(For Andy McCord)
Just as the lonely, wicked, wild and glad
eyes know and do not know by letting drop
in every detail of their daily dread
the flowering and rainfall and mishap
of birth, there’s a benignness comes about
the streets. Well-lined eyelashes flutter by
like Kali’s black bewildering butterfly
and life is tantra to the marrow, but
I do not know myself. The slow and fast
warm intersections squirm with liquid ease,
melt away. The gods cannot undo the past.
But I’ll refrain from feigning expertise.
Past bougainvillaeas, samsara’s saris float
lighter than magic in my tragic dreams.
My heart has killed a goat at Kalighat.
At nightfall, the world isn’t what it seems.
Vague autorikshaws hooting out of sight
and back, I pause to stare at life at these
bedraggled corners in the red-light night,
but will refrain from feigning expertise.
All day, eyes in their speaking sparkling millions
find mine, but at dusk differences are
less clear, voices more similar, dark darshans
finally over. No one can tell I’m near.
The flower-shop shut, my bidi crushed, I hide
in sultry shadows. The question of a star
shines through the smog. These people understand
I’m somewhere but don’t know exactly where.
And I, I could not help them if they asked.
The faster beats the heart. So fast. So fast.
© 2003 by Philip Nikolayev. Reprinted by permission of Verse Press: http://www.versepress.org. First appeared in The Paris Review.
Philip Nikolayev lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with his wife, the poet Katia Kapovich, and their daughter Sophia. His collection of poems, Monkey Time, won the 2001 Verse Prize and was published by Verse Press in 2003. He co-edits Fulcrum: an Annual of Poetry and Aesthetics. His poems have also appeared in such journals as The Paris Review, Grand Street, Harvard Review, The Boston Globe, Verse, Stand, overland, Jacket, and many others across the English-speaking world. His current focus of work is Indian English Poetry.