that, but oofff! that's all too deep and heavy to get into right now, maybe I shall pull some verses together to make sense of those bits later. 



That's it, my first A-Z is done, 26 days, 26 forms and 26 poems all in fair working order, barring a few broken rules and feet here and there. I do think I have managed to polish my writing up one notch. Not to be overly smug as a bug in a rug or anything, but distinctly chuffed.  With due apologies to PGW for distorting his line, of course.




Thursday, 1 May 2014

مش مهم ...لكن ....





Not important...but...anyways, FYEO






Are you going to quibble over the knits and picks?
the broken plurals, the dual words, the dots and flicks
like the chaps pour and ponder over cups of tea
leaves and dregs and spider legs and eternity 



Will you turn and tip and dip the translucent bowl?
into the nibs shake out the drops unfurl the scroll
and shake your head over sore how empty they fall
or just be pleased on your knees that they fall at all



Will you write the love and the pain from hearts to tips
from right to left, or stand alone like proud aliphs
it doesn’t count what tongue you choose, all love’s a gift
both love and pain die in the end, too slow or swift



Write left to right, or right to left, the way you must
the pen and pain, they dry too soon, love ends in dust.