POST-MORTEM and Other Poems by Srinjay Chakravarti

POST-MORTEM

An Ambassador in rigor mortis,
a Contessa awaiting decent burial,
a Matador charred by arson
on a riot’s funeral pyre,
a Gypsy spilling out its guts
on to the slime of a gutter…

It lies next to a stinking garbage dump
in an alley near Crematorium Road:
a fenced-in strip of open ground,
this morgue for accident victims.

Their bodies are decorated
with scars and wounds,
some still bleeding bright red rust.
All of them, eviscerated
by urchins from the nearby slums,
or disembowelled during dissections
by careless mechanics.

The effluvia of decay
and stale engine oil
hang over the carcasses;
jumbled heaps of discoloured metal
eaten away by the weather,
corroded by callousness and forgetting.

Broken windows,
scintillant shards of glass,
smashed windscreens,
a crumpled chassis or two—
all scattered on the yellow grass
in gruesome confusion.

Broken limbs stick out
at odd angles from their torsos—
skeletal remains of their days,
the detritus of autopsies.

Rainwater collects
in the staring, unseeing eyes
of smashed headlights.
The grills on the warped faces
grin like death’s heads.

Fords and Fiats,
Hondas and Hyundais,
Chryslers and Chevrolets.
More and more of them
gather here every week,
all the unclaimed corpses,

all the debris sieved
from the entropic traffic
by police cases, insurance claims,
and Calcutta’s brutal indifference.

IN ABSENTIA

I

This is the city
where I inherited
my first words.
Language is a cruel legacy:

when I return home, years later,
I find they have turned

into sentences.

My tongue knows well
the bitter aftertaste of betrayal,
as much as it knows
the halitosis of cigarette smoke.

This city has estranged
itself from me
while I was away

from its parks and boulevards,
hotels and cybercafés,
casinos and discotheques.

I am no stranger to deceit, yet
the incognito years surface
to haunt me in my sleep,
with the sour retch of nightmares.

II

Only those witnesses who remain silent
are the ones who can be trusted—
since they will never lie.

Those friends who had shared
their convictions with me,
once upon a time,
now appear as strangers
at my trial.

They judge me not
for what I am,
but for what I was
on the blank page
with my serif aliases.

Every letter I wrote
now go to denounce me
before my interrogators.

This is no longer a haven
for the homesick.
I must return to exile

in the territories of my imagination
if I am to probate
my inheritance of poetry:

not here, not in this grey city
of ashen manuscripts,
not in this no-man’s land
of loss.

DREAMING SWIMMER

Her sleep sculpts the water, her hands
shape the blue-gold ripples of sunshine
floating through her eyes.

The soft sand of the river bed.
Pink stones and pebbles
stain the creamy smoothness
of the sandy bottom
under the tremulous current.

Dreaming.
Her eyes closed, her body
open to the soft sleepy caress
of naked water.

Trees crouch on the banks.
Their roots, their fingers
go inside the river,
and arouse its shimmering haze
deep within her blue thoughts.
She sighs, and shifts
as fingers whisper
within the water.
The roots touch and caress
and probe naked water.

The river swims.
She lies still; she is asleep.
River, dreaming river.

She bathes in handfuls
of green sunshine
and blue water.

Leaves bend down
like thoughts,
brush their lips on the surface.

Sunshine stains her sleep,
an ache colours her white body.
The river bathes itself
in the morning sun.

The swimming dreamer.
The water sculpts her sleep,
its hands shape her body
to its own dreams.

Roots break through
the banks
and the shallows
of her sleep.
The curious fingers
of the trees curl around the dreams
the river dreams.

Some soft as sand,
some are smooth pebbles,
some jagged rocks
shiny with grained quartz.

She is asleep.
Her body flows gently,
water-kissed and sun-dappled,
with the river.

Dreaming, she swims with the river
and the river dreams with her.

THE GECKO’S TONGUE

All its feet
firmly on the wall,
it plays a solitary hand
at patience.

It will not miss
a trick—
or treat.
Its bulging eyeballs
on a roll,
it makes an advance
and then stops.

Hanging from the ceiling,
it looks down
on the bipeds in the restaurant.

Stalking on padded toes,
its tail twitches
as it feasts
its eyes on
the banquette of insects.

A slurp
around its lips,
flicker and dart—

and the moth
comes to a sticky end.

Srinjay Chakravarti is a writer, editor and translator based in Salt Lake City, Calcutta, India. His creative writing, including poetry, short fiction and translations, has appeared in over 100 publications in 30-odd countries. His first book of poems Occam’s Razor received the Salt Literary Award from John Kinsella in 1995. He has won first prize ($7,500) in the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Memorial Poetry Competition 2007–08.

Website: http://www.srinjaychakravarti.com.

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