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Absences -- Dom Moraes

Guest poem sent in by Priya Chakravarthi
(Poem #1618) Absences
 Smear out the last star.
 No lights from the islands
 Or hills. In the great square
 The prolonged vowel of silence
 Makes itself plainly heard
 Round the ghost of a headland
 Clouds, leaves, shreds of bird
 Eddy, hindering the wind.

 No vigils left to keep.
 No enemies left to slaughter.
 The rough roofs of the slopes,
 Loosely thatched with splayed water,
 Only shelter microliths and fossils.
 Unwatched, the rainbows build
 On the architraves of hills.
 No wounds left to be healed.

 Nobody left to be beautiful.
 No polyp admiral to sip
 Blood and whiskey from a skull
 While fingering his warships.
 Terrible relics, by tiderace
 Untouched, the stromalites breathe.
 Bubbles plop on the surface,
 Disturbing the balance of death.

 No sound would be heard if
 So much silence was not heard.
 Clouds scuff like sheep on the cliff.
 The echoes of stones are restored.
 No longer any foreshore
 Or any abyss, this
 World only held together
 By its variety of absences.
-- Dom Moraes
(From A Variety Of Absences: the collected memoirs of Dom Moraes,
 Omnibus edition, 2003)

I'm better acquainted with Dom Moraes's prose than his poetry. When I read
his memoir 'My son's father' in college I was mighty impressed with the
range of his associations (was it the intended effect?) and the sheer
quality of his prose. It was only when he died in 2004 that I really began
to look around for his poetry. There isn't a whole lot of it on the Internet
but here is one poem I really liked.

Moraes has been in the news for several reasons - his books of prose,
controversy with co-author Sarayu Srivatsa, biography, anthologies, his
marriages - but I suspect most people think of him as a poet who stretched
beyond his genre. Or should I just speak for myself?


The poet on the poem 'Absences':

    I came back to Bombay from Madhya Pradesh in early 1982, not knowing
    exactly what I would do next. Leela had been appointed editor of a
    magazine, and was away most of the day. During this time I wandered
    around the city. I visited scantily stocked bookshops; I walked by the
    polluted sea. I did this one afternoon, when the tide was low; there
    were beached boats on the wet sand, and, across the shimmery, gauze-like
    water beyond, a single island lay, with a look of solitude.  There was
    nobody about. A peculiar shiver ran down my spine, and at first I
    thought I must be ill. Then I recognized my own symptoms. I had not felt
    like this for seventeen years.

    Certain words and phrases came to my mind. I went home, sat down and
    began to write a poem; it was about what it would be like if everyone in
    the world was dead. As I worked, I felt pure power coming out of me.  I
    was concentrated to such an extent that the world around me did, in
    fact, seem dead: there was only me left, and my writing hand. It was a
    sensation that I had forgotten, slightly unpleasant, but simultaneously
    exceptionally exciting. After about four hours, I could not continue any
    more. I followed an old habit, and put what I had written aside for some

    During these days I worried; what if, when I went back to the poem, it
    was no longer there, was no longer as good as I had thought while at
    work on it?  When I returned to my notebook, the two days being up, I
    found it was still there, and I could see some of what needed to be
    done. I continued to work on it. It was protean, taking on different
    shapes as I worked, until at last one strong shape remained.

    I typed this out, and called it 'Absences'. It was the first poetry I
    had written in seventeen years which I felt was poetry. It was like
    nothing I had previously written, but, partly because of that, I felt
    once more what Cecil Day Lewis called 'The Poet's inward pride.  The
    certainty of power'...  Perhaps I should quote it here. I feel a
    tremendous pride in it still, not because of its quality, but because it
    was the precursor of a great deal of new poetry in the years to come, a
    John the Baptist.

         -- Dom Moraes


There's a biography up at Wikipedia:

39 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Kathy E. Partain said...

In reference to the poem "Absences" by Dom Moraes, what is the meaning
of the word "tiderace"?

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