Aasai poetica

My 20 year old Snegum can’t sleep. We have not seen each other for a while and she lives a long bus ride away. She has abandoned college to the consternation of dozens of adults who have admired, coveted or worried over her beautiful cerebrum. She is happy to leave behind days of classroom numbness but what does she do with the world, in the world now? At midnight she announces on messenger that she is looking for the first step away from despair but if only she could sleep. She can’t sleep. And she can’t wake.

Sisterslut writes about how cyber-sex has turned tawdry and boring on her.  Where is the edge, the pleasure, the chase, the thrill. Where are the cuts, the wounds? Gaya says that in recent times she has only been reading only books on the Taylor series because it affects the earning of her oota. This from the girl who at 21 pragmatically said that she was alright with a 9 to 5 job if it let her buy the books she wanted. The coolest man I know (as defined by Pratchett’s Monks of Cool) was hurting last night. He had been comic, droll, witty, kind and well-informed in turns all evening and ruthlessly ignoring the knife in gut feeling of having seen a still-beloved ex-lover unexpectedly. Every few weeks he walks round a familiar innocuous corner and bumps into her. Then for days he feels like a corpse reanimated only to be pushed back into the grave.

This has been my happy year. It has also been my cut-my-losses year. But I have had years of insomnia, boredom, ex-marks-the-spot nausea. I am not smug enough to forget or believe that this happiness has been earned. And much that I am grateful for my carnival of friends I have come to believe that in the deepest despair we are still alone. And this is as it should be.

In the last two years I have read more poetry than I have in my entire life and all of us in the carnival have been trading poetry. Yards of perfect-for-that moment poetry. I was not conscious of it until last night when Snegum was describing in faltering words the recent return of insomnia. Absently I sent her the last stanzas of Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem “Two countries.” In another window Gaya was talking about how she stopped reading the taylor series texts and was happy to be reading with me AD Hope’s response to Marvell’s “To my Coy Mistress” Marvell was our idea of  wit when we were a few years younger. And to read AD Hope is like the cool re-assessment of a glamorous senior a few years after graduation.

Elsewhere SpellCheck and I were grinning because it was midnight and now Dilli was only 21 days away. Rilke says that he has been longing for his lover for so long that when he finally saw her he would just touch her like a long-thirsty traveler who is so moved by water that at first he only touches his wrists to water. Spellcheck is rendered breathless from the appropriateness of the poem for him right now.

I dreamily open another window to find some poetry to send to the Others.  I see a mail from Druthers saying, "Thank you for the Billy Collins, I think I will use it for class today." Druthers is a goddess-like creature who I was lucky enough to meet at 18. She taught me to take reading and writing seriously. I think of other 18 year olds whose world will rock faintly today with Druthers and Billy.

Snegum in the meanwhile has finished reading another Naomi Shihab Nye and says, “Poetry always seems to be there when I need it.” My dreaminess, my delirium disappears in a second. I read the line again and again. Even my inner cynical Mallu can’t be moved to protest the sentiment, so tentative it was and so perfectly sincere.

Snegum’s parrhesia quality has always managed to stop me short before committing the appalling or the banal. But here was the truth-teller saying something that just sharpened and sweetened a recent pleasure. The reading and sharing of poetry.

Sarita started my year on a brilliant note but wrings her hands and says, “When will you write something that is not so hopelessly book-drunk?” I am embarrassed and have made recent efforts to avoid turning my prose into the literary equivalent of a Manmohan Desai film. I am even managing to create a few pieces that quack like successful efforts.

But Sarita will excuse me while I clutch my hands fervently and offer multiple deities gratitude for the pleasure of poetry. Shouldn’t I be thanking Ondaatje and Billy Collins and Ramanujan and Wendy Cope and a legion of ink-stained elegant sculptors? I do. I thank you every day. But today I want to thank everyone who reads poetry and makes the sculptors real.  Thank you to whatzisnehim who professes absolute loyalty to Eliot but when reading aloud Neruda and Nazim Hikmet and cummings makes their poetry tangible and toothsome like one of his own gourmet meals. Thank you to the Charlie’s Angels whose custom is to quote poetry while cooking alu-gobi, running to dance lessons and writing another glorious iconoclastic footnote. Thank you to Bent who in matters of jazz and poetry likes them female, black and dyke. Thank you to Sisterslut who has a body like slow lightening and takes pleasure in writing and reading erotic verse. Thank you to Spellcheck who marvels at poems and delicious new laptops with equal  avarice. Thank you to ResoluteReader who whether surrounded by agit-prop, silk walls, beer-mugs or oil paintings turns his face away from dull writing to lively energetic, well-turned verse. Thank you to Allude who in this (as in all other matters) has catholic tastes and will sigh and growl over the bare-bones and the baroquely extravagant. Thank you to Druthers who takes fresh pleasure in a lovely quartrain after decades of reading. Thank you to the Bottle-Imp who dreamt up two ridiculous and real monsters with me yesterday after the rain and walked about under the wet trees reading aloud the worst poetry I have heard in years. Thank you to tafseer who is spartan and conscientious in all spheres of life but will shamelessly elope with even your favourite book of poetry.

And thank you to Snegum who through her struggles with sadness and her wild passions and her truth-telling reminds me that we have poetry and we may yet be alright.


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