‘Language itself is a child’: Five poems by JBMulligan

life cycles

The pain-maddened hands of the trees
cover the nakedness of snow
as much as they undress the winter mountain.

Old Mother Dragon on her side:
her dark chicks are feeding in hordes
and their draining renews her
as slowly, small wings unfurl.

The dance of green, the scattering
of breezes, like seeds:
chant for the coming harvest.

Irregular slow burning and ashes fall,
the sacrifice of the King.
What has gone deep waits
to rise again like hunger.


“The verb for I.”

            (W.S. Merwin, Losing a Language)

The verb for I runs across the lawn
shaping the ground of the future
until the shape is lost beneath
the avalanche of other shapes
similar, in palimpsest.  (The verb
for palimpsest is life itself
over-layering the constant
surface of being with being.)
A verb is a bland equation
conveying sometimes excitement
as numbers add up to their total.
Nouns are things, verbs motion,
or nouns are ideas, verbs stillness.
Language itself is a child
and a scientist, and the same
curved glass brings the world
close up and gleaming largely,
and the verb for I is there as well
atremble on both sides of the trembling glass.



The wind and rain tear up contracts
with memory, rip away the deed
to the past, wash out the ink
and leave the page of today
blank beneath the pen of tonight
ready to write tomorrow.
Even the car that whooshes by
bears a driver out of bondage
to what he was.  His future
opens before the hissing wipers:
is clear, is blurred, is clear, is blurred
but is his to reach toward
freed from the gnarly fingers
that clutch at him like trees
palsied by showers and gusts.


seeming random

There are no random acts of violence:
there’s the blade or bullet waiting
in the fist of the heart, there’s
the laugh as cold as a stone
in the killer’s voided eye,
but there’s nothing random.

There’s the pride of the failure
at crushing the wings of a dream.

There’s the emptiness of hope
for anybody else, the curse
on joys beyond the desert
where the soul slithers, cold
in its hunger, and strikes.

And there’s the loss of a smile,
of eyes like the rings of a lover.

New names attach to the story
as if they were details, and are.
The pain is past all cameras,
is a cost of joy, as hope
laughs along the sunlit street,
egg-shell-innocent and here.


to Kobayashi Issa

“This world — ” Issa writes,
“a banquet of flowers
just above hell.”

His crop was poverty,
always in bloom,
a soil of dung and clay –
but petals scattered
bright and useless.

Still, there is the banquet.
Still, there is hell.

You couldn’t separate
the world from the world,
you could only live
among the blossoms,
over the flames.


JBMulligan has had more than 1000 poems and stories in various magazines over the past 40 years, and has had two chapbooks published: The Stations of the Cross and THIS WAY TO THE EGRESS, as well as 2 e-books, The City of Now and Then, and A Book of Psalms (a loose translation).

Read more poetry on Bengaluru Review:

‘And we smelt like guavas’ : Five poems by Nilim Kumar

‘You may see the city slowing down’ : Five poems by Malcolm Carvalho

‘It was spring and we suckled dreams’: Four poems by Linthoi Ningthoujam



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