VERSE | SURVIVE

I sit with the sweet pain 
Of remonstrating muscles
Aching tendons
It’s been a good day
I’ve clocked my vital number
Of steps again
Day Five. Five days. Day Five
Of doing my best
The precious little victories
Sit like shiny safety pins
In my body. Their lancing points
Glimmering. Abrading. Wounding
Forcing tiny trickles of red-hot plasma
To run outside my veins
The sweet agony of pain
Reminding me that I’m still alive
I’m still surviving, still striving
Still clocking all the steps
That keep this life ongoing
Going on. Ongoing. Going on
I breathe in deeply. Tonight
I am serene, there will be no dreams
To torture or torment me. Tonight
In her benumbing arms I will
let sleep take me … I breathe out
As I lie down with my gentle pain.

VERSE | BEDROOM PRISMS

I get out of bed, slowly, numbly
The morning dopamine has not kicked in
In fact, I have no sense of it
I sigh … that’s never a good sign
It’s going to be one of those days again

I turn off the AC
The gentle hum that had filled the spaces
Where my happy hormone should have been racing
Stops.
I blink slowly
I look at my bedroom slippers
Their shadowy forms
Like yesterday’s leaves
Plucked off by the breeze
Lie on the ground

I get up and look at my curtains
Drawn together like knitted brows
Beige-blonde brows in a frown
Censorial, dragging down
I can’t bring myself to touch
Those sulking folds,
To draw them back
In the ritual
Of morning time

I sit on the stool in front of my dressing table
I look at the woman
Staring back at me
Barely visible, her outline perseveres
Reminding me that I am still here
I watch her for a while
Feeling nothing - vacuous space
And then -
I see something glimmer
At the back in the mirror

The prism that I had hung up
A vestigial piece of love
From a chandelier that has long since
Ceased to grace the space above
Had caught the first ray of light
That had tried to flow
Into my chamber of shadows
Teasing, romancing it
Holding, embracing it
In all its radiant rainbow hues

I turn around towards this scene
Of sudden brightness
I get up, pull back the curtain
Just a little bit. The colours
Fall in shimmering streams
Across my feet
I lift one up and then the other
I slowly dance with the rainbow of colour
My blood gushes warm, I have to smile
It doesn’t seem like another dog day after all

VERSE | ALONE, JAWAB-E-SHIKWA*

I laugh unabashedly, from the belly out 
Someone has said something absurd
They all watch me in derision and doubt
This woman who shouldn’t be seen or heard
She speaks! What social license does she bear?
She’s no debutante, she’s no political heir
Yet she comes to these exclusive soirées
And instead of blurring, fading away
Into the background, this upstart lets down her hair

I walk out gaily, dressed like a queen
I bump into my neighbour, the virulent Sameen
Her face already garbed in a smug smile
She says “Where to Maha? So dressed to kill?”
I laugh loudly, her smile falters a bit
“Just to the market, to get some things
A shirt from Sapphire, two thootis* of kheer*
A tub of it’s-none-of-your-business-my-dear
Is there something you would like me to bring?

I’ve been alone these twenty five years
But I’ve never been lonely, I decided that early
I surmounted my doubts conquered my fears
It wasn’t easy, it took a few years
It took some lonesomeness, some vanishing acts
From folks I called friends and even family who cracked
Under the pressure of seeing me break out
Of the box built for me by the socially devout
But I dug in my heels, I wasn’t going back

Now there are friends and well wishers anew
In all that chaff, I found these gems too
They give me hope, they let me be me
It’s been food for my soul, this honesty
I know who I am and who I want to be
And it’s not a reflection of what society
Has plotted and planned for someone that swerves
Through fate or design, outside its bell curve
I’m contented, eccentric and oh so happy!
* Jawab-e-Shikwa: “Shikwa” (Complaint in Urdu) and “Jawab-e-Shikwa” (Response to Complaint) are poems written by the poet Mohammad Iqbal. They are known for their lyrical beauty and depth of thought

* Thooti: a small clay saucer in which some Pakistani and Indian desserts are sold in order to keep them cool and fresh

* Kheer: rice pudding in Urdu

VERSE | A HEARTACHE SHARED

She looks at me hesitantly 
There is something on her mind
I feel her turmoil, her anxiety
But I’m also aware of the impropriety
Of looking straight into her soul
Uninvited, I can’t make bold
Enough to let her know
That I know that something is not right

She looks away, I continue to read
The label on the jar of cream in my hands
Luxury Hand Lotion it says
Lilac and English lavender
I am acutely aware of her disquietude
Intensely, minutely even as I
Focus on the object I cannot put down …
She finally speaks to me with her eyes

Have you ever felt unlike yourself?
Like it was not you who was experiencing
The pain … the loss … the tragedy …
Like you were on the outside, just watching?
The jar of cream breaks free from the spell
As I face her with all of my being
It now sits on the table flat and still
As I look at her, letting my heart speak

I know, dearest one … I can feel your hurt
Talk to me, or don’t talk at all
Let it all out or just set it free
In the secret spaces of your soul
Listen to your grief, speak to it too
Until the throb recedes a notch or two
Then let me in, let me hold you close
Let me share your pain as I sit with you

VERSE | SHE WAITS

The mynah came to my window today 
She warbled a happy song
She bobbed her head, waiting to be fed
And her little mate trilled along

The man on the street looked at me
As I plied my usual route
He didn’t beg, but his eyes said
I’d be grateful for some food

The server brought my coffee and smiled
His eyes were big and bright
He had good news, to share with those
Who would talk to him a while

The little child came out to the porch
Holding her favourite doll
There she sat, for her beloved Dad
For when up the path he’d walk

The earth embraces our right and wrong faces
Holding every atom together
For when we’d awake and for our own sake
We would ease her burden a feather

The mynahs were fed and off they went
The man on the street did the same
The server smiled, the atoms danced a while
But Earth, she looks on and waits

VERSE | I’M STUCK

I’m stuck in a rut 
One hand and one foot
The other two grappling
For something to hold

I’m stuck in a hole
Body and soul
The claustrophobia
Is taking its toll

I’m caught in a pickle
Peace of mind is fickle
The lid is closed tight
There’s no room to wiggle

I’m caught in a quandary
Like heaps of soiled laundry
That sits just like Jabba
The Hutt*, gross and tawdry

I’m stuck in a rut
And a hole too it seems
I’m caught in a pickle
And an unhappy quandary

But they still haven’t swallowed
Me whole and then followed
With acid dessert
Like a tree that’s been hollowed

I’m stuck in a hole
But I’m still holding on
In the eye of the storm
To courage and hope

* Jabba the Hutt: A Star Wars character who was slug-like alien and would ultimately fall victim to his own hubris and vengeful ways.

VERSE | ROOTED

The lotus flower blooms in hues
Of lovely pinks and whites
It stands tall in the muddy pond
Resplendent and upright

Even when its watery abode
Goes from murky to bone dry
The lotus flower, it endures
The adversity and stays alive

It blooms in beauty and in grace
While its roots take all the strain
Bravely going from day to day
Through sunshine and through rain

We human beings are quite a lot
Like the stalwart lotus flower
Buffeted by all kinds of winds
We still find our super powers

Our bodies and our spirits may be
Trampled by pain and strife
But we hold on, roots and all
We persist and we survive.

And so it is that even in
Our darkest, joyless hours
The lotus in our throbbing hearts
Renews; continues to flower.

VERSE | NO THANK YOU

“I love you and only you
You fill my heart in every way
I will be but a shell if you
Call it quits and leave me some day”
Said the man with the twisted lips
As he held her close, hands on her hips
He’d done this a lot and then changed gears
The words felt absurd even to his own ears.

She looked into eyes that were gleaming with fire
Was it hope, was it love, was it lustful desire?
The three entities then followed behind
As she walked into the space of her heart and her mind
There she sat them down, the judicious sleuth
And looked into their faces now lit up with truth
Hope sat there wilted, there was hardly a trace
Of sincerity and faith on its mottled face
Love was like a wraith of its radiant self
Like old dust that had drifted off of the shelf
Smouldering away in the furthest corner
With sly little tentacles sat covetous Desire
It looked at her trying to hide its true hues
But in the light of the soul that was hard to do.

She lifted the heavy hands from her hips
Bestowed a smile from her beautiful lips
“I suppose I should say a heartfelt thank you
But I won’t; those words, they just don’t ring true”.

VERSE | RISE

There was once a blade of grass
Shining an emerald green
It swished it’s bright little head
In the gently flowing breeze

The other plants stood tall and proud
They seemed miles away
The little blade grew in its glade
In the warmth of sunny days

One day a big machine rolled in
With a mighty roar of a sound
It scooped up all the twigs and leaves
Scattered on the ground

Then it gathered everything
Dead branches, wilted flowers
And slowly groaned away crushing
Down the blade of grass

It lay upon its side a while
The breath knocked out of it
But then quite miraculously
It straightened up again

It wiped away the beads of sap
That the trampler had wrung out
It took three long steadying breaths
And then bobbed its head about

And so it is with life sometimes
She seems to come down hard
That’s our cue to stop and rest
Breathe in and move onwards

VERSE | HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL

November has arrived, nay, it’s nearly  done
December is upon us, winter, it has come
I had a few wishes, resolutions to be done
That I memo’d in my mind in Jan of twenty-twenty one

Then came February, and with it came a pall
From all the celebrations and energy of the hols
The wishes and the must-dos faded just a bit
As summer in all its brilliance laughingly swept in.

Then there were vacations and baking in the sun
Barbecues and festivals; meeting precious ones,
Teatime confidences, low key, calm and tender
More spirited evenings full of song and a few benders!

Fall came rustling in then, dressed in oranges and reds
The list of resolutions were almost put to bed
The dreams too were foggy, like tree tops in the mist
A far off memory; a fleeting touch upon the wrist

And now it is November, nay it is almost done
December is upon us, year-end, it has come
There will be good intentions and bucket lists again
For hope it springs eternal, from beginning to the end.

VERSE | THE IMPERMANENCE OF BEING

I wake up, my mind numb, my legs feeling
Like 10 kg bags of wet cement
Have been tied to my ankles; weighting
Me down, ripping a dent
With my name in the fabric of the universe.
I think briefly of yesterday, it was the reverse
Of the state of my mind, as it ties and it binds
Me today as if to remind
Me that nothing ever is permanent - No.
Nothing stays forever, it isn’t meant to.
Charmed luck, joy, good health and peace
Hardship, tragedy, anxiety and disease
They come, they take their turns at the wheel
Some lasting longer, some just touch you and flee.
I wake up, my mind numb, my body feeling like lead
But tomorrow I’m hoping I won’t feel so dead.

VERSE | THE ANATOMY OF HOPE

It is feeling like the world has overcome 
You body and soul and then some
It’s like drowning in a bottomless sea
Gasping, gasping, trying to breathe
Sputtering, choking reaching for air
Crashing, thrashing limbs everywhere;
It’s feeling the whole world closing in
Vision blurring, darkness descending.
It’s being sure that many endings are near:
Of wanting, of living and even of fear;
It’s feeling the numbness spread like a pall
Binding you, blinding you even as you fall
Into the swirling, whirling abyss
Of dead emotions; of nothingness.

It’s finally seeing the smallest of gleams
Picking the darkness at its hoary seams
Little by little the flicker grows bright
Ever so slowly it pierces the night.
Your leaden heart too warms in the heat
Resuming its vital, pulsating beat;
You rise to the surface on a rip tide
You’re thawing and warming on the inside.
You break the surface of your despair
As your throttled lungs fill up with air;
Gasping, gasping you take in a breath
Sputtering and choking you hold on to the thread
Of the world coming back within reach;
Hope on strong wings, has ended the siege

She gathers you up in her healing arms
Anointing you with her soothing balms
Freeing you, steeling you so that you may walk
Another day with strength and love in your heart.

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