In this tiny whim of a country
windfall from the guts of the desert,
the nomads have settled in villas,
the camel on the race track is spurred by a robot,
another all-knowing robot, an iZarathustra,
sermonises the crowds in the souq,
the gigantic chandelier enters the Guinness Book of Records,
and the flame in the fireplace emanates from a projector—
such stuff as can happen when you compose
a surrealist poem, or luck grants you
a night’s access to a magic lantern.
Who needs the real
when the mall corrals all—
a canal, a motorised gondola,
steered by a Thai gondolier;
corrals an ice rink and a ski slope—
the icing on the post-Bedouin cake.
Who needs the real
when all are corralled in the mall,
getting hold of the world
without touching it.
The desert is a city on wheels.
In the SUVs the young feel free.
They brandish their white dishdashe,
and charge, like shooting stars, edging out
the cars of the hired pantaloons
who raze the past, sow confusion,
who mark the wrong exits
to the precincts of happiness—
a clash without conclusion; they meet again,
and again, at the roundabout,
I live in a compound,
within walls within more walls,
my estrangement compounded.
I can go only inside myself, into the maze
of the hippocampus, which is like going
inside a pyramid, and finding the robbers
had carted away the belongings.
What will I shed this round
to complete my portable absence?
Strangers all, we pass one another, like turtles,
each in a house of his own words,
each singing his distant song.
No stories to recount at day’s end,
there is only conjecture.
The heart itself is a dry well,
a few drops of love
can rally its chambers.
Hanging the Clothes
Nueth* has delivered another day.
The electric meter and toilet flush
are in working order. I am linked
by long cables and pipes
to the great circuits of the world.
It’s midday, Friday,
and I am doing the wash.
I observe the machine spin the clothes
with the same punctuations, same gusto
of a hundred times before.
I haul them in the bucket to the clothesline.
I hide behind the lush tree,
across from the balcony
so no one can see me—a man
savouring the colours, the fresh scent,
of the emergent garments,
as if he hasn’t seen them in years.
If my father were alive,
he would now be at the mosque,
reciting the same words (are they?)
uttered aeons ago in the Arabian desert,
listening to the preacher
spin the immutable sermon.
He would come back home, tell tales
about the prophets and disciples,
and grin, giddily, at the end
of each tale, as if he was in their company
Now my mother appears, standing across
from me, pinning down my shirt,
with her small, accurate hands.
She looks at me, her eyes dripping,
like a soaked dress,
as if weeping from her whole body,
as if I had fallen into the Iron Age,
“See, had you stayed with us,
you wouldn’t have had to hang your own clothes.”
OK, Mother, now I need to dry the clothes
and your tears, I want to say,
once more your love short-circuits everything.
But I pin down my tongue—
she’s my mother, and today is the Sabbath.
Instead, I say, Mother, could we just sit down
for a few minutes, and listen to Father
finish his yarn. She turns her back,
and Father follows, without a goodbye—
a couple of illusions, each to a netherworld,
leaving me in wait for the next load.
*Nueth (also spelled Nut) was the goddess of the sky in ancient Egyptian mythology; she received the sun disc from Ra in the evening and gave birth to it at dawn
The Hawk and the Squirrel
The hawk’s claws clasp a squirrel
on top of the backyard fence,
its brown-dotted feathers gleam in the sun,
dark eyes penetrating, mobile.
The squirrel beneath, a grey tail
hanging in the air, silent,
as if silence could save.
We cringe more than marvel—
when did the world become disenchanted?
Instinct incites us to banish the hawk;
but, my wife reminds:
Do we want a dead squirrel in the yard?
Don’t we have chicken breasts in the freezer?
Let’s not play judge,
let nature take its course.
What would the hawk make of its game,
if it had a human tongue?
Would it, as in ancient epics, praise
the squirrel as worthy foe
subdued by strength, yes,
but more by cunning?
Or would it sneer at the soft fur
and the absence of wings?
Hoot at the horizontal posture
and the feeding on nuts?
(And why didn’t I raise such questions
after watching a hawk hunt a rat?)
The hawk is now expectant hunger,
finalising the mechanics of the ritual.
It digs its hooks, irrevocably,
in the flesh of the squirrel,
recites the checklist,
scans the flight route,
then flaps the commanding wings—
power and beauty hauling a prey,
a screeching shadow before chastened eyes.
These poems are published in the Jul-Sep 2016 issue of The Indian Quarterly.