Oct/Nov 1998 Poetry

Indian Sunset

by Ahila Sambamoorthy



Who dances in the fiery wheel
creator preserver destroyer
skin glazed smooth surfaced of red-coral

Invoke the cosmic rhythm
bells bamboo-flutes cymbals conch-shells drums
the hundred-stringed instrument teased by an ivory plectrum

Vedic legacy of ancient rock carvings

(Penang, May 1998)



It is the dark half of the lunar month
a silver gloaming illumes hills of marble
and the amber afterglow of thunder and lightning

There’s magic in the veena
singing of an ageless cosmic romance
Krishna and Radha
and the delirious freedom of the night world
her head filled with the redolence of coriander blossoms
jasmine and sandalwood

In the mango grove branches groan and creak

Distant sea-waves swept by north winds
reach the stars

       Sobs from Earth’s heart

(Penang May 1998)



Now begins Dawn
smeared with saffron and camphor
sacred ash and vermilion
offering petals of full-blown roses
as you glide
in an open-skied dream
over the red-earthed slopes of Thirupathi
where storks fly high
and black peacocks live

Home to the patron of the mountain lands
The Three-Pronged One with lotus-red feet
with scarlet-leafed gleaming spear

the righteous arrow of warfare

(Penang, May 1998)



In dark maritime lands
a lonely sunset is eclipsed by rain
all night crammed into it

She waits for you
in the scant chequered shadow
of the sable-boughed margosa grove
hears the rumble of ebony tropical inlets
distant drums of vast clouds
sights the luminous eyes of an anguished gazelle
the lithe frame of an incandescent tiger

She is still dazed by the dream
an Arabian jasmine crushed by hungry bees
forsaking the honeyed darkness of sleep

(Penang, May 1998)



The large-flowered jasmine blooms
in the gathering dusk
The white cotton wick in the oil-lamp
flames scarlet
In the flushed skies
a broken bangle of conch-shells like the crescent moon
A black cuckoo pecks
at the fragrant pollen of the mango branch —
              a whetstone covered with silver dust

This forest
its clusters of golden blossoms
of the dark-branched mast-wood trees
moist cool shady as darkness itself
       Beside it ivory sands
as dazzling as many moons heaped together
White flowers of the sea-pine washed by the waves

Listen to the thundering surge
of the sapphire-dark seas
       The fishermen’s boats have not returned
       Soon rain will shroud sky and land

(Penang, May 1998)



When the evening star appears
and the oil-lamp is fed with ghee
my grandmother offers silver plates of betel leaves
and arecanut
to the white-tusked God

wrapt in hypnotic spirals of rose incense
chanting esotericism
from a cloth-bound Bhagavad Gita

I can hear her thick golden bangles
jingling to the rhythm of mantras

(Penang, May 1998)



Egrets haranguing in shallow water
kingfishers nesting in forest reeds
a seagull’s shrill note lost over fields
in a dreamlike swoon

Soon the scarlet and orange
silver and gold
now setting fires to the heavens
will change to quiet twilight hues

The aftermath screech of cicadas
echoes in my head
when reptilian dark gnarls the brain

The Black Idol entwined with garlands of skull
gleams malignantly

Her thirst
       the blood of sacrifice

(Penang, April 1998)



The earth stops shuddering
the prattle of wind and frogs and crickets resumes
a torrid inflated night
fetid with saltwater and palmtrees and fishingnets

an opaque miasma
where all directions dematerialise
and time is measured by counterfeit miles

Sleep could not be further away

(Penang, May 1998)



This sultry coastline
where moggies draw territorial boundaries
framed by ocean-marooned fish
is mine

The earth is flat
where the stony horizon meets the sky
our eyes rove
in search of a wandering star
       But all you see is the sulphur-yellow glare
              of far-flung lighthouses

Black water cracks under my feet
I fall through a shimmering underpass
reach rock bottom
see Oceanus
              wraith-like . . .

All is benumbed

(Penang, June 1998)



Equatorial island life
a sebaceous seashore
of common shells and dead wood
the raw islanders’ dunghill

its splendour of emerald-turquoise waves
long bleached by the sun

Shrivelled sea coconuts –
woeful mahogany-burnt fishermen
people crawl like lice out of threadbare huts
giant rats dine with the mob and tailess cats
and sewage pipes ravish the open-sea

You are shell-shocked
       this land is bitter
       no Asian Delight
       your refuge only the endless ocean
       and its indolent breezes

       An unfinished land of clay

(Penang, June 1998)


11) RAIN

On watering slopes of hilly land
where white streams echo
blooms the concolvulus
Thundering rain-clouds
are resplendent with lightning
Creeping field-beans snake-plants
       and the jade-stemmed mango shoot
       drip with water
The dark-eyed monkey
leaps from tree to tree
and the red-mouthed crane
calls from the coral-tree

Below red-padi sings on riverine plains
Bright green bamboos caress the sky
and purple lotus blooms on black ponds

Moist dusk courts rice-fields and banyan trees
hides night-birds and insects
       Only fire-flies dance in the cool
              like shooting-stars

(UKM Bangi, June 1998)



Walk the gilded earth
patterned with blossoms
of full-budded Indian beech

below lofty mountains scattered with rocks
cleansed by streams fed with rain
like a freshly-washed sapphire

Red paste flows from the hills yonder
arched by eagle-wood forests
where the owl and spotted-pigeon nest

in the fresh young moon’s
cool evening light
the silver-boughed fig tree
stands shimmering by the river

(UKM Bangi, June 1998)



An ephemeral throbbing sensation
in the heartland of my heritage
From unbelonging
       I move to belonging

The temple’s gopurams glitter
Shiva Vishnu Muruga Ganesha
displayed in harlequin silken robes
are gesturing me to kneel
A bare-chested priest intones mantras
kindling the golden Agni
       an angelus to his rites

In my stately hotel
I lick the platter clean of ambrosia
while on the street below
a man defecates in the undergrowth

The tight gnarled arterial streets
are clotted with gaudy bazaars
boast their stench of bilious manure
       a waxen woman seeks the trishaw’s shade
       her bulk emaciating her
       alzheimer-struck slave

Toiling rustic stagger
with their bane of blighted harvests
Consumptive mothers crawl out of
cramped mud-huts
their withered breasts unbeckoning
to the parched throats of dehydrated infants
The jaundiced naked child
festering with postules
frolics under the cruel sun
Distempered boars and rabid dogs
ungainly with distended abdomens
partake in the revelry

Leprous Syphilitic
cads vagabonds roughnecks delinquents
all bear the angst of destitution
       their hearts carved out of gall
       These then are the deranged faces
of the land’s inglorious philistines

These then are the heart-wrenching sight
through which my blood flows

(Based upon impressions of New Delhi.
Composed: September 1993, Petaling Jaya)


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