Sweat beads trickle from my forehead
threading through my dense eyebrows,
over the protective arch of lids and lashes
into my unsuspecting eyes. My vision
is awash in a fuzzy saline glare,
its sting fiercer than the viral load.
Perspiration transforms into tear drops —
such is the potency of salt water —
brackish, transparent, intimate, deathly.
Love in the Time of Corona
I don’t believe in God, but I’m afraid of Him.
― Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera
In the dark times, will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing. About the dark times.
― Bertolt Brecht
Faint indigo tints in the greys of your hair
evoke memory — Krishna’s love for Radha,
its perennial longevity, its sustained mythology,
its blue-bathed lore — such are life’s enduring
parallels. Fourteen years — yet my heart flutters
infatuated like first love. My hands fidgety,
palms sweaty, pulse too fast to pick —
I am not allowed to touch your face.
Cyber-flurry emoji-love cannot assuage fears —
or corona’s comatose cries. I don’t believe in God.
In thousands, migrant workers march home —
hungry footsteps on empty highways
accentuate an irony — ‘social distancing’,
a privilege only powerful can afford.
Cretins spray bleach on unprotected poor, clap,
bang plates, ring bells, blow conches, light fires
to rid the voodoo — karuna’s karma, infected.
Mood-swings in sanitised quarantine — self-
isolation, imposed — uncontained virus, viral.
When shall we sing our dream’s epiphanies?
City weather fluctuates promiscuously
mapping temperature’s bipolar graph —
tropic’s air-conditioner chill, winter’s
unseasonal hailstorm, sky’s pink-blue spring.
Blue-grey will moult into salt-and-pepper,
ash-grey to silver-white, then to aged-white.
My lungs heave, slow-grating metallic-crackles
struggle to escape the filigreed windpipes —
I persist in my prayers. I’m afraid of Him.
Hope, heed, heal — our song, in present tense.
They were not simply names on a list.
They were us.
— The New York Times
Death knells peal, numbers multiply,
virus ravages us, one by one.
Newspaper columns loom, unsteady
ghostly apparitions on broadsheets —
name, age, date of death —
tall epitaphs in fine print.
Ink spills, bleeds dark — newsprint
blotting out our wheezing breath.
No amount of hygiene-ritual
enables our lungs to resuscitate.
Our lives — micro point-size fonts
on an ever inflating pandemic list —
black specks, fugitive lonely numbers —
the deceased, on an official roster.
Another sick, another dying,
another dead — yes, they were us.
Hope: Light Leaks
Darkness cannot drive out darkness.
Only light can do that.
— Martin Luther King, Jr.
Late at night, light leaks — spilling
beyond the door’s rectangle edge —
a cleaving schism, its shape —
a partial crucifix, a new resurrection.
Light’s plane waxes, wanes —
viral load expands, contracts.
Photons spill, conduction sparks —
light slow removes cataract’s veil.
In this blackness, lives matter.
Inhaler held to my heart like a prayer —
coughing, winded — I gasp
— Kate Firth, ‘Breath’
Wheeze whistles — piercing shrill pan-flute notes.
Turbine blades slice my lung’s trachea, bronchi.
Coarse sandpaper, ultrasonic — air-currents
struggle to clear my windpipe’s fatigued length.
My eyes blood-shot in acrid distress —
dust mite, cat hair, particulates draw toxic tears.
My rib-cage tangled in its brutalist architecture —
my heaving chest tries its best to clear the choke.
It is such a struggle in this damp dust-weed air —
act of nonchalant breathing seems like a blessing.
I can hear — my heartbeat quietly sing — the metronomic constant of an antique clock ticking — wind’s rolling rustle outside — chirping birds, mothers feeding fledglings. I witness — the changing colour of leaves and skies — the secret night-whisper of the stars.
In the company of myself, I reflect. It is time to call family, a neighbour, a neglected friend — time to read, rejuvenate, revive — rekindle love’s labour lost — time to savour life’s little joys.
These have been around, but we didn’t make time — now we have time, we complain about quarantine.
When evil-doing comes like falling rain, nobody calls out ‘stop!’ / When crimes begin to pile up they become invisible. When sufferings / become unendurable the cries are no longer heard. The cries, too, / fall like rain in summer.
— Bertolt Brecht, ‘When Evil-Doing Comes Like Falling Rain’
9am: Morning News
At nearly 50°C, you do not need a pandemic to remind you of human agony and grief — you inhabit one.
Daily death toll rises, coronavirus continues to inflate, infect. Enforced lockdown, inhuman laws — weary migrants hungry, die on the highways.
2pm: Afternoon Bulletin
Cyclone Amphan razes the eastern seaboard — devastation — no power, flood, disease, millions homeless, millions quarantined.
Trees uprooted, electric poles down, cars submerged, shanties washed away. In Kolkata’s College Street, soaked pages of books float in anguish.
6pm: Evening News
Politicians continue their sloganeering — false promises for election, an eye for profit. Evil-doing comes like falling rain, … crimes begin to pile up — they become invisible.
Over the deserts of Rajasthan, swarms of ravaging locusts — destroy crops, livelihood — billions more heading towards the capital city.
10pm: Nightly News Prime Time
After the storm, when the rains diminish to a soft drizzle, the shower sounds on the big-leafed trees echo and murmur. Or is it the distant sound of approaching pestilence swarms?
Next Day: Re-Broadcast
The newflash flashes again — repeating itself, primed for prime time.
When sufferings / become unendurable the cries are no longer heard. The cries, too, / fall like rain in summer.
Sudeep Sen’s prize-winning books include Postmarked India: New & Selected Poems (HarperCollins), Rain, Ladakh, Aria (A. K. Ramanujan Translation Award), The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry (editor), Fractals: New & Selected Poems | Translations 1980-2015 (London Magazine Editions), EroText (Vintage: Penguin Random House), and Kaifi Azmi: Poems | Nazms (Bloomsbury). The Whispering Anklets and Blue Nude: Ekphrasis & New Poems (Jorge Zalamea International Poetry Prize) are forthcoming. He is the editorial director of AARK ARTS, editor of Atlas. Sen is the first Asian honored to deliver the Derek Walcott Lecture and read his poetry at the Nobel Laureate Festival. The Government of India awarded him the senior fellowship for “outstanding persons in the field of culture/literature.” [http://www.sudeepsen.org]