Monday, 26 March 2012

In Memoriam

I. Relics
You didn’t leave much behind when you slipped
silent through some unseen crevice in time.

The scent of a name swiftly rent by tearful
chords (shreds hung in the air, just out of reach).

Biannual torrents of dayspring rites
when payasam and prayer flash-flooded
the neighbourhood – baffling me for nine years …

Shadows from laughing eyes I had found
frozen on cellulose strips ( and long thought
were mine) crypted within the covers of
velveteen books on a high, unfriendly shelf.

A three-line memorial in a pale blue file:
life and love scaled to disease, diagnosis,
death with date and description, nothing
more – aseptic headstone raised for a ghost
star who didn’t leave much behind.

Other remains crowded out yours by and by.

Wordless fury at survival kept under cobalt
paternal lock, bluebeard’s chamber that opened
only to one knock;
glaciers of growing
loss left as moraines on a mother’s face;
debris from the link between you and me –
neatly piled beside the same crevice I lose
my way back to, over and over, with no effort at all.

You didn’t leave much behind, but nothingness
can expand into a red giant with grief at its core.

II. Resurrection
I tried remaking you with swatches of stolen
memory, seaming a harlequin next-of-kin.

First raided the maternal troves: traced
shapes out of mother’s soundlessness; snipped
yarn from her three chirpy younger sisters.

I didn’t spare granny either, sifting her
cataractal mind for traces of your smile.

(kept clear off the men folk though: they stood
guard night and day over theirs, buried ten-foot
deep in child and prowler-proof vaults.)

You stayed sketchy, all dots, shades and split
helixes – a silhouette behind a shattered
pane, touching which made thoughts bleed.

So the thieving spread wider and wilder.
I sought your colours, contours all over:

A head among tousled monsoon clouds
your gaze on the burnished afternoon earth
the voice in local summer tides.

The name, the name grew everywhere:
in myths and magazines, or family
trees, fiction, television – any one I chose
could wipe out another possible you.

You walked with me, travelling through
childhood, teenage, voting-right-hood …
I changed templates, crafted new ones through the ride.
Till the time it felt too much like work,
too much a snail within a turtle’s shuck.

Unravelled you on land’s edge, then watched
my patchwork sibling return to the clouds,
the sun, the sea – and someone’s memory.

Karthika Naïr, 10/02/2008

Because sometimes I can forget, though not what lies just ahead. And today is a time to remember.

In Memoriam was first published in Bearings, HarperCollins India, 2009.

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