I cannot be a poet

This poem mostly wrote itself while, after reading a Facebook post, I thought about the (perceived) rights of poets to speak about issues.

I cannot be a poet

No, I cannot be a poet.
From the endless fount of issues
that may plague the skin of my brothers,
I can’t write a poem about any one of them.
My pen, my fingers, my mind yield nothing.

Don’t get me wrong, I can write.
It’s just that I’m not qualified to write about these issues.
Says who?
So say the poetry clergymen.

I have never been raped,
so I can’t write a rape poem.
Never been depressed to contemplate suicide
so I can’t talk about how hopelessly dark a mind can get.
‘Hell, what does he know of depression,’
I hear the critics say as they hammer the gavel
and shuffle uneasily on their selfmade pedestals.

Being male rules me out from talking about female infanticide or sexism,
being straight rules me out from talking for the LGBT community.
Maybe being human rules me out from taking up animal rights.
But hey, I love dogs,
so I and all you animal activists have to be reborn as a dog, a talking one,
so we can talk about our animal troubles.
Experienced firsthand.
I don’t believe in rebirth, but for the sake of my right to talk for animals, I’ll assume this might work out.

Somehow somewhere,
the arts came up with these rules.
Maybe it was a place where the cult met,
where everyone wore the same dark robes,
and entry was only by invitation.
The cult decided
I could write only about issues I have faced firsthand.
Who made this cult? I don’t know.
I see their rules being waved around like axioms though,
like unbending rays of light,
like the only valid letters in the alphabet.

What made my voice wrong and theirs right?
What made their voice a part of the melody,
and mine a jarring note?

Yes, I cannot be a poet.
You may think I’ve given up too easily, but no.
I asked the art custodians if empathy would do when I didn’t experience their plight firsthand.
‘No no,’ they said,
’empathy can only get you halfway.
If you haven’t faced it, you can’t write about it. Even what you write will be wrong.’

What about actors then, I asked.
What about our movies, our literature, our music?
Do our novelists, our filmmakers have to grind under the yoke of oppression
before they write the first chapter,
before they script the first scene?

And the judges said,
‘They are the maestros, the veterans, so they can bypass this rule.
But if you, my young artist,
if you’re creating a work of art,
we, doubling as your peers and your judges,
we won’t let you get off that easy.
Stick by the rules.’

So dear custodians,
If I have to abide by your rules,
I’d rather not be a poet.
I’d rather not chisel my voice
to speak on your podium.
No I cannot be a poet.
I cannot be your poet,
not the poet you want me to be.

When there is no tomorrow

So the prompt was to have a tagline as the title of the poem. I chose the FedEx tagline; I think the poem itself sounds a bit like Rudyard Kipling’s If. What do you think?

When there is no tomorrow

When there is no tomorrow
and when yesterday does not push itself like an envelope under your door,
when you don’t have to gather raindrops to build waterfalls,
when you don’t have to keep a magnifying glass between yourself and the rest,
when you can laugh like a cloud pouring itself into a bay, not caring if it forms a rainbow,
(talking about rainbows, let’s forget Vibgyor and think of one having brown and black and white and shades in between),
when our mouths can stop being clams and write scripts in any font we choose,
when you can pull out the spike that nails your foot,
and we all, the ones that nail our brains,
maybe then we can merge into the other,
melt our continents and recreate Pangaea,
unfold our bodies without worrying about the creases,
and write songs without muting screams
so that no word is filtered out and pushed into the sea.

When there are no monsters to be hidden under blood
and no angels to be cut out from paper,
maybe then we can start living
without our feet dancing on either arm of a weighing balance.

NaPoWriMo 2017, poem 25

What if?

Noticed a lot of the poems – some of  mine too – I read these days has activist tones. This goes out to several poets, myself included.

I wonder how poetry would thrive
if the spikes of suffering,
of sadness
had been flattened out.

How many would write about
the magic in an orange moon
as it floated above the horizon?
How many would talk about strings of smiles drawn over streets?
How many would talk about tongues fumbling for the right words on a first date,
the sounds that seemed awkward but came out just right?

Would poetry miss the chaos
of brushstrokes ambushing each other
and creating thunderstorms?
What would fuel it when there are no fires to be put out,
when there are no worries wrapped around constellations,
no anger jumping over borders,
no words speared from one class
into the ribs of another,
no cliffs waiting to be jumped off,
no wars to be ended, or started,
about who would annex whom and for what,
and no floods to rise above?

You, my poet,
what would you write
when knives have been blunted,
when fires have been transformed into flowers
with stalks that spell peace in all languages,
when streams of blood have been replaced
by rivers of stars,
when we are all a billion continents
with no oceans to separate us,
when the sky stretches so thin
the space between humans and gods
is less than a hair’s breadth?

My friend, my poet,
what would you write about
if the earth’s pulse
became a steady flatline?

NaPoWriMo 2017, Poem 24

No room here

The ghost that twists in the basement
is a remnant of me.
My fears have fed him over the years,
giving shape to his collar bone
adding flesh to his thighs.
Every road
that I have yearned to take and refused to venture on
has given fodder to this ghost.

A few years ago, I saw the demon had grown too big for his cell.
No, he was not caged.
He had stayed of his own will.
He liked to stay inside my head, he said.
He became a tenant who refused to pay rent
and never seemed like he’d move out.
I had pity on him,
let him squeeze my brain,
let him leave his fingerprints on the inside of my skull.
Maybe he’d leave after a month or two, I thought,
and kept feeding him,
till one day he grew so huge,
my head was too small for him.

That was when I decided only one of us could stay.
That was when I stopped gift-wrapping my fears for him.
He began to throw tantrums like a child being deny his favourite toy,
he would sulk in a corner for nights.
I let him mope,
pretending I could not feel him trying to gnaw at my eyeballs.

It’s been a year since then.
The ghost has shrunk to a quarter of his full blown size.
I’m waiting for him to shrink into nothingness.
It will happen slowly, I am told.

I don’t know if he will leave
before I kick him out.

NaPoWriMo 2017, poem 23

Growing older

When I can’t comprehend
the reasons you give for slashing our skins,
dividing it into squares
and allocating each piece to a pigeonhole,
the artist here,
the funnyman there,
the sportsman here,
away from the box housing the intellectual,
we are told,
“you can’t be all that you want to be.”

It sounds like a lie when you are younger.
As you grow older though,
the mountain of lethargy piles up
adding its weight to what they said
and we concur,
“you can’t be all that you want to be.”
Then in a calm silence,
“You can be a part of all that you want to be.”

NaPoWriMo 2017, poem 22

Dear motorist

Dear motorist who
drove past me, almost scraping my skin.
Do you see the road as a plain sheet
devoid of traffic?

Does a cyclist seem to you a
dot you can shrink further into nothing?
Do you think you cause no
damage when you force me off the road or
drown me with your honking?

Drugged on impatience, you
drive like a maniac, forcing us to
dodge around you.

Deaf, I am not, but soon may be, if you
don’t stop blaring that horn.

The purpose of goodness

You must be good,
say your prayers daily,
ensure your bowl leaks just enough to nourish those in need,
follow the tenets,
and brand them into your skin,
ensure the beads keep moving through your fingers.

If you do this,
an appetizing afterlife awaits.
Saint Peter will usher you in through the gate of Paradise
and lead you to your throne in the midst of the gods,
between the fathers and the sons.
Or if you were told differently on earth,
seventy-two virgins will ravage you.
You will get to choose who goes first.
Of course, if you’re a woman,
they won’t know how you will be rewarded.

Be diligent,
ensure you follow the script.
If you aren’t up to the mark with your virtues,
the afterlife could be cloudy.
You might oscillate forever in limbo
or keep sinking in a bottomless hell,
or just get reborn and get dumped back on earth.

Or if you are fifty-fifty on vice and virtue,
they’ll send you to purgatory,
the no man’s land between heaven and hell.
Maybe, heaven has too many people,
so purgatory’s the waiting room.

And if in this life,
you see the virtuous suffer,
and the evil prosper,
make no mistake,
it is because they had some good karma
in a previous life.
It all adds up to the next afterlife.

So be good,
keep your shoes spotless,
be the best saint you can be.

All this for that coveted afterlife.

Hang on,
what if I told you they – the gods
lied about the afterlife?
What if the gods were a lie?

NaPoWriMo 2017, poem 20