New | Poetry | For the Dark Times | Hamraaz

Reel for Delhi in Springtime

When I tell you what it means 

to me to live in Delhi,

I won’t use trending music

or a dozen flashing photos

approved by the Ministry

of Tourism

just a few words 

to conjure images

that pair of young women 

brushing shoulders 

as they sip tea on the edge 

of the dusty maidan

or the thin, strong man

in the next lane over

who right now

is stripping off his shirt 

as he assesses a growing 

pool of stinking water

and on a good day,

this might be enough

to get you to consider 

one or two simple ideas:

we can remake this world;

we can, and we must, my friends.

Abolish the Delhi Police

-for Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita

Maybe it’s just habit,

but even all these months after

they locked down the city

and took away friends of your friends,

sometimes you still float away 

at that moment when light’s fading 

and the first bats are flying;

and when you wake with a start

it is already dark

you’re not sure where you are,

but you hear the door bang

and then you’re relieved 

to find it’s a friend 

who wants to play cards

or the newspaper man,

bringing the bill

not someone who’s come

to take you away:

we don’t need police,

they spread only fear.


You cradle the purring cat 

like your mother cradled you 

in the old photo 

you keep by your bed

you know the cat 

is not a child,

and neither are you,

but often in April,

as the ceiling fan 

gently spins you,

you remember her 

tender hands.

Questions I Don’t Need to Ask

Do you struggle against 

the deepening dark

because you read 

Marx or Ambedkar?

Or was it the bus 

driver who leered

and hissed in your ear,

or the teacher who failed you,

or the neighbors who 

forced you to say, 

‘Everything is fine’?

Or was the way 

the world treated your parents

or was it the way 

they still loved you?

Excess Demands 

(or Why Such a Shortage of Justice?)

Do not call us terrorists

for protesting bad laws,

or jail us for laughing 

at gods or Amit Shah.

Let us love those we love;

don’t tell us how to pray;

and when we do equal work,

give us equal pay.

In jail, grant us straws,

if we tremble when we drink

warm blankets when it’s cold,

and books so we can think.

Do not molest us or beat us

(in jail or in undisclosed locations

before you take us to jail.)

Do not torture us in any way:

no broken bones or bruises,

no solitary confinement;

we need space and time to sleep,

water and soap to wash.

Tell our families where we are.

Do not take us in the night

to a field or flyover,

and then shoot us before our trial.

Do not shoot us in broad daylight

and then call us terrorists.


New | Poetry | Dale Cottingham

Claude Monet - The Magpie (wikimedia commons)


This Icy In-Between


                                                This evening, during the blizzard, on my way

to check on you, while snow fell in streaks,


horizontal and quick, driven by wind

in utter fidelity to the current, blurring my view


of the dirt road I drove slowly down—

guided by a solitary light on a hill’s low crest.


The light shone like an outpost, its dome

illuminating in blue light the snow, each flake


not specific, but in mass, a slur glittering

in their hurry, as the CD I played,


Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings,

reached the long crescendo, violins


moving up the register without interruption,

voicing my emptiness, leaving me


gapped and torn, edging along a precipice,

in a blizzard of unspoken words.


But I can’t say that was all.

I can’t say it was only snow,


I can’t say if it was longing

or the adagio I felt,


my car slipping on unseen ice, that I

must navigate, turning the steering wheel


counter to my slide, but carefully,

the crescendo ongoing, the precipice


threatening, or tempting. Snowflake

of my soul, coursing on currents.


I’ve blown through money and time;

borrowed prayers, faith, gestures,


glances, and some blues I’ve sung.

Aren’t I both subject and object


on this road? The crescendo

cascading now, descending


                                                to one more sorrowful resolution,

                                                the snow still falling scouring


the icy road, some piling in the ditch,

                                                some on field


beyond the blue of my sight,

like souls I’ve seen but not touched,


while you wait, knowing

I’m in this icy in-between,


                                                that I strive while you wait anxiously,

you sitting in your chair,


phone, remote, Bible at hand.

O, prayer of my heart,


let my spoken and unspoken words

                                                be enough, my arrival in a blizzard


saying everything necessary, offering

                                                a slippery concept, what I call me.  




A Little History


                                                Watching the river in flood,

each exhale huffing over the one before,

its red, swollen reality waking imagination.


Dismembered tree limbs,

                                                water logged, sodden, submerging, 

re-emerging for encores of helplessness,


tumbling in the roiling flow.

A tire, worn and wet, rolling in the current,

upright, overturning, swerving


in free-fall downstream,

to a fate I can’t see.

From my perch, I read


my family history, part native American

forcibly removed from their homeland

in a torrent of movement,


and sitting apart, part White

settled here from somewhere else,

each an immigrant trying


to swim amid the flotsam

in a swirl of meanings

jostled by the flood


each with a history as I pass through  

like a ghost as I live my own,

that teeters on being swept away


in this torrent of time, events,

each iteration combining

into a larger one, gaining 


a force of meaning, emotion—

what will I remember

from this pause on my walk?

Will this be one focused moment

in a series of unplumbed events,

swept away with other debris,


or will I glean new insight, leaving

with the memory of sun lighting

a storm’s watery aftermath,


the power in this most fluid element,

my synapses sparking as I watch,

seeing branches, trash bags, silt anew,


as they course by, submerged,

like my ancestors to different degrees

in the turgid flow, some afloat,


some drowning as I watch, none

I can save from the churning river—

the willow on the bank, caught in the flow,


clinging by roots as the scourging flood

scours the soil, the willow still grasping,

with each billow less able to stand—


leaning, so that even if it holds 

amid the change, it is changed,

and will not remain unchanged.












 Home Ground


                                                The ground rises before me,

fallow and open, ghosted


by my ancestors, both Native

and White , last year’s stalks,


dirt-spattered and weathered

by snow, by frost,


                                                corn husks once luscious and florid,

that rose in summer sun,


prone, picked over

by birds, like readers


seeking stray kernels

in the scribbled margins


of second-hand books.

The wind ribbons through,


                                                fecund, bearing pollen, spores,

humid enlightenments,


                                                the expectation of rain.           

A lone car passes, heading to town,


whose far warrens

of urban entertainments


of the body and mind,

hold no attraction for me.


                                                Hoe in hand, I seek a soulful way.

As the car crosses over the next hill,


                                                rolling dust over the empty plains,

                                                I can’t say that I am more than breath,


                                                as I scrape metal against pliable earth,

                                                sensing the always-feeling-an-absence


                                                present, the sehnsucht,

despite the presence of so much:


dust, roots, spores, humidity—

I stand at the field’s edge,


                                                gawping as if a ghostly pageant

passed by, the wind persisting,


shuddering the dry stalks,

                                                this dust, this solitude,


my angle of repose,

                                                this odd jealously rising,


                                                my ancestors immigrants too,

never close enough to the land—


                                                It is an other, it is other,

as I carve furrows


in this land I stand on,

                                                whose grit collects on me,


as I attempt to translate

the wind’s soulful whispering


to earth, which seems

to understand in ways I can’t.






                                                The Joining


                                                Listening to the piano, each note

joining the next, precise, and expanding,


soothing with melody, lifting us,

while she played Appalachian Spring,


                                                in this widening illusion. I watched her

                                                from half way back, playing


without sheet music,

song filling the sanctuary, her fingers


flawlessly striking keys, sharps, flats,

following Copeland’s score,


                                                but adding her own supple emphases,

                                                softness-es, delays—she leaned


into the keys, then swayed back,

eyes closed as if in prayer,


                                                pouring herself like champagne

into the music—no,


the sunlit music effervesced

through her, thrilling our ears,


resonating through pews,

                                                notes rising, falling like breath,


the notes rising, falling like breath,

singing me so thoroughly, I didn’t see


the others waiting for the wedding to start,

listening to her impromptu performance,


the notes continuing, gaining,

then losing intensity.


I lean my head back, my silent voice

reaching to meet her. Can’t I be


both subject and object—nuances

and lilts—chances taken,


or fates? Notes lofting, then

losing intensity. How can I deliver


my self from my individual will,

from outside this moment, free of need?


Each note in its little jacket of tone,

a mix of script and impromptu play,


my eyes on her, her eyes still closed,

head back, but leaning into the piano,


not one note lost, the music wafting

and waning—and henceforth,


wafting—my body turned medium,

the music lifting me,


lifting me as if my redemption

depends on it.