What I’d like from the sea
is an assurance
that I could chronicle all my pirate pasts
and go missing
between a rusty telephone booth sprayed with graffiti
and a bulletin board patchworked
with rival posters for the district elections
a shadow hurrying past a glass storefront
heavier at fifty than it was at twenty
no longer a gymnast springing on the trampoline
just an anxious ghost filing his scrimshaw memories
as he shuffles between roles
for Vivan Sundaram
Ploughing through dark waters the back a bare island
fallen from raft toppled from overloaded dhow shoved off
scarred by sun salt propeller
or lash of rigging come loose in a storm
To write on the back
with suture preserved
as uncommon weal
to seal with welt
conclude with clot
This pitted skin is its own beach
on which gulls take off and land
Where no one can sing in the dark
this body is its own lighthouse
from its archipelago
In the dim light
four plaster casts
ghosts of sculpture
until decades later cast in bronze
Days of grace, days of thunder.
Days when cold stone could have dreamt it was skin
born to carry the weight of saffron clouds.
Peace held us captive.
We who could speak were sworn to silence.
We who could sing were beaten like drums.
We ran, dodging havildar and thug.
We danced among nameless objects
in the garden of buried stories.
Our wrists ached, the choked sap rose
through our numb fingers.
Write all you know, the baobab said,
on these sheets of rain.
The old man sits on the black stone bench
wiping clouds and palm fronds from his glasses
He’s waiting for the boy from the day-and-night pharmacy
to bring him his pills
Meanwhile the matinée he’s replaying
is a movie in which a train charges hooting through a desert
a machine gun on its roof spraying bullets in all directions
spent cartridges clipping into the air faster than the eye
could follow and there’s all of us there
who get in the way of that horizon-bound train
the Bedouin extras
wounded or killed by a script none of us wrote
The last time I saw Eugenio Braganza’s skeleton was when the movers were grappling with it on the stairs. They loaded it in the back of their truck, propping it up on a torn stuffed chair that had once been olive green. It tipped forward, settled over the broken baby grand, its bony hands preparing to play a sonata.
A workman yanked at the signboard that had advertised the nature of Eugenio’s business and chucked it into the truck, narrowly missing the skeleton.
The rosewood doors, carved with looped and knotted arabesques: yes, as solid as I’d always known them. But where were the velvet drapes, the phosphor outlines of the twin amphorae? And the redhead in the tutu, balancing her crown of swords? The sharks flying around the Gateway of India? The volcano that erupted during Cyclone Hengameh? Who had dared to fold up the night sky with its flickering Southern Cross? How to levitate with the kilim gone? Light boomed through the cat’s-eyed darkness in which THE GREAT GONZALO, Illusionist Extraordinaire, had practised his arts for twenty-five years.
“Chhe men,” came Eugenio’s voice from higher up the staircase. “Party’s over.”
Call If You’re Lost
after-images of Cartier-Bresson
Rainbows are born
in broken windows
Go down that flight of stairs
Cross the street
into a century of shadows
and their squealing children
Double-check the water tower
that’s timed to dissolve at noon
Wait for the alarm to ring out
the dry-tongued bell
Look back and enter them
in the ledgers of havoc
Men in turbans veiled women on mules
crossing swollen rivers
on pontoon bridges
to throw pursuers off the scent
The dome slaps its shadow
against the whitewashed wall
It comes to rest on the head
of a man claimed by sleep
among crumbling bricks
In sleep’s courtyard
a sentence chased by echoes
comes looking for a script
It crosses a kohl threshold
into the muezzin’s eye
The killari bull might have gored
that horizon with its crescent horns
A mule limps into view
Airtight peasants scour
the hoof-hard ground for roots
The foreground arrives late
the stagehands pick up
a grease mask tossed aside
by a mechanic in a hurry
Collect them in your notebook
an orchard sown with charcoal
a wisp of water tower
the gardener’s last prayers
the drought’s arrears
Ranjit Hoskote (born 1969) is a poet, cultural theorist and curator. His collections of poetry include Vanishing Acts (Penguin, 2006), Central Time (Penguin/ Viking, 2014), Jonahwhale (Penguin/ Hamish Hamilton, 2018, published in the UK by Arc as The Atlas of Lost Beliefs, 2020, which won a Poetry Society Summer Recommendation), and Hunchprose (Penguin/ Hamish Hamilton, 2021). His translation of a renowned 14 th -century Kashmiri woman mystic’s poetry has appeared as I, Lalla: The Poems of Lal Ded (Penguin Classics, 2011). He is the editor of Dom Moraes: Selected Poems (Penguin Modern Classics, 2012). Hoskote has received the Sahitya Akademi Golden Jubilee Award, the Sahitya Akademi Translation Award, and the SH Raza Literature Award. He has been a Fellow of the International Writing Program (IWP), University of Iowa; writer-in-residence at Villa Waldberta, Munich, and the Polish Institute, Berlin; and researcher-in-residence at BAK/ basis voor actuele kunst, Utrecht. His poems have been translated into German, Hindi, Bangla, Irish, Marathi, Swedish, Spanish, and Arabic.