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.
(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? priya 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 days. 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 [Links] There's a biography up at Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dom_Moraes