Two Poems & A Translation
IImother sole source who survives the universe’s cycles of cessation & creation & is present in the pauses too who sees suns as firefly blinks cosmic darkness who makes every shape every form however small however strange quiver with life boundless love unstoppable forgiving fearless frightening in whose sapphire veins blood boils limitless intelligence preserving & devouring fragrant with holiness as a milky way of jasmine accept our pranamsII IIauspiciousness your tongue unfurls across galaxies sucking in poisons like nectar of blue lotuses your hair unravels creating rivers trees capillaries clouds of connected stars you are unclothed bliss unlike us webbed in illusions who confuse abominations for amrut annihilate our ignorance replace our hatred with staggering loveII IIdivine wisdom protector of poets behead me make mine the head necklaced in blood that you pluck like a fruit make me crimson gore that gleams on your sword extinguish my ego & free me resplendenceII IIbenevolence your skull garland swings from soft breasts to navel each cranium potent with languages’ power dance on my tongue make my every breath a song that you stamp with ruby soles accept me goddessII IIcompassionate killer absolve me of karma let my hacked arms hang as rakta-beaded girdle over your pubis unleash me motherII IIrampaging kali with heart in my mouth eyes blinded by your kindness i ask for shelter consume me deviII
First published in Mai Feminisim & Visual Culture
Invoking Kali draws on the Sanskrit genre of sacred stotra (स्तोत्र) literature, which is comprised of odes, eulogies or hymns of praise within codified poetic structures. This poem refers to the namavalli and sahasranamam, which translate as ‘garland of names and praises’ and ‘1000 names’ respectively wherein each name, attribute or epithet lauds an aspect of the god or goddess to whom the hymn is dedicated. The poem was written during the low-key 2020 Durga Puja. In the face of suffering on a global scale, this poem is a lava-tongued supplication to the untameable, non-hierarchical auspiciousness of Kali Devi for courage and grace, so that we create a wise vision for all life on our pale blue dot.
Beginning with the individual ‘I’, the poem ripples outward. In this, it is also overlaid by the impassioned personal mode of medieval bhakti /devotional poetry which was written in the mother tongue, and called for breaking social boundaries in the path of spiritual inclusiveness.
A note on my formal choices: The lack of capital letters, full stops and verse breaks indicated by double bars II all refer to and point away from earlier male access to the ‘pure’ language of Sanskrit. For instance, Sanskrit dramatist Mahakavi Kalidasa ( 4th-5th CE) had his women characters and servants speak in the ‘common’ language of Prakrit while male characters dialogued in the ‘perfected, put together and adorned’ language of power, Sanskrit.
As if in an trance, each alone in a shoal, blue whales migrate, their hides woven and unwoven by wave and wake. Balaenoptera musculus or Melville’s ‘Sulphur- bottom’ mottled with diatom --millions of microorganisms -- that each one supports as tawny undergrowth, each tongue weighty as an elephant, each heart large as a car, up to a hundred feet long, aging till ninety and more head towards extinction’s red line ploughing through currents blue, cold, lightning- nerved or warm, through the oceans’ featureless caress, navigating paths that part and seal with each dive. Slender submarines these cetaceans that pulse and moan, breathing in rhythms of spume, sink, swim, spume on their annual natation from Alaska to Acapulco and back, feeding and breeding, calves heaving alongside. Their enemies are few. Some esurient whalers after wild meat, ships with savage steel hulls that tunnel misguiding sonar fathoms deep, and whirlpools of orcas, minatory white flowers lunging to bite. What’s it to swim as long arrow skimming beneath brine’s vast reflection, to swim steadfast, not rough, driven by more than craving, rather urged by life’s secret palpitation, to swim by the Pole star lodged within each heart that gives faint direction till destiny’s end? ~ Not so with the migrating elephant herd, Loxodonta africana, who under summer’s blare first cross the desert, then the forest of dead trees with trunks blackened whose amputated arms point to the wasteland, an arena crisscrossed by so many paths trodden by so many who have passed that direction distorts, becomes a gaping maze disembowelled by sky but flanked at one end by a gauntlet of lions desperate in this season of starvation to take on elephant. Then the siren scent of water some twelve miles away that summons the scramble of grey, each cloud of four tons running on cushion pads feet plumped by soft tissue to carry weight, hush sound, though the earth rumbles their coming as seismics spread like rays underground. What’s it to trumpet, squeal, bellow also in infrasonic range as water hits eye as a razorblade of light that could both save and destroy for among the glitter a mesh of crocs reside? With sinews strained the stampede begins that they must complete to seek grass and rest, water and hope that this generation of downy calves – if lucky -- will finish. Last, the dash to the sacred pasture, flickering alter held in memory from generation to generation, passed by matriarch to daughter when each life matters so little and so much. ~ We make our stabs at journey from location to location and person to person, dropping calls on the way as the great travel unravels in iris and gland, pubis and thalamus as migrations unchartered, while the invisible glistens -- source and sustenance -- as patina on stone and cement, film on flower and bridge, dew, dewlap, dung and neon but its throb is unheard till all wakes disappear, all routes are washed out, the stampede’s concluded for each entity and we, Homo sapiens or humanity lie hidden in earth, in fire, while gleaming breezes loosen another nectarine dawn routine in its splendour.
First published in Lakeview International Journal of Literature and Arts
Creation Hymn by Mannikavaccikar
This translation from Classical Tamil is from the compilation Thiruvaccikam - Sacred utterances by 9th Century bhakti poet Mannikavaccikar. 3.1-6 wobbling spheres round into the elemental cosmos immeasurable wonder beyond wonders here our planet floats impossible to sing these worlds’ profuse beauties try this for scale: earth in its disk of stars a dust mote dancing among millions more in a shaft of light that falls through a window of your home the sunbeam Siva
First published in RELIQUIAE
Priya Sarukkai Chabria is an award-winning poet, translator and writer of nine books of poetry, speculative fiction, literary non-fiction, translation and, as editor, two poetry anthologies. Her books include Andal The Autobiography of a Goddess (translation), Sing of Life Revisioning Tagore’s Gitanjali (poetry), Clone (speculative fiction) and Bombay/Mumbai: Immersions (non-fiction). Chabria has studied the Sanskrit rasa theory of aesthetic and Tamil Sangam (2-4BCE) poetics. She is Founding Editor of Poetry at Sangam: http://poetry.sangamhouse.org/ and India Editor for the international poetry anthology Divining Dante. Awards include Muse Translation Award, Kitab Experimental Fiction Award, Best Reads by Feminist Press and recognition for her Outstanding Contribution to Literature by the Government of India. Committed to hybridity, Chabria curated Rasa, Rapture and its Re-enactment for Sahapedia, participated in Fireflies a production of miniature paintings, Bharatanatyam and poetry, co-founded film society Friends of the Archive , curated seminars for the Sahitya Akademi, was invited to Lucy Writers, University of Cambridge, while residencies include Writers’ Centre, Norwich and Sun Yat-sen University International, China. Anthology publications include Another English: Anglophone Poems from Around the World, Adelphiana, Asymptote, Drunken Boat, PEN International, Post Road, Reliquiae, The Literary Review, The Gollancz Book of South Asian Science Fiction, The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry, The British Journal of Literary Translation, Language for a New Century, Voyages of Body and Soul etc. Her poems are translated into Indian and European languages. www.priyasarukkaichabria.com