photo by Dilys Bidewell
Many of my Indian readers (and others) may enjoy my most recent collection of poems – Songs of Realisation. These three long poems celebrate what is on the earth, what is below the earth and what is above the earth. At the time I wrote them I was immersed in Wendy Doniger’s book about Shiva.
The first poem is called Epping – the name of the forest close to where I live. The second is called Chauvet – after the prehistoric cave – and the third is called Hubble – after the telescope in orbit (the link to the poem is to the archive of the Journal of Poetics Research who first published it).
Shiva, the dancer, the epitome of equilibrium, is a leitmotif that threads through all of these poems. Here is the conclusion of Epping, as the sun goes down over a lake in the forest, and Epping forest becomes one with all forests at night:
…The underground exposed, the overhead submerged;
The living interred and the buried re-appearing.
Red ripples cross the black shallows. Beyond,
There’s a darker ink to the depths. The trees are arterial webs,
Delicate as coral in the enlarging glow. Again, there’s a violent
Beating – rapid approach from a neighbouring inlet.
The neck is spear or trumpet, sounding its attack.
As this aggression is acted out, the cover thickens
Into night while embers glow within the water.
Stains of lichen deepen ashore. Distant flocks wheel tighter
Then come banking into spray. Crested and be-ruffed,
The duck drift closer to the sluice. Branches dip into reflections.
The shadow of the wood is encroaching on the sunset.
And sunset striped with silhouettes engenders fearsome tigers:
Tigers that slide through a forest from which
The night never departs. Evergreen night below the Himalayas;
Utterest dark its natural pelt; its fastnesses like dungeons;
Its pines erect; each needled bough secreting a tart odour.
Those that are felled will be contested. Mountainous
Taiga is sacred; massed against the brink of crags;
Nourishing the cordyceps and shading the azalea.
Wild legions of spruce. Chir pine, laurel and juniper,
Stands of fir and widening sweeps of cedar.
All sorts of spiky Chinese conifer. Night woods,
Where we venture in to milk it of its turpentine –
The terebinth – bleeding the trunk, or at least,
Making it ejaculate. Or do people get high on it?
Scales compacted, ripening its male or female seeds,
Cone-like consciousness expands and opens to release these.
The shape of the pineal gland resembles both the clitoris
And a cone. Located at the centre of our brain,
This primal eye belongs to our earliest Self.
It opens in his trance, with his seed about to spill
As the civet cat its spray, as the terebinth its resin.
Holly as ever stiff in the leaf, waxed to its spikes,
Indomitable, and wound about his antlers by the shaman:
He who can cure the headaches of elephants, woader
Of spirals and whorls, crescents, worms and the eyes of wolves,
With din drums to beat out the trances that dream up
The universe in the heads of foxes: many paws go dangling
From his groin. Renewing his strength in the instant
That he spends it, yet with the force of a thwarted urge,
He loiters in the pinewoods, poaches the verderers’ wives,
And loses his lingam in order that it may become
A universal promise of fertility, priapic wand and axle
Of infinity. All generation and seeding comes to a stop
Then quickens in the winter’s heart. Stretched across zero,
His drum-skin vibrates – the universe being that membrane.
So he makes a ring of stars: his drum creates creation
With the same step as his flame reduces it to ashes.
The instant passes. “Now we are gamut and fulcrum
Joined in the clinch of space and time – game of a god
With his consort. Whenever we tremble with passion
The whole foundation trembles. Terrible omens arise –
A rain of bloody bones comes down, fierce winds blow,
Comets fall, and no one reads the Vedas. Once we created
Creatures prone to immortality: creatures like ourselves,
Blazing, blazing with energy, carrying skulls and drinking Soma,
Their seed drawn up in chastity, each having thousands of eyes,
Of such terrible gaze no one could look upon them:
Great tigers of great power – projecting endless desire.
Now, though, we undo desire by giving you the enjoyment:
Drink, and thirst is gone; spout, and spouting’s done.”
All over the earth, as the sun goes down,
Lakes and ponds turn gold. A flaming drop has entered them.
Molten water matches sky and the clouds like islands
Floating there, while islands nesting underneath
Are clouds adrift on flame. Rings where a duck has dived
Or a fish has leapt interconnect as a female sun
Tosses her last wild locks at the night. Then serpents
Writhe across silver. Deer come to drink. And a tiger
Crouches by the bank, lapping up the moonlight.
The book is available from the outlets below. It also contains poems about Tottenham, where I live, in London, and poems inspired by my childhood.