"Something dies, something else feeds on it": Three poems by Priya Dileep worth reading again and again

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"Something dies, something else feeds on it": Three poems by Priya Dileep worth reading again and again

Poetry by Priya Dileep

Geometry

The other day a friend confessed how he didn’t feel a thing when he held the stiff as the bone body of his cat and dug a hole to bury her. A measure of loss hit him only later when the empty bowl lying around, with nothing pawing at it hooked his eyes. I felt sorry for him, for the way he put it, but was soon reminded of my last new year's resolution to learn pottery. To get fingers dirty and feel something warm and fecund taking shape. Wet grime under fingernails. Clay drying in hair. Sometime prior to that I had bought a medium-sized beige bowl with a blue grapevine snaking along its outer curvature at an artisans’ fair. A blue-veined gossip, I preened to myself as I emptied the packet of coconut cookies a lover's friend had baked and sent along when the former visited. The puckered rotund crust, desiccated soul. The lover, constantly chewing nails and swallowing slivers, is long gone, the friend remains a friend though. The human hand, one finds out, has an average of 29 major joints and 123 ligaments. Opposing thumb against the four, the human measured an evolutionary stride. To hold things, to hold on. A bowl's diameter is said to rarely fall under half its height. Bowls have lips, there's nothing called a close-lipped smile for them though. To be kissed by other lips or licked as the case may be. The earliest located bowl, I’m told, dates from some 18,000 years ago. Perhaps, the first bowl was born much earlier, when like a shell that holds the softest creatures within, or the first cracked open coconut with limpid memory, they learnt to drink water cupped in palms joined. Cupped, sheltered. Marrow of my bones. Cups, after all, are bowls with ears. Hold your tongue, you might just catch the faint humming of a distant sea. Islands sunning on your kitchen counter. Sheathed, silted skeletons baked to perfection. What forms. What matters. Shape of things. The shape of things to come. To cup a bowl and raise it to your mouth is to feel feeding, the senses close enough to thieve into each other’s instincts. The fullness of words: food, fruit, milk…Spreading your lips, spilling down the chin. Rippling stain, wet flower. My mother tongue has no separate word for bowls, only a qualifier attached to plates, pointing to the freakish depth. Words swim around in them. Storied selves. Tell me another one, please. An ancient archaeological artifact, a Hellenistic golden bowl, was said to have bees embossed around it; it also had a navel. “Take, so that I might receive”, buzzed something. Maybe libations did well without sweetening. Maybe somebody touched its navel heart and felt a stirring for a body once loved. Bound through bodily fluids. Umbilical ties to things sucked life from. Some nameless metal, hardening into hooks in the ribcage, dragging your heart down into the pit. Ancestral brine. Abdominal urge. Emptying bowels, the ancient seat of passions, is inevitable, but bowls are rarely empty perhaps. What's missing, its ghostly sheen, soon occupies the shell. Other things as well. The lone torn shoe, not that fat fish. The way floating crumbs get pulled to the heart. Gravity. Motions. Emotions. Maybe my friend's empty bowl will have other claimants. Something or someone that curls up and ignores at will. To bowl him over again. The longing glued to a two lettered prefix. Fix. But then this is only a kintsugi for the heart. Lip-chipped, charcoal veined, sunlight soaked hypoxic fish in my mother’s womb yet to grow wings. An island prayer. Precarious.

***

Some Days

you think all it takes is a stroll.
A stroll on those winding streets
that seem to remain the same
through the litter of routine.
Streets steadily eating into the slumber of suburbs,
streets growing tongues to speak from insomnia,
to those who can only listen, that is.
The babble from its rag bag taking you to lanes
where you have no business
other than following some ancient instinct of course,
off the course.
A girl checks her face, once again
in the black film of a car window,
a sobbing child with the neat triangle of a hand kerchief
pinned to its school shirt paddles along
to keep up with an elder’s flailing left arm
that pretends to be a birdwing,
an old man with a weighing machine settles down
and waits for weight watchers,
rupees two to climb on to know,
oil licked hair, grey knuckles of black umbrellas,
and impatient human feet at the crossing.
Some splayed, some displayed.
Nowhere so naked as we are there, you think,
those few inches that tread the ground.

Some days,
an odd woman in tatters
sits on the pavement
before the library,
with three red flowers behind her left ear,
three more,
in an otherwise empty bottle of cheap rum.
She raises it to some goddess of the crossroads
and sings in an alien tongue.
You want to sit by her and ask her
about the flowers, the goddess, the song...
But you paddle away,
peer into some black film,
watch you watching yourself,
greying at the knuckles and more,
waiting.
Mired among those
who pause to cross,
or tarry for that matter.
You tug at your backpack,
remind yourself of the job at hand,
stare at something else,
anything else:
chipped red nail paint on your toes
that he loved, for instance
and walk on.

***

So Much for Poetry

At any given point of time
you have half a dozen things to write about.
The newspapers are full of inspiration.
You just need to pat your thoughts to some shape
as you stand in your balcony,
shifting weight from one foot to the other,
staring at nothing in particular.
You catch them, words that skitter around too much,
distracting them with a harmless looking promise.
That split-second clanging of will,
metal-teeth gnashing in wooden jaws.
You watch the panic run,
before dunking it in a pail of water
that swallows the half-heard squeal.
When it is taken out and you check the freshly dead thing,
its paws pressed together, as if in prayer,
there’s little consolation of words being
a better bargain, for thoughts you don’t want to think.

So, even though
at any given point of time
you have half a dozen things to write about,
and the newspapers are full of inspiration,
you just stand in your balcony,
sometimes shifting weight from one foot to the other,
and staring at nothing in particular.
Sometimes on your toes,
slipping fingers through lattice work
that files out the world in half-inched squares,
you crane your neck to catch a sight of rodents
thronging the garbage can
without guilt stapling their eyelids together,
dragging animatedly,
the poem you could have written,
paws, squeals and everything else,
beyond the curve
where the trash lies.

Something dies,
something else feeds on it.

***

Priya lives in Bangalore with her canine companion. She thinks of herself as a hermit at home in the anonymity that the city confers. And has a certain morbid fascination for ruins, anachronisms, cement benches in cemeteries and such other things. She likes to write.

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