The Grand Inquisitor

Shukra aka Morningstar (Mumbai, July 2012)

He took me to a place
hanging loosely in the stratosphere
and he showed me the kingdoms of the earth
in splendour, sealed with blood.
But, he was only a shadow.
He was not
the Prince of Darkness
and he didn't ask for my soul.

On this day in July,
blood looms bigger
than faith.
My mustard seeds have lost their fragrance.
They're scalded as if
the mustard oil
had been left unattended.

It is time to look for other flavours,
says the earth,
athelas, sanjivni, valerian root ...
But something inside me whispers, even burnt mustard will suffice.

Katya and Grushenka (Mumbai, 2013/2014)

Red velvet in my hands
holding you in my heart
until the end.

Unwoven strands of present
tense, wasted, swirling.

In the basin of the night,
the veiled Mistress
smiles gently.

"Patience, my love."

They will find you
when their time comes.
You'll be ready
red velvet in your hands.

Strange Days (Mumbai 2013/2014)

She gave me an address
and instructions
on the way to get there
but I was blindfolded
a hand covering my eyes,
my face,
my mouth
she had been there before
it seems
she seems
confident of the path she takes
strange loops of glamor
underneath the full moon's light
opening the trees like curtains
in a well-rehearsed production
scenes edited like history
delivered as only-begotten children
once having entered
must exit
through ways predestined
never to be born again

And After All the Tea and Cakes and Ices (Patna, 2003)

That's all, your Honour!
no more witnesses today.
The stars are dull.
Look in my eyes
every question wraps around my irises
like a solenoid
you are magnets, held
to black pinpoints
look, how you tremble
locked inside your iron will.

Laugh with the Fool
he has forgotten the Footman
the settled dust of memory
awaits the coming of a deeper night.

The Kiss – Heathcliff and Catherine (Mumbai, November 2014)

A smog of memory breathes droplets
shimmer in November's lamplight
a million moths crawl across the chasm
conversations thicken
into zero watt serial patterns

Lips lock into lips
Spirit locks in human 
Human twines into Spirit
Warp drive to Stars' End

He lives on
Sowing bullet seeds
The majesty of willing life-in-death
in Absolute Zero 

The Peasant’s Verdict, Through a Glass Darkly (Mumbai, June 2007)

An enemy
is only a mirror
that reflects
a few stains
on a dress that doesn't fit.
Sometimes I snap the threads
that seem to hold it together
and there are times
when it hangs so loosely
that I am utterly shapeless
an amorphous mess
spreading out like something sticky
into spaces where I dare not venture.

But when the bugle calls
I look into the mirror
and I fit myself
into the soldier's uniform
to give those stains
a chance to belong.

That when my peace
comes back to me
I will not be distracted
from my joy
by those naive remarks
that fall upon
some stupid little stain.

The references to The Brothers Karamazov (Fyodor Dostoyevsky) are too numerous to mention. Strange Days is a song by The Doors. The Footman and the cakes and tea and ices are taken from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot. Stars’ End is a reference to the Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov. Heathcliff and Catherine are from Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte). Athelas is from The Lord of the The Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien). The other references need not be cited because they fall well outside the purview of any copyright laws.

Night’s Neurons

The Weaver (June 2007, Mumbai)

Betwixt waking and eternity
the corridor twists
and turns
darkness peeps out
of many doors
left ajar.

Out in the open
a man steps out
of the lamplight
into the rain
he wears a long, black coat
his voice
is breaking
and his eyes are earnest.

He drives off
in a van, full of people
into mortal danger
there are no digits
on the number plate.

The corridor turns
like a thread for Sydney Carton
on a spindle
in his weary hands.
He reeks of midnight's oil.
The rain drips off
his shoulders
like a chill
into his heart
His lamp is burning
and the door is shut.

Wait Until Dark (February 2014, Mumbai)

The wings of night are spreading wide
the Morgul Lord unmounts
his hands are cold as ice
his breath
forks like a tongue
a sheet of flame, twisting and unwavering
his eyes the usual 
empty sockets
hopelessly out of sync
for it is daylight that he haunts.

The night, the pristine, the undying 
keeps us safe, 
within Her bosom
for if any of Her creatures should see the day
be it an owl, besieged by ravens
or a candle flame
in a pile of amorphous wax
or a student grappling with a crowd
of random cadences and flashing rhythms
a fastening of fancies
into tens and fives 
and sevens and their noises,
if one of us forgets a turning, strays
into the deepening shadows of daylight
and forgets the way,
the noonday sun will have his fill
and let us go
and She will find us
where She left us
in the midnight hour.

To Swell A Progress (March 2015, Mumbai)

A voice: What will you do
when you're free?
When the memory of this tiger and that
no longer snarls
at your gate?
When your bones have left their grating
at chalkboards
squeaking clean
no dust particles to settle with ease
at the counter
dark matter
white matter in a parallel universe
I answered - almost.
My eyes are tired
from too little widening
the muscles are stretched thin
now blowing out
at elliptical fault lines
cavernous as hot air balloons
and just as vacuous in their leaning
into the bitter air.

And yet, there is a way
of gentleness
a deathly stillness
that rips the sky open
and in between the seconds
uncountable millennia
leave just enough
breathing room
for a promised freedom.

Class (October 2001, Philadelphia Suburbs)

Your curses clamor through the walls,
the crickets shrill, the boiler's rumbling grin
a grin, 
not quite a laugh, a grin
escapes the boiler room below
muscles in its chin
contort in heed, in heat, 
to conversation's end.
Pieces of your soul are strewn like coals
into this empty din.

I read between the minutes of the night
freezing autumn night unquenched
the boiler's heat in rhapsody, in flame
in flame upon my back
in chill upon my feet.

I read between the minutes of the night
your face
caught in a struggle 
with my swearing friend 
I looked at you
with brave and tender eyes.

Other Poems by Acushla Sarswat

Blood and Rain

A View from an Ex-Aristo (Mumbai, 2014)

Mother of God!
There you stand
tall and proud
the blade across your torso
like a grey black sports bra
but you have no breasts.
Why no breasts?
Only straight lines
running true
without curving
without bending.
I stand for my turn
sometimes sit waiting
always waiting
for you
to christen me again
your pen
writing my name
in blood,
in drops of red ink
rolling with my severed head
across the floor
my thoughts disembodied
stuck in limbo
for a soul to pick them up
off the mainline.
I think they've lost my number
I've been waiting for hours
the never-ending minute
seems to stretch across eternity
like a rubber band
carrying within it
infinite tension
never breaking
always teasing
just a little further ...
Your blade is dull today
it carries rust
there is no one to whet it.
We are saved by gravity alone
Madame la Guillotine!
May Thou always be
so merciful.
Hallowed be Thy Name.

Sand and Yang (Mumbai, 2014)

The safest place in the universe
is the eye of a hurricane.

Walls of steam rise up around me
making havoc of buildings, trucks
breaking trees like pencils
carving messages into uranium
reactors that pop and fizz
like corks and balloons
now spurting blood
as if some wrathful Goddess
in the steam-colored garb of Isis
drawn like oil paintings
from the wells of fantasy
threw a party
for a fan following of misshapen clowns
and half-baked misanthropomorphic entities
hanging out
the bored masculinity of the ancient desert
having been assured
that there is no water on the red planet
and no little blue men worth waiting for
hooded or otherwise.

The balloons we live in
are fragile
and yet the storm
protects us
for the whirlwind has no center. 
His dark anger spins Him
in the vortex
of memory.

And who are you
to talk of fantasy
said He
you who live in the land of Bell Curves
and Sorting Hats?

August (Philadelphia, 2002)

As you walk by
the air becomes so heavy
I am pushed against a wall
Is it you or is it just the heat of August?
Hiroshima breeze
you are so heavy
I am hanging like the leaves 
on the drying summer trees
pulled down towards the earth
Is it you or is it just the August air
that makes me droop with so much longing?

The August sun was always known to burn
us lesser mortals 
with his august glare

We sacrificed an apple for the rain 
I kissed the earth
I heard a little girl cry out
as if she knew the presence there
If August comes creeping
like a whisper
through the hollows of your mind
tell me, love
then does September trudge behind?
If you were a pebble 
in the walls of Jerusalem
would they come crashing down?

Is it you or is it just the mushrooms clouds of August?
Sodom and Gomorrah lifted out 
like mushrooms from our lore, our fantasies
borne into reality
and christened Hiroshima, Nagasaki ...
hanging heavy in the firmament
laden with their sixty years
of ripened weariness
your glance is heavy as the August rain
shining through them and the trees.

The stares of the undying lifted through the skies
reflecting points of consciousness
the dying steps of the millenium 
now reborn into the new
thunder like the heavy August rain
and you. 

Waiting for Rain (June, 2005, Mumbai)

Climb, gaze
up where the steeple meets the sky
scribble someone's name 
into the dust-filled clouds.

Casino in the heavens
lit by lightning
somewhere the westerly wind
sits poker faced
covering diamonds
about to be scattered
wait for the sparkling rain.

Shards of Light (October, 2005, Mumbai)

In the shredded darkness of this night
dazzled and undeafened
stupid, staring eyes
stuck in the stupor of unceasing sight
the heaviness of nothingness plodding
tortuous miles of wakefulness
and twisting arms of time
tick-ticking through eternity.

Arise! Awake! Shake off your sleep!
You swept through the room in all of your magnificence.
An army of rays assailed us
nailing me to shadows
that have dared remain.

Eyelids jammed are not like doors
the lock of sleep
cannot be forced with chisels
chisels are at work
carving out my name
into each terrifying minute.

Acknowledgments: I have quoted song lyrics by Iron Maiden and Megadeth in some of my verses.

Other Poems by Acushla Sarswat