Sudeep Sen: Poet of the Month
My body carved from abandoned bricks of a ruined temple,
from minaret-shards of an old mosque,
from slate-remnants of a medieval church apse,
from soil tilled by my ancestors.
My bones don’t fit together correctly as they should —
the searing ultra-violet light from Aurora Borealis
patches and etch-corrects my orientation —
magnetic pulses prove potent.
My flesh sculpted from fruits of the tropics,
blood from coconut water,
skin coloured by brown bark of Indian teak.
My lungs fuelled by Delhi’s insidious toxic air
echo asthmatic sounds, a new vinyl dub-remix.
Our universe — where radiation germinates from human follies,
where contamination persists from mistrust,
where pleasures of sex are merely a sport —
where everything is ambition,
everything is desire, everything is nothing.
Nothing and everything.
White light everywhere,
but no one can recognize its hue,
no one knows that there is colour in it — all possible colours.
Body worshipped, not for its blessing,
but its contour —
artificial shape shaped by Nautilus.
Skin moistened by L’Oreal
and not by season’s first rains —
skeleton’s strength not shaped by earthquakes
or slow-moulded by fearless forest-fires.
Ice-caps are rapidly melting — too fast to arrest glacial slide.
In the near future — there will be no water left
or too much water that is undrinkable,
excess water that will drown us all.
Disembodied floats, afloat like Noah’s Ark —
no gps, no pole-star navigation, no fossil fuel to burn away —
just maps with empty grids and names of places that might exist.
Already, there is too much traffic on the road —
unpeopled hollow metal-shells without brakes,
swerve about directionless — looking for an elusive compass.
Disembodied 2: Les Voyageurs
for Bruno Catalano
To understand yourself, you must create a mirror
that reflects accurately what you are ….
Only in the understanding of what is,
is there freedom from what is.
— J Krishnamurti
Bronze humanforms sculpted, then parts deleted —
as if eroded by poisoned weather, eaten away
by civilisational time —
corrosion, corruption, callousness.
Power, strength, gravitas residing in metal’s absence.
Men-women, old-young, statuesque —
holding their lives in briefcases —
Marseilles les voyageurs, parts of their bodies
surreal — steadfast, anchored.
Engineered within their histories
of migration, travel — over land, by sea —
coping with life’s mechanised emptiness.
Artform’s negative space or positive? What are we too see?
Have these voyagers left something behind,
or are they yearning
to complete the incompleteness
in their lives?
They are still looking —
as am I, searching within.
Disembodied 3: Within
for Aditi Mangaldas
You emerge — from within darkness, your face
sliding into light —
you squirm virus-like in a womb,
draped blood-red, on black stage-floor.
Around you, others swirl about
dressed as green algae,
like frenetic atoms
under a microscope in a dimly lit laboratory.
Art mirroring life — reflecting the pandemic on stage.
Your hands palpitate,
as the sun’s own blinding yellow corona
cracks through the cyclorama.
People leap about — masked, veiled.
You snare a man’s sight
with your fingers mimicking a chakravavyuh —
you are red, he is green, she is blue —
trishanku — life, birth, death —
regermination, rejuvenation, nirvana.
Everything on stage — as in life —
moves in circular arcs.
Irises close and open, faces veiled unveil —
hearts love, lungs breathe — breathless.
Lights, electromagnetic — knotted, unwrapped —
music pulsates, reaching a crescendo,
Time stops. Far away in the infinite blue of the cosmos —
I look up and spot a moving white.
I see a white feather
trying its best to breathe
in these times of breathlessness, floating downwards —
and as it touches the floor, in a split-second
everything bursts into colour, movement, the bols/taals
try to restore order,
rhythm, both contained and free.
The backdrop bright orange,
the silhouettes pitch-black.
As you embrace another humanform,
the infinite journey of timelessness might seem
but now is the moment to reflect and recalibrate
immersed in the uncharted seas, in the widening circles,
telling us — others matter,
the collective counts.
I examine minutely the striated strands
of the pirouetting feather, now fallen —
its heart still beating, its blood still pumping,
its white untarnished.
Life’s dance continues — with or without us —
only in the understanding of what is,
is there freedom from what is.
About the Poet
Sudeep Sen’s [www.sudeepsen.org] is one of the leading international poets whose prize-winning books include: Postmarked India: New & Selected Poems (HarperCollins), Rain, Aria (A. K. Ramanujan Translation Award), Fractals: New & Selected Poems | Translations 1980-2015 (London Magazine Editions), EroText (Vintage: Penguin Random House), Kaifi Azmi: Poems | Nazms (Bloomsbury) and Anthropocene: Climate Change, Contagion, Consolation (Pippa Rann, 2021-22 Rabindranath Tagore Literary Prize winner). He has edited influential anthologies, including: The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry (editor), World English Poetry, Modern English Poetry by Younger Indians (Sahitya Akademi), and Converse: Contemporary English Poetry by Indians (Pippa Rann). Blue Nude: Ekphrasis & New Poems (Jorge Zalamea International Poetry Prize) and The Whispering Anklets are forthcoming. Sen’s works have been translated into over 25 languages. His words have appeared in the Times Literary Supplement, Newsweek, Guardian, Observer, Independent, Telegraph, Financial Times, Herald, Poetry Review, Literary Review, Harvard Review, Hindu, Hindustan Times, Times of India, Indian Express, Outlook, India Today, and broadcast on bbc, pbs, cnn ibn, ndtv, air & Doordarshan. Sen’s newer work appears in New Writing 15 (Granta), Language for a New Century (Norton), Leela: An Erotic Play of Verse and Art (Collins), Indian Love Poems (Knopf/Random House/Everyman), Out of Bounds (Bloodaxe), Initiate: Oxford New Writing (Blackwell), and Name me a Word (Yale). He is the editorial director of AARK ARTS, editor of Atlas, and currently the inaugural artist-in-residence at the Museo Camera. His professional photography is represented by ArtMbassy, Rome. [http://www.artmbassy.com/artists.html]. The Government of India awarded him the senior fellowship for “outstanding persons in the field of culture/literature.” Sen is the first Asian honoured to deliver the Derek Walcott Lecture and read at the Nobel Laureate Festival.