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Jayanta Mahapatra

The Portrait

This evening, its face rigid
as though it had had a stroke.
A large owl burrows deep into its steamy air,
our souls hold the soft darkness when
each one of us becomes
an invalid turned stiffly to his bed.
We remain sitting together,
incapable of getting any farther.
Only the footfall of someone
approaching from the murdered land.
Only the infinite kingdom when
you can't stop anyone from a simple pain.
Does a raped sixteen-year-old girl
build a hymn of the world
where living is a flamboyant metaphor?
Just this evening,
blacked like the yin half of the symbol
where death can go on proclaiming its vanity.
Walls of our world, where are you?
The evening takes whatever comes drifting in.
Aimless, I prowl through reports about justice.
All I have left is a face, rigid and helpless
as though it had a stroke.

The Shore

At times the boatman
fears someone would push
his craft into the river.
Egrets surge past,
monks wearing the same grey cassocks.

Sometimes I am incapable of love.
But the boat is already in midriver,
just the way it is in a dream,
the creak of the puntpole
carrying across our forebodings.

The shore keeps me thinking
why I have come into the world.
One night I stood there as a child
terrified by the almost inaudible beat
of the lonely boat tied to the shore;
the truth was more than I could bear.

At times
I am afraid I know more than I should.
Of the dead leaf, its life secretly clenched.
Of the one river to cross, encountered
again and agian, apprehended, understood
and forgotten, lost, and found again.
Not of the simple truth that was itself
a metaphor, with people waiting
to be ferried across, the shadoes
of our knowledge
condemned to wander the deserted shore.

If I seek an answer to our life,
it's because I see myself everywhere,
all the time.
But there is the hard old boatman
watching over the utter desert of his waters.
The river flows without form, intangible.
And when I stand on the shore that is not.

Of Storytelling

These days
I don't wish to hear any stories at all.
These intrusive guests simply interrupt idleness
before they fall prey to life's impossible convulsions.
One feels one has heard enough of those tales
people have been telling one another since one was a child.
For example, of that story of a rich man
who climbed the holy mountains to ask
the naked guru the ultimate questions on life.
And how the guru told him
life was a mysterious tree, and that God
has a claim on your life
whether you are aware of it or not.
These days I rarely look into my own eyes.
I just allow things to happen gently.
Like allowing the awareness of another's existence
to beat out the passage of time,
and not to force my instinctive rancor into the mirror
and trap myself in my nakedness.
Or let the whole day sit on my walls
and breathe the boundless distance that drifts
between each one's coming and going.
Or let the tales of starved children
with their distended bellies and enormous dulled eyes
to perforate our worn silence and excite
those friendly gestures of chaste tenderness.

These days
I move into the shadow of myself,
not trying to understand
the words others try to weigh me with.
I accept what I see through the open window
and between its rigid iron bars,
not the man who for years
desired a country in vain and then
fell in love with the first puppet land they gave him,
even if it failed
to correspond exactly with the promised land.
lies the perimeter I have not been able to extend,
the haunting lamp I've been looking for in the dark,
the flowers of raintrees
with their wild hair dancing about us,
as I hold on to that ambiguous heart
that remains as effective
as running a chain of beads through the fingers.


A scream never ends. It tries
to be kind, but our hatred keeps
coming between us. The night stands
like a conqueror over it, the spear of darkness
held in her hands, the centre of everything.

Like a dark stubborn child, the scream.
Like its mother, cold, aloof.
It is inside my head all the time,
as days and shadows pass by,
till it wakens me to a different reality,
till it dislikes me for its throne's sake.

Ashes of sobs, the baying of hounds,
the snarling jaws of ceremony, the vomit of iron.
A scream tests warm, small innocences,
divests the long moment of its manhood.

Wild as the Dance, the Winds and Flood,
its deep streets are mortared with bone and blood.
Blindfold your scream again, sweet Mariam,
with the quick blood flowing down your seven-year thighs.


It was hard to believe the flesh was heavy on my back.
The fisherman said: Will you have her, carelessly,
trailing his nets and his nerves, as though his words
sanctified the purpose with which he faced himself.
I saw his white bone thrash his eyes.

I followed him across the sprawling sands,
my mind thumping in the flesh's sling.
Hope lay perhaps in burning the house I lived in.
Silence gripped my sleeves; his body clawed at the froth
his old nets had only dragged up from the seas.

In the flickering dark his lean-to opened like a wound.
The wind was I, and the days and nights before.
Palm fronds scratched my skin. Inside the shack
an oil lamp splayed the hours bunched to those walls.
Over and over the sticky soot crossed the space of my mind.

I heard him say: My daughter, she's just turned fifteen...
Feel her. I'll be back soon, your bus leaves at nine.
The sky fell on me, and a father's exhausted wile.
Long and lean, her years were cold as rubber.
She opened her wormy legs wide. I felt the hunger there,
the other one, the fish slithering, turning inside.

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