Altar-building

Mother, I will build for you a ceremony of words.

Intonations, as I gather the brick-dust fallen from the heads of those burnt men and women filing tearless in the heat. They were building the bricks some of us will use to build our ‘havans.’ And I will chant under my breath as I run to gather the threads fallen loose from the dyed fabrics and the dyed hands of those who make our celebratory garments. I will, Mother, pant alongside the cattle being driven to market, waiting for the celebratory feast. I will walk with the farmer who dons his drums and feathers and travels to the city to make coins for his fickle harvest. I will heave and shout with the dark energetic boys on lorries who run the neighborhood shows, a few days to focalize youthful energy and rage. I will watch the crowds and the carnival, their emotions and their doubts sharpened by display. I will watch those who religiously abstain from such topsy turvy opiate festivals.

And I will etch with a little stick the altar I want to make for ‘you,’ the bricks of my lists, the chants of my queries. For nothing else makes sense of this senseless earth, its thrashing lives, its vast solitude in the cosmos. Without an accounting, this mind-hull of heaven is Nothing.

 

Ref: Durga Puja in West Bengal, India. They say it assumed it present ‘sarbojanin’ or community-affirming celebratory form in the 18th century, when it was a means of uniting the countryside against the British Raj. Sometime in the last few decades in Calcutta it became a carnivalesque city-wide festival. For the Bengali diaspora, it became a means of re-creating the social-hierarchical structure they knew in their childhood and youth, usually in conscious contradiction of the meaning of the festival. Recently, it has become a way to re-affirm culture and unapologetic heritage. Here, above, I have tried to wrest prayer from festivity. 

Blood Cry

http://www.ndtv.com/india-news/7-men-arrested-for-nirbhaya-like-gang-rape-and-murder-80-km-from-delhi-738154

As long as national and international laws treat the rape of women as less significant than the brutalization and torture of men, I refuse to call either the Delhi or the Rohtak cases rapes. They are cases of mutilation, torture, murder, dismemberment, cruel and pathological premeditated destruction. A woman is first a human being.

Define her any way you want. She is gone. I’m glad she is gone. I hope she went into shock very early, so that some part of the pain I cannot imagine will have been kept from her senses. Oh child, I wish I had had the power to ask for a quick death for you.

Morally, I feel violated. Warring subjective reactions, one almost feral, the other weary of everyday claims to a modern world. Nothing has changed, we still have poverty, disease, brutal and casual death, catastrophes that could have been easily averted, and a miserable existence for those outside the gates of the manor/gates of power.

They speak of arrests and fast-track courts. Nine men safe in cells. Thus speaks the red mist of pain and anger.

And the mist asks: why should we distrust a subjective response, or hand over our moral trials to slow, plodding courts? Justice can be serene only when it has transcended both pain and joy, of all peoples. But in the moments of every event, every time, the public must feel, must respond viscerally, affectively, subjectively, for such response is the surest condemnation of whatever threatens the human (cruelty, violence, inaction). By refusing to feel the pain of others we become less than fully human ourselves.

In the wake of such response it will be easy to hear the blood cry for justice. Inevitably, someone will ask for the death penalty, and most others will cry against it.

Let’s think for a moment — and separate the legal and the moral codes, and then again the archetypal ones.

I cannot comprehend the psychology of this much fear, rage and revenge, all for the chance occurrence of a female body. What sensations are such creatures after? Had they done it before? Who are the men and women who know them, shelter them? Such impotence, that it took many to hunt one, it took many to attack one mentally challenged female stranger, it took sharp and hard objects to invade her, it took violence to make her submit to what they had to say. They calculated–a stranger, a woman with difficulties, a place where her cries and struggles would not be heeded or her body found for days, a plan of ambush, tools for their task, the willing participation of each. They depersonalized her, dehumanized her, obliterated what remained. Nine men for one woman? But these are not men. Nor are they beasts. Animals have a primary motivation — survival. These perpetrators had no purpose other than gratification in the moment.

Cries against feeble manhood and an impotent nation could be taken in the context of increasing brutalization of women by men all over the world. A body perceived as weaker is still an easier and more horrifying target for the rage of man. Why? What causes a man to wish to rape whatever is ‘not like me’? What causes a human male to split off from the part of him that is common to the species? Shall we blame it partially on womanhood and the raising of wayward, entitled, sociopathic sons in societies enamored of ‘traditional ways of living’? Shall we say Delhi and Rohtak reveal the pathology of Indian society, and the psychopathology of several million specimens of the Indian male?

Do you see? I cannot reason this through. I cannot thrust this from my body, take pleasure in my body’s life when my cells twitch with an anguish they cannot remember.

Oh child, I wish I had had the power to ask for a quick death for you.

Rope

You said, “No more walls.”

What did you see after you threw yourself against the ropes? Launched yourself from them? Did you find anything? Did they crawl over your wrists, the ropes? Tie you in knots, your knees bent climbing them? Did you meet that other body you raged against?

Were you subdued before you hung from them?

Did you find it, what you were looking for all the time you were using the perimeter of the ring, the stage, the self, the world?

Did you look up?

Tree

A. DOORS

‘Tis a terrible thing, isn’t it, to know that one is utterly responsible for every act, every instant, of this long and strange life…

How does one map the golden dust between the weight of this cross on one’s shoulders and the serenity of freedom? The smiles on all those sculptures say that freedom confers serenity. Others say justice is serene, or should be, and take solace in human formulations of transcendent law.

Crouching at the foot of all things tall–altars, crosses, saints, gods, statues– where do I put aside this bundle of grief? It seems out of place in thy philosophy. I cannot enter, my liege.

B. RECKONING

The poet, a man, had stacked body, heart, mind and god against himself.

I, being what I am, stack body against heart. There! The kindling is laid, and the cross.

C. PILLAR and TREE

Tell me how to stand without wish, without desire. Even Kalpataru rears arrested by longings.

Tell me, how to prune to singular aim this multitudinous life, that in pursuit of one invisible longing one may find the flowering and the fruition of all the long years.

Tell me. Is it true?

Sugarman, there is no why

There is no why. Our questions are allowed, but no answers.

It is heady to flirt with the darkness and the light. Death is enormously seductive in its anonymity but not for those who want to go in and find anything out. You have to be willing to surrender, and do so without belief in a higher grace. That’s why, perhaps, suicide is called a sin; it sins against the possibility of hope, forgiveness, redemption and all that grace, and the agent takes all choice in hand, leaving none for a god. The witnesses cannot bear that. That loss of hope.

For the acteur, to choose death is a surrender unto the archetypal Servant, to consent to become a momentary mirror for whatever we see facing us. To have done with the broken knees of the world.

Is death so different then from the archetypal Lover, the dark eternal god? Both death and god will be angered, because you have come to them before they asked for you, but the deed is done and they, being lovers, must still make it difficult for themselves to allow you to join them. So they ask for a price, a final discharging of debts before the merging. The shoulders of the world.

Passages

On the bank of a river, a dry reed stalk
fire will burn it, metal will cut it, water will not wet it
out of its space will come its musica straw man on fire feels nothing
but the hopes of a people burn with it
hollow man, house of myth

a river becomes many at its mouth
not like a branched tree that remains itself
but like a man who loses himself in his offspring
and believes becoming is death and continuity

there is comfort in the changing unity of the sea and the shore
in the abstract
but a man, moved too much like a straw
becomes husk, driftwood

we are neither trees nor rivers and cannot spread ourselves
we pass, instead, from one place to another
seeking alms of misfortune.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dharma leads to Draupadi

She looms like ten durgas over my way.
Why, what is duty
what violation
what fruits of labor
and womb
if
she (and that other sister, sita)
disappear at the boundaries between earth and other worlds,
bhu, bhuvah, svah,
those stairways to heaven and long wandering rifts in the earth?Woman
taught to be “full-blown monarch of this house”
manas of Man Manu
you must not cross the thresholdOne sister cried out that she would not take that which lay beyond the boundaries of custom

Karna

and so the arrow flew beyond the eye of the fish
towards that deer in the forest

the lotus feet

and calamity struck those who bound her, unbound her
her unbound hair, those lotus feet pierced through and through

The flesh must be divested even of its final shroud.

Why, what could she have done?
if a dharmaraja was exempt from vivaha dharma
if heaven is an end to a tortuous execution of the right path
she had that torture enough, receiving at the end of other’s wars
a bit of blood, and a guest pass to heaven.

Some said the stripping didn’t happen.
Just one bloody garment slipped
and her hair, her death, touched by a few hands.
The garment but extends the body.

Does it matter
if part or whole
singular or plural
bloody or not,
her ‘kaya’ was touched?

Krishna, krishnaa, darkened by unbound hair,
you wept and roared.
The gods never blinked.

Fire-maiden, charred at last,
sita-sri, golden one, standing image of a sacrifice,
halls and houses are also sacrificial fires,
our origins and ends,
where you disappear
in answer to our prayers.

May no word ever find you.