Guest and Host

I went to live in Calcutta, India in 1994 and returned to England in 2006. This sonnet-sequence was written gradually over the first half of my stay. (Calcutta was re-named Kolkata in 2001.)

NB The Anvil/Carcanet publication Guest and Host also carries Earthquake at Kutch, The Undefeated and Meditation on the Goddess.

1-10  /  11-20  /  21-30  /  31-40  /  41-50  


Lady of India, harbour to my soul,
what would you ask of me? As voyaging
a mariner is held in water and light
to offer a prayer of thanks that he is home
though on his way; or a land-traveller
suddenly knows the ground-love of his Earth
and bending, touches grass and sand, to say
instinctive praises; so great Queen of Time,
I turn to you in words, who scarcely know you,
tremble before you, goddess terrible-strong
and smiling-kindly: here am I born again.
You recognise me and have sent companions,
poets and artists, friends of words and light,
to welcome in Baisakh in Krishnanagar.


Lady, so many of your children
have chattered at me, blessed me with their eyes
while I dumb-tongued, food-awkward
dither at the edge, perch beyond
in a white-and-pink elsewhere. Lady
I can tell you. Long ago
there shuddered down a path in space
a child in a stone. On the world
the sun ripened green, green branches
in an illusion of manhood. India take
the child from the stone. Burn
the guarantee of coldness from the skull . . .
enough to tell and ask you this.
You shake your head, a fond indulgent mother.


India I have begun to know your stories
as something closer than a chaotic dream,
a world more present. To pictured furies, glories,
a little more is breathed in, like a stream
inside oneself, beside oneself, a wind
about oneself, within, without, to make
an open country out of pages pinned
in a book-fluttering-by. I am awake
as I walk by your side. But in my head
new pictures I invent, half-stories hear
that never have been told me, never said:
the stream and wind run mocking on and jeer
I am half-deaf, half-blind, half-mad, half-dead.
But no half measures. India you are near.


His books dirty the room. He will not move them.
He says, “I have freed my library for you!”
He writes mean notes, and tells his maid to shove them
anyhow into the room. Only a few
hours a day may I receive a ’phone-call.
He raps out rules. Loud-mouthed, greedy for rent,
he has a conqueror’s arrogance. Disdainful
of other viewpoints, he is all-intent
on ruling, over-ruling. Endless headaches
have I, the tenant-subject from the West
of this retired Professor of Aesthetics.
“You are my guest,” he roars, “my guest, my guest!”
Oh God, I curse the time when some damned Aryan
crossing the hills, gave rise to this barbarian.


Blind Fortune scatters
her coin to the world’s end.
A dazzling fountain of the mind,
every street constantly visited
by the sweep and scent of branches
in a fruit-tree’s full splendour,
every shed, every room
glittering with pure cascade
of snow-wealth like the air.
What is this miracle of being
owned by richest and poorest
in reckless profusion?
Rain of speech: and here
O Bengal, your sweet words.


Lady as if from out of the hand of April
a peril of beauty came, shining the land
that once was rootless, bare . . . what have you found me?
What is this field of tall strange brilliant flowers?
This shade-inviting red-blossomed tree? This patch
as wide as a far life-time, of tender grass?
Lady I am the land holding these riches
and all is new. No drought, nor other danger
can reach this island of self-growth. For lady
you have allowed my own word to that free water
which is the eyes and hearing of all. Calcutta
you have published my books. Yet there is the peril
each altering moment, of death. But death is a nothing.
For in an April hand my word will not die.


to R.

I think a country shares its name like children
can share a special game or word. It ties
them in a secret. How can I, a foreigner
be felt as of your land, under your skies?
I cannot find the knack to keep you company.
There can be no familiar surprise
of known and knowing. Through a screened-off history
I cannot tell the story of your eyes.
And I am twenty years more aged than you.
I travel down: while you are in your glory.
The land of time and land of space both reckon
that we can never be as close as children.
Our distant worlds impose their separate view.
But eyes of love inform a different story.


Lady while the rain beat there was this:
a laughing holi procession at Salt Lake City
a rapids of goods and people on Canning Street
a twilit flow at the Ballygunj Dhaba restaurant
a crows-and-car-beep duet in the Fairlawn garden
the watchful banyan tree of Badkulla village
past Chakdaha town a breathing forest-green
a roads-and-pavement Trade Fair at Gariahat Market
a train-seat thankfully free at Sealdah Station
a quiet back-street cycle-rickshaw at Tollygunj
an ocean-wind in the talk at India Coffee House
the silent tree-crowds of the Botanical Garden
the old-and-new of and around Calcutta . . .
all this as the rain beat on the hard ground.


A geometry is practised on my soul
that cuts in quadrants and down parallel lines
a kind of sketch-map. From before birth, it seems
an instrument of fracturing strength has plotted
a chart that never stops. Now for the time
adopted and held close to India’s side,
I seem to see a fragmentary truth.
I half-glimpse areas and repeating patterns –
and then whatever is shown is slid away.
I do not wish to see. But now Creation
is manic on my life. I am in its hand
and almost feel its murderous, life-giving fingers
break and make. But now this land has lifted
and put in safe, the deepest piece of me.


Cold, struggling with words, I heard a voice
that spoke the sense of poetry in a room
where student dryness fed an internal gloom.
It was my twentieth year. And then no choice:
the goddess sang to me, and the day changed
and took on strength, and light broke through, and sang
of me to her. And though a death-wind sprang
it could not hold: and I was not estranged.
Then all my life has known a timeless river
of flame, of song, of love’s delight, of praise
for her whose day is guardian to my days,
for her whose voice includes my voice for ever.
Today we meet. It is her name I say
in India on Saraswati’s day.


at Kaluhar

Lady there are horned shadows of cows on the mud walls
in this night village. By a kerosene lamp
flickers a family’s unhurried conversation.
A stray dog plunders the dust. A house away
a man is singing to children. What will happen
to a night-closeness, lady, when television
leaks through the air? When the power line is cut off
by a lurid electric glare? Now an idle traveller
has found a home he knew before he was born.
What strangeness, now, what peace. Above us the stars
startle, lady, with their old news. Down here
I am not alone. Soon I will be returned
from a larger world. But in a certain night village
beyond even India, tonight I live beyond death.


Is it not strange, lady, that I should see
a glass metropolis? and richness carousing
over a highway of light? when I should see
a city of broken buses and battered housing,
a slush-tide shoring up a human filth-structure,
Calcutta? Lady of cities if I should see
at times a pure and loving architecture –
is it that, near you, to your fit needs I should see?
Sometimes a grandeur sings to me. Then all
my wearied minutes pass. There is a making,
trust and strength are a city, its proud words call,
a poem outside me is built. There is a making.
A palace rises from a small poem’s form . . .
and you the queen, in your least woman-form.


to R.

No you don’t see. You hear my words.
You hear my silence. You know who I am.
I am a foreigner. In your eye
I am a foreign body. How can you see?
I see less. I hear your silence
and not many words. In my hearing
language is dislodged. I will learn your words.
Still too few. Can I know who you are?
What does silence say? It is where distance
is person not country. It is where language
is song not speech. It is where you and I
allow a third to be. I love the silence
that knocks at a door. I love the silence
that offers welcome. That is a new being.


at Khelaghar

First up some steps: and then a room without walls.
Supports for the roof – and in between, some trees.
What is this room in which the fresh air falls?
A place in which to work and be at ease.
It is the loveliest classroom. To one who has been
clamped between walls of learning; who in turn
has caged young minds in crowded nature-mean
high-rise low-vision London schools . . . to learn
and teach here, is a breath of what may be.
And yet perhaps I took away the walls
for one or two, at times, when I was able.
Part of all making is a making-free.
This tree-room lies inside the world’s school-halls:
a boy and girl, a teacher, and a table.


for Tagore

My poet, you have made me weep.
At the sad point the mind swings on
in life’s space-hazard . . . you have seen
what shines, what will shine, what has shone.
My elder brother, you have held
my arm and told me of the way.
Flickeringly the late sky’s gold
foretells love in my later day.
But to be lost! but to be lost!
From the safe tethering-rope to part
of vanities, till love’s arrest . . .
what dream is it, friend of my heart,
you whisper of? And yet tears spring
for love’s song, that I too will sing.


Calcutta Book Fair 1997

Father your hand raised terrible in the sky
dwarfs our book-parades, our babble of print,
as all the living blood of words springs high.
Father the vanity of recorded signs
you crush to ashes. How puny we are
I think in the minutes before the stampede. It is all down to, up to
the wind. And all I can think of
as I see a fantasy of book-stalls burning to the heavens
is wind-direction and where the main gate is. Father
I saw no stampede. And my books were lucky,
returned to an intact stall. But in your thunderous
flame behind the line of events, enfold me,
take my words take my books take my vanities Lord.
O blaze your poetry as you darken mine.


at Digha

There was a beach, cleaned by the sea, which was
for us a new face of the world. We saw
miraculous shells; and god-like tracery
in sand of tiniest creatures. It was like
a welcoming-day, admission to a hall
of being.
In the dark we came back there
and discovered a knot of people, silent.
A young man had been lost from that same beach
that morning, swimming: here was his dead body.
In sudden grief you turned to my live arms.
Dear, we are the patterns in the sand
I thought, and those brave colourful shells
we make, life makes . . . I listened to the sea.
You could not have been closer or more far.


Shapes. Voices. Cool light. Images
in ocean-mist of hills, mist-villages,
a day of Himalayan dreams,
faint bird-song, and sharp glints of streams;
and through the town a forest-fire
of stall and shop; and down from higher,
a waterfall of separate roads
past houses set on concrete rods . . .
Blood. Slavery. Bent backs. Darkness
of unschooled minds pressed in earth’s blackness,
of tribes that history has missed,
official blindness, power’s fist.
A mountain-jewel, a blind-mist blur –
Darjeeling to a visitor.


Durga Puja

All year all time, Mother, on a sharp road
I tread barefoot. I know the journey is endless,
directionless, less than a word can say.
Noise screams light blinds. Silence paralyses.
Of your grace then once a year and out of time
you come. And what is the road? It is silk that leads
to a temple. I go inside. That caterwaul
has been discarded for a song of love.
Exploding suns are your light smile. Now Mother
a self-hood loosens, as a head is freed
of a death-silence.
Tonight the temple is empty,
on your own road the river you move so surely,
and I have walked beyond the screen of maya
with a sure step now into all year all time.


Kali Puja

Today the sun is born. What terrible
instant-of-cosmos is touched to flame? Kali
a row of skulls about her neck, makes free
in black and unimaginable anger
to stamp out the mad mind to a first-freshness,
and make a demonised world a lamb again.
Mother of dacoits, drinker of blood at midnight,
I fear you in your stories, I fear the method
that makes fire out of fire, that burns the poor Earth
over and over again, its crazed cracked land
gasping, gasping an ancient forest-word
over and over again, again to burn,
again to be. I fear you in my life
as well. Today I welcome your pure being.


Sometimes a clanking dusty harshness
sets up stall in the street of my mind.
Where shall I find the drab street’s end?
Nowhere is there a drop of freshness.
Over the seas a pavement-poshness
seems as silvery as the wind
whistling down a tinselly land
of shop-front richness, car-seat plushness.

Give me this street with its choking fumes,
this hollowness through which I trek
to the end of the lowered-down day, it seems.
And though I cough, yet I will speak
of the tug of a street-goddess’s arms,
Calcutta, and sing a love-song for her sake.


Unseen because so common, all these lives
of leaf and grass-stem, tree-wood, flapping cow’s-ears,
questioning dog’s-tails, bird-wing, and a citizenry
at home in green, of yellow white red blue.
So common that it stays unheard, a remark
of individual nature. And the broad
discussion of the streets, the parliament-houses,
roars past on a dead-set arterial highway,
to drown the note and blur the sight. This issue
is the green leaf of all. Now in the air
about a village-path, the sound of bells.
Down long flowering tree-fingers, and struck
by all life’s quietness, I hear it ring,
the poetry of the day, in Santiniketan.


Down the dead weeks a body floats. Survival
is its weak point: the breath goes on and on,
but all the play of the forest-life is gone.
Exhaustedness, a sense of near-arrival;
and bits of darkness now. In the lee of the wall
it drifts relentlessly, abandoning all.
Medicine pays a phantom call. Revival –
that murderous path – is not embarked upon.
The forest play was beautiful. If Nature
gave all its love and quickness to one creature,
to gift to all – would it not light the future,
a day that danced with Nature’s festival?
But pain has chosen too. A body lying
in Beckbagan, for all. A woman dying.


Such silent people speak so silently
along the path of eucalyptus trees,
such shadows group together, tree by tree,
of winding, tall, leaf-clustering presences
from an older time, it seems to me, that these
whose stately gossip is unheard, may be
a hint of Nature down the centuries,
a word to the wise; and that they speak to me.
And I can only listen, not divine
a word to tell. I step on gnarled root-plinths
and look beyond, at water-hyacinths
and at slow-moving cattle, for a sign;
and back and up, into the topmost trees.
I shall become as almost-still as these.


to R.

What can speak louder than these silences,
this sage white-splendid council, at whose feet
the world goes on part-lost, never to meet
itself, to cut across its distances?
What can speak louder than this force of night,
a white mane thundering down a thirsty land,
crying out with the charge of Nature’s command,
dimmed into dreams, forgotten in daylight?
What can speak louder than the softest of sails
that search and search not as they go above
in infinite quiet upon the deepest of seas?
High on a hill in Himalayan breeze
something has spoken in me, though my voice fails.
Here in the Kulu valley I know my love.


Did you know there was a lost boy-child
of the hills? If Shiva and Parvati
knew in their love-making the precarious issue
of stars and water; then in the human world
an undiscovered child had Time to play with;
did you know in old Manali village
he is sometimes here? His body is out of rock
his face is the earth his foot the tree and his touch
is out of snow. His laugh is a far sky-song.
India a mother you have held me close
and today I am weaned. A companion of the hills
breathes into me his words of poetry.
And all of you made out of stars and water,
you have a hill-companion. Did you know?


Lost on a road that disappears in dust
I turn and even in turning, lose my way.
Dust-pillows rise to meet me. As if day
were night I sleep; and sink beneath a crust
of hard fact, to half-dream. The slightest gust
of day’s air strays about my face, to play
my life’s debt-song as if on holiday . . .
my sloth, and my false friendship, and my lust.
And so one afternoon I sat outside
lost and ready to cry for life’s mistake,
and did not cry but tried again to hide.
And then the world dropped by for friendship’s sake,
a sudden wind blew warm on every side –
the monsoon stormed – and I was clean awake.


to P.

What is precious is how to keep the name
of beauty in a place where you can find it.
It is in poetry and song and dance;
it’s heard in someone speaking (in the someone
if not the speaking); in a red palash-flower
it breathes, and in a small goat nibbling it;
in things of sensible and fine design
it’s found, a chair, a shoe; or a birthday-card
designed in loving humour (but not bought);
it’s in a cool breeze when it’s been too hot;
it’s in light’s everywhere, it’s in night’s silence.
And most of all it hides in happiness
of others. Beauty’s name is all about you,
this day of days, when you are ten years old.


Dried claws hooked in the ground: not trees,
not life: then what iron nails are these?
What agent of death here chokes the land?
Free speech, free thought, free action’s banned.
It has a thousand heads: and smiles,
its young men sing and march for miles –
but speak against it, worse still, threaten
to oust by vote: those faces deaden.
How does it send its messages?
Murder and rape in the villages,
shootings in a Calcutta lane.
Goddess of India – O Rain –
wash this demon from West Bengal!
Let openness flower – or else lose all.


Thousands of years, like atoms of dust, are lost,
spun out in space; the present is all there is;
an uncomprehending ground that swelters beneath
an invisible choking mist of memories.
Confused, bruised dreams: some words of forest-leaf
long since crushed and crumbled in scholars’ sand;
an ingrained knowledge of weariness and death;
a fury-account that cannot count the cost;
a custom of cruelty beyond belief . . .
what should I do in this cracked, heat-driven land?
Thousands of years will merely whirl away;
and yet I set my foot down here for later.
Somewhere I see a huge yellow butterfly play,
and endless paddy-fields, knee-deep in water.


at Nandan

Fountains and freewheeling birds in an evening performance
upstage the American film. A boy selling tea
stars in an instant’s unrehearsed role. The arms
of the dusk-trees, extravagant directors,
bring on the night. Unprompted a queue moves on.
Outside the Academy of Fine Arts a series
of souls is on show. A textiles exhibition
of saris and coloured shirts; a chiselled carving
again and again, of the human form at ease;
a portrait suddenly of a Calcuttan face
at night. I am in a gleaming world-city’s
late festival. What poems are here, what songs,
what leaf-notes, in a sparkle of conversation,
under the spotlight of a quarter-moon.


for Jibanananda Das

Washing-line shadows shape a face on the grass
that’s snatched away; two new-hacked piles of logs
at once are dead and living; a mint spins out gold coins
down a still line of marigold-terrace-pots;
the rickshaw-bicycle-birds hoot, squeal and scream
over a still path of the sky – the road
that does not change.
All is a smalltown moment
in West Bengal.
A gasp of pain’s in the air;
Jibanananda is standing in the road;
his eyes see through the ashen manuscripts
his hand must still compile – must still compile –
bare lonely hand – now with thud after thud
an axe cleaves through a log – and my breath shudders
as a pen’s line records a gasp of beauty.


Blind, perched on the step, she blesses her son.
Her silent lips, of near a century’s breath,
call God to Earth, out-sing the dust of death,
whisper a prayer that lights on everyone
and one alone. Each day she blesses him.
In widow’s white, like a frail lovely bird,
she waits to go.
I hear the day’s true word,
Mother of India, an awakening hymn
of love.
But now the son has summoned me.
I get the lowdown on his Ph.D.,
the tome itself, with all the rest of it,
press-cuttings, even the letter of notification
(xeroxed). He too waits heaven’s invitation:
‘Perhaps, before I die, I’ll be D.Litt.’


to my new landlord

I have fallen in love with a suite of rooms,
and made my proposal, and been accepted.
I am the happiest of bridegrooms:
if ever man made a vow and kept it,
it is my word. A sweetness blooms
in our first days, so passionate-hectic –
what storm’s surliness could affect it?
But the bride’s father fearfully looms.

It’s a kind of cold war – how the money is paid –
instructions rescinded – the climate is Arctic –
the law triple-checking each syllable said:
a deadly manoeuvring is the trade-tactic.
Hit on the head by an iron bar,
what terms can I reach with my father-in-law?


Magh Mela, Santiniketan

Light musical
tunes of sunlight:
cheap town goods, and
village craftsmen
burnishing, carving;
children hurrying;
colours of movement;
games of chance and
try-your-luck skill;
under a tree’s arms,
in a wide orbit,
a turning freedom
of the world’s fresh


How I wish I could plunge my hand in, wrench
a sickening poison-ivy out by the roots!
Rip clear a beautiful leaf that death-pollutes,
its subtle conquering glint – its hidden stench!
If only it could be turned back to its shores,
this army of cells – this gung-ho all-invasive
alien tongue! God is not more persuasive
than this charmed word that kills in countless crores.
Still let the natural flower grow. But proud
in a village-hall a notice-board is loud
in letters that few can read, but still a code
for Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth . . .
while South Calcutta suckles, on Theatre Road,
the British Council’s little bit of death.


Two friends I have beyond all friends on Earth.
A small dark man, going here and there, I meet
on London’s way. And one of nearer birth,
his mood preoccupied yet angel-sweet,
who passes me with scarcely time to greet
here in Calcutta. Yet it is the same street.
And three, four hundred years can be one day.
They know me, love me, go by on their way.

Who are these strangers met upon the path
of poetry, this night of poetry-famine?
What eye-touch has a hint of a word-heaven?
As if I had a poem or two to say,
briefly they meet me, though they cannot stay.
And one is Shakespeare, one Rabindranath.


Will she be mine? She hides: I am on her island:
darting behind each clumsy piece of air
she is never seen. But I hear a beauty of words
and I sense a lithe tuned body of a poem’s song-words
a sweet springing-up, a muscled array of words
in a sparkling of streams I am one with a brilliance of words
in the air I drink in a mother’s milk of words
in berry-fruit sip at an ever-new tang of words
the sea around roars with a mystery of words
I will never know. But a beating heart of words
is mine is not mine will it be mine? This beauty
darting before me now yet behind all the trees
of my brain, has her island within me. O let my tongue
sing a new love-song, word-song, speak in Bengali.


to R.

It seems we are flying. Far below
a couple set up house on land:
find tables and chairs, curtains, bread and milk:
and play a kind of serious hide-and-seek:
from time to time, inside their new domain,
they stumble on each other. We see their antics,
these bodily forms; we know,
we who are no more than a winging-at-one,
of a game that’s played. For we
are our own gods, exist in our own time,
travel a universe in Creation’s light
each instant new. At times we too are seen,
when those two children touch and are at one:
and then forgotten, in our living-together.


What millennial song can be uttered in darkness?
The old world turns in a day-long medley of bells
spilling the night’s note. Caterwauling in blackness
a New Year pealing-for-peace. Hi-jacked by yells
the human word. Is this the next century’s carol,
this bungled note – the curse of quarrel on quarrel?
This the pitch of the next ten centuries’ music?
The only remedy the mediaeval physic
of conjuring right with might?
But I have heard
a singing still, a sadhu’s truth-quiet word
look at the plain case for an enlightened folk
in a new time. A sky-alert diagnosis;
a visionary heart. So for an hour he spoke
at century’s end: and at his elbow, roses.


to A.R.Foning, author of ‘Lepcha, my Vanishing Tribe’, at Longku village

Friend, I have met and missed you. But your friends
have met me here with Lepcha love. The hills
remind me of God’s gift. No good thing ends
because its case, its nothing-body stills . . .
but where it came from, richer there it tends.
Go to Ney Mayel, land that Itbu fills
with innocence. I have met your love, your skills:
I have read your book, and what your book intends.
Your words will keep a story past all change,
a picture that will never lose its look.
Your tribe’s simplicity is of the Earth
like Kanchenjunga. Theirs is the finest birth.
You were gone before I met you. But your book
speaks volumes, in the world’s dark mountain-range.


for Tagore at Mungpu

Poet, I think of you when I look at leaves
dancing before the hills. What hidden event,
exultant in its motherhood, brought them out?
Touching each with her finger as if to say
it’s time it’s time – who on Earth took the trouble?
How do you know her? Then what fathering power
lay in the hills? What long-ago eruption
led to this lightness, childrening all the land?
Poet, how did you meet that potent one
that first-propelled all, and does not age, but still
keeps his whereabouts to himself? Was it here
when you were old, was it here at least once
with that girl scolding you behind your back
you liked so well – you were told of Creation?


Lady at dawn, open your eyes to a city
under a curse. In the delicate hour
you come to the walls. You breathe, and minds are woken;
before each home a curtain is drawn back,
and dullness yields to the quick hands of colour.
Lady at dawn, can you not stir a city
out of its chains? Touch at a dungeon’s doors?
Open a pathway to an imprisoned heart?
But go to the dark spots, to the unsanctioned stations,
to a dead law-court, go to Writers Building;
go to the offices of elected power
and look, the long day down, at death. O Lady
still you take into your arms, and kiss with your light
a city under a curse, and free it again.


to S.M.

Young man of India, across the sky
a horseman of a newer age rides by.
He carries on him deeds of property
bequeathed to him by ancient family,
and goes to claim a newer territory.
His is the wealth of the next century,
for him the West unlocks its treasury,
a gleaming coin of mental wizardry.
He travels near to that rich destiny,
that glittering stardom of prosperity,
that owes too much to an old casuistry.
Only recall your own land’s poetry,
I ask him as he rides on, far and high,
young man of India, across the sky.


Somewhere the air is on fire from her pure fury.
Somewhere the new-fangled killing weapons are released
from her lovely hands. In immaculate deployment
spinning-discs and studded clubs and new-tipped spears
(chemical and biological insanities, nuclear hells)
on a sacred seeking-out, will clog the air-space
and still the humble field. India if you are worth a name
do not imitate the brazen goddesses of other lands
for a name, that smallest thing, has the ring of love
in its use, in its thought, and in its very letters
the thread of friendship gleams on a billion wrists.
Somewhere another shining is at hand
O goddess of Spring, goddess of flowers, who seek beyond
with eyes of a new truth, weapons that are not blind.


Here on the roof time stops. In the silence
of a full moon, eyes closed, I can see
the dark one, Kali, somewhere by me.
A city’s destiny in the balance
she holds: and slowly now she dances.
A Calcuttan damsel sighs in the air
her wonder love. Then doubt, despair,
a broken heart . . . an army advances
crazy and measured in a girl’s feet,
then suddenly kicking against the sky
to break the beyond. See a youth lie
beneath the blind passion, to still the mad beat.
What did I dream on the terrace? It seems
a great city’s poem moves in my dreams.


The sweetest sound is in the air,
the azan, lifting up in prayer
a dust-dry, city-blemished heart.
Upon the roads I play my part,
a scribbler of no faith. I enter
an unseen mosque, a hidden centre
of soul’s release, a certain finding
of day beyond the day’s dull blinding.

The call is done. When I have gone
to spend time with my brother, Lalon;
and freed at last from British rule
I go to visit my cousin, Nazrul;
then one poor hear will know the One –
O when the golden prayer is done.


One billion souls. To have entered this household
is to have taken the warmth of a holy flame
on my face and hands. India I am washed free
of a shadowed being.
What is this endless seething,
scrabbling, snarling in a second-hand cage?
Where is the good arm to knock down, re-build?
Where is the clear eye to inform the mass?
What is the blindness in the family pattern?

Has it not been my fault, the poet’s way
to trespass with truth? To hover inside a doorway
half-seen, saying too much, silent too soon?

A threshold is behind me. Mother your flame
billioning-in-one, bids me towards its breath.
I bow to its inevitable power.


to R.

One soul. One lucid tint behind all colours,
one pair of eyes on the sky, one flowering tree,
one whispering mind on the way, one gorgeous palace
always at hand, one travelling place to be;
one land to love, one far green wash of light,
one river crashing through Time, one conch-note blending
known and unknown, and one bent head of night,
telling, in turn, its tale that has no ending.
Garden of India, one soul dropped by
to write words with the jewel of poetry
upon a glass; to sense, beneath the sky,
what may be God. One world is gifted me,
and something more, to let me know it whole:
the dancing eye-song of one other soul.


Durga Puja

She has come to the city, the first one, the Mother,
on lion-back the loved one, unafraid against evil.
She has come, God-in-Woman, whose eyes tell our power,
whose arm-strength, uncoiled, takes aim in our blindness.
She is here with her children, the dear ones of talent,
to call on us. Lady, we are new in your presence,
with you we return to the house we were born in,
awake in the innocent flowering Earth.

I have come to the river, I am out on a journey,
swept back to a sky-space, stream-swept to a silence
of stars. For an instant I heard the Earth’s music,
a drum-beat, a singing. For an instant of star-space
I am one with all singing. A goddess is near me.

The festival’s over, the drum-beat has ended.

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