startling banals

30 June 2008

of the parking lot
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21 June 2008

is it only
your surface
that flows?
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18 June 2008

moonrise.. i sleep
sunrise.. wake up
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14 June 2008

you watch
too many cartoon films
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02 June 2008

Women poets of yore - from Greece, Japan and India

Sappho was a Greek lyric poet from the 7th century BC, belonging to a cult of Aphrodite. Her vivid and sensual poems are like a celebration of life. What can we say about poems that have survived two thousand six hundred years! Their beauty is truly timeless. What makes them even more interesting is the fact that she used to sing them with her own music that she played on a lyre. Sappho also wrote poems of love among women which suggests that ancient cultures were probably very tolerant. In fact,the word lesbian comes from Lesbos, the place Sappho belonged to. These poems are from the book 'Sappho' by Mary Bernard.

With his venom
and bittersweet
that loosener
of limbs, Love
strikes me down

Standing by my bed
In gold sandals
Dawn that very
moment awoke me

When they were tired
Night rained her
thick dark sleep
upon their eyes

Pain penetrates me

The evening star
Is the most
of all stars

Love has shook
my senses
like wind crashing on
mountain oaks

At noon time
when the earth is
bright with flaming
heat falling straight down,
the cricket sets
up a high-pitched
singing in his wings

You may forget but
Let me tell you
this: someone in
some future time
will think of us

I asked myself
What Sappho, can
you give one who
has everything
like Aphrodite?

Izumi Shikibu, a Japanese poet from the 10th century AD, was a member of the royal court of Kyoto and practised Buddhism. She is famous for her diary about her affair with the Emperor's son, prince Hatsumichi. These poems are from the book, 'The Ink Dark Moon' by Jane Hirshfield who says that they are messages that she sent to her lover through servants.

This heart is not
a summer field,
and yet...
how dense love's foliage
has grown

One by one,
at day's end,
the birds take flight
in all directions-
which could lead me to you?

Although the wind
blows terribly here,
the moonlight also leaks
between the roof planks
of this ruined house

If you had
only stayed away
when I first missed you,
I might have forgotten
by now

What colour is
this blowing autumn wind,
that it can stain
my body
with its touch

(..the sound of the night monk's voice reciting the Sutras mingled
with the sound of incessant rain..)
Should I leave this burning house
of ceaseless thought
and taste the pure rain's
single truth
falling upon my skin?

Watching the moon
at midnight...
I wonder
whose village
he watches it from

(On retreat at a mountain temple)
Although I try
to hold the single thought
of Buddha's teaching in my heart,
I cannot help but hear
the many crickets' voices calling as well

When the water-freezing
winter arrives,
the floating reeds look rooted,
as if stillness
were their own desire

This heart,
longing for you,
to a thousand pieces-
I wouldn't lose one

Chiyo-ni (1703-1775) was from the school of the great Basho, the inventor of haiku poetry. Haiku is a unique form of Japanese poetry that consists of seventeen syllables. It is its briefness that makes haiku so powerful - evident from the fact that it is one of the most popular contemporary form of poetry. It is a matter-of-fact kind of poem that is supposed to convey a specific mood without flowery adjectives. Since many haiku poets were wandering Buddhist monks, it is also some kind of meditation on life. The haiku of Chiyo-ni has a deep connection with the natural world around her. She creates great effects through very beautiful observations about nature and her poems also have a deep personal touch. They have a surprising effect and many a times we have to read a poem all over again to understand what it really means. These poems are from 'Chiyo-ni: Woman Haiku Master' by Patricia Donegan.

over the flowing water
chasing its shadow-
the dragonfly

moonlit night-
a cricket sings
out on a stone

sounds of the waterfall
diminishes in the peaks-
cicada's voices

only in the river
darkness flows:

snowy night-
only the well bucket's
falling sound

the frog observes
the clouds

the butterfly
is standing on tiptoes
at the ebb tide

(probably about her child)
in what windy land
wanders now my little dear
dragonfly hunter

little pine mushroom
but also
a rain shelter (for frogs)

one moutain after another
the first mists

floating away, despite
the butterfly's weight on it

Gathasaptashati (Seven hundred poems in 'gatha' form) is a collection of Prakrit love poems compiled by the 2nd century Satavahan king Hala - from the dynasty that made the mural paintings of Ajanta. Amarushataka is an 8th century collection of Sanskrit love poetry selected by king Amaru of Kashmir. Many of these poems were written by women - prominent among them were Vidya, Shilabhattarika and Vikatanitamba. These poems are sometimes bold, humourous and full of natural imagery, about trysts between lovers and have an honestly sensual voice.

Aunt, can a glimpse
Dreaming of water
Slake thirst?

O Mahua
on Godavari's
arboured banks.
Shed your flowers

While the bhikshu
views her navel
and she
his handsome face,
crows lick clean
both ladle and alms bowl

Ask the nights of rain
and the Godavari in spate,
how fortunate he is
and unwomanly my courage

Eyes closed
she imagines leading him
into her bed
she touches her own breasts adoringly
on her arms
the loose bangles

Cool thickets
leaves the colour of clouds
cane groves breaking the sunlight-
but you've forgotten-
forgotten the river Narmada as well
how we washed
in it afterwards

Please mother
get the cage out of our wedding hut
this parrot has taught the whole village
to mimic our
love cries

Why are you crying, friend?
That's how love is.
A cucumber tendril
Its emblem.

As the traveller, eyes raised,
cupped hands filled with water, spreads
his fingers and lets it run through,
she pouring it reduces the trickle

Not knowing me,
dark as a blue lotus petal,
the critic Dandin
declared our goddess of verse-craft
and learning, entirely white

Where to
girl with bright thighs?
There's no moon tonight
'Out to my lover'
Not afraid, young in the darkness
to travel alone?
'Can't you see - at my side
with lethal arrows
the love god?'

Young men
used to slip this
wooden Ganesh
under my head for a pillow.
cursing old age
I bow down before it

Whispers, deep kisses,
bodies perfumed with slippery oils,
betel nut cooling the mouth.
To make unhurried love
the whole night before you.
Ah! But a hundred,
a thousand times sweeter the
quick and forbidden-
done in a moment
gone like a thief.

I remember this pleasure-
he sat at my feet
without speaking
and my big toe toyed with his hair

Talking's no use
all that's written sounds trivial
do we alone
know how it hurts
to be separate?

She conceals herself
where the forest is thickest
and waits for the sound-
dry leaves of
someone approaches
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