..
 


Included here are poems I've written concerning Nepali writers, musicians and artists and expatriate artists working in Nepal.

NOTES FOR A POEM ON THE PHOTOS FOR RAJENDRA CHITRAKAR
for Rajendra Chitrakar

ISHMAEL
for Joel Isaacson

THE PRODIGAL
for Udo Starnegg

EVENING RAGA
for Mohan Sundar

IN HELL THERE IS NO SONG
for the musician Ram Sharon Nepali

ABOVE THE FLAMES
After the cremation of the poet Basu Sashi

THE VISITATION
On translating the poetry of Mohan Koirala

HER FATHER'S VOICE
for Manju Kanchuli

A THOUSAND WHISPERS
On Shashikala Tiwari's exhibit My Earth and Sky

WHEN SEASONS CHANGE
On the art of Shashikala Tiwari

GLORY
for Shashikala Tiwari

EMBODYING MYTH
On the art of Ragini Upadhyay-Grela

RAGINI'S MENAGERIE

PATIENCE--WITH AND WITHOUT EYES
On Ragini's Odyssey 2001

ON RAGINI'S SENSITIVE WOMEN

ON ASHMINA RANJIT'S EXHIBIT: HAIR

ON ASHMINA'S ART

MIRRORING HAIR

UNBOUND
after a painting by Shyam Lal Shrestha

WHEN A CULTURE PERSISTS
On The Prints of Uma Shankar Shah

GALLERY AT DUSK
for Sangeeta Thapa

NOTES FOR A POEM FOR (the Dutch artist) JAC GIJZEN

UNACCOUNTABLE OBJECTS
on the work of (German artist) Rolf Kluenter


 

NOTES FOR A POEM ON THE PHOTOS OF RAJENDRA CHITRAKAR
for Rajendra Chitrakar

Up

Kerosene fumes, paint-flecked walls,
paths that falter, a pencil nestled in a hand,
the taut string of a kite, columns,
the balustrade of the Court in session --
a failed verdict, a sea of refuse
a city shadowed by darkening sky,
or determination that shines,
hands that are sure,
elation that rises from within.

Half-built buildings, buildings in disrepair,
buildings stucco-ed with signs,
sidewalks clogged with people --
eyes cast down, averted,
bent-backed women and men
wedded to their labor,
burdens borne in measured sequence,
or the lifting of an ankle,
the fluttering of a peacock’s eye,
a kite borne by the wind.

Not the men whose photos

jostle and collide. But the brick-hauling girls

And the weary petitioners
setting forth on a rank discredited sea

 

 

 

ISHMAEL
for Joel Isaacson

Up

Ishmael says
that the wind across the paddy
(like the brush strokes
Van Gogh so patiently patterned
in our memory)
reaches him in his high loft
With a slow revelation
he can hear the waves intimating
against the walls of his fortress
that the sensual world
is handmaiden to the spirit.
From the rooftop
Ishmael calls to the mountains
and his voice carried by the winds
circles the valley
and returns in envelopes
postmarked Taos and New York
Unsettled by the familiar script
he scarcely reads on.  The intervening wind
draws Ishmael to the ledge --
to the south the golden stupa
shines. The young tulku
has gone to America.
Ishmael’s friends have gone in search of him.
From the valley below
Nepali voices climb on the wind
and their song
grows familiar in his heart. 

 

 

 

THE PRODIGAL
for Udo Starnegg

Up

He knew people
who were climbing the highest peaks
or were adrift in rafts of papyrus
on the wide seas. They challenged the elements.
They would die young.

I no longer recall their names

For a time he lived under a lucky star.
Having made a fortune smuggling hashish
He invested in erotic images in bronze
and gold. Where did it go?
Penniless! Friends, the highest Lamas,
the best causes – his downfall
and salvation.

Having nothing I possess all

Now that he’s reached bottom
Where to begin? What to express?
He paints. He is an artist
His canvases – Kali 1 Kali 2 Kali
Avenged – are daubed with red
streaked with black

In my heart the guru lives

Daily he bathes in cold Himalayan streams,
praises Atman, eats whatever is offered,
and dances when alone

 

 

EVENING RAGA
for Mohan Sundar

Up

Dark, like the sun,
emerges a master of realms.
In the room, shadows,

the play of light in air.
On the table --draped with cloth,
the sarod.  This, in the half-light

This, with a change of directions,
from outward to inward
gaze.  Despite persistence of form

the music dissolves
into its constituent moments.
I listen. What I don’t see,

I hear.  The blind man’s
raga persuades me to speak:
The sun sets through the high portico

Gold… The Buddha’s
sculpted face, the mirroring golden
gourd of the sarod

draws me in 
The blind man sings light.
His fingers tether

what we cannot see.   
Enveloped in night, worlds
long gone, the last words are yours,

O, singer,
of the dark, dark,
Dark

 

 

IN HELL THERE IS NO SONG
for Ram Sharon Nepali

Up


Fearing song
the heart scurries down shirt-sleeves
leaving a trail of dung

Hating song
the heart turns to stone
that bloodies,
but is never bloodied

Hell
isn't just the absence of song,
it's in the heart that hears
and is still. Unmoved

It is a wind that razes a city,
uproots crops,
and dries milk in a mother's breast
It is the mindless thought
that places a dagger in the lover's hand

The absence of song
like a wind blowing across the land,
a lightning thrust to the heart
that only song can heal

Thus the singer--
is he not one who makes of mice, men,
and turns stone
to flesh? And taking the dagger
from the lover's hand…
as if it were a Sarangi -- plays it
And sings!

 

 

ABOVE THE FLAMES
On the cremation of Basu Sashi

Up


Flames!

Man hurts himself
He takes back nothing
He builds walls
Accuses
He has no time
to listen
Having so little time,
you listened

You spoke
But man doesn't speak
for himself
Man hurts himself
He willfully deceives
He lies. He shouts

Shouting,
he lies in the street
struck dumb from so many
useless words

(That night--
skin worn like a vest and skirt of flames--
that night I woke
shuddering)

Man doesn't speak
He has so little time
He never listens

You spoke. Without doubt
You listened

 

 

THE VISITATION (a dream poem)
On being unable to translate the poetry of Mohan Koirala

Up

Mohan Koirala came to visit me last night
I was expecting a woman in a maroon and silver sari
I had glimpsed her on the path. I had anticipated her approach
It was the poet who came nonetheless
I motioned with my hand that we sit on the porch
At the hour of night the moon was beaming
He swept past and bade me join him on the floor
There he set a sheet of paper before me
With a list of poems, a long list
The titles made no sense, but as I glanced down the page
the rhythm of their phrasing made me smile
Then he handed me the envelope he had drawn them from
Another list. Dated this coming morning
"These," I said, "do you plan to write them today?"
They are already written. "But, they are only titles."
Their syllables are the seeds of lines
reverberating, that already arise within you
And it was true; it was so. Each sounded phrase drew forth another
So submerged was I in the maroon and silver
light of this unfolding, that I didn't notice all the women in saris
and the playful girls that gathered round us
Laughing, chattering… Calling out the poet's name
 

 

HER FATHER'S VOICE
for Manju Kanchuli

Up


Her father took her hand in his
as if to read her fortune.
Rivers that flowed there, clouds casting shadows,
scars that hinted at wounds -- none of that entered his mind
as he traced the first letter, and then the others,
and then the most simple words,
sounds and words, from his finger to her palm
She was only four, but language
was in the air all about her
Now it was imprinted in her hand
All along the length of her arm,
along the nerves that reached into her heart,
her father's voice echoing
into her mind. With language in the air
all about her. Enveloped
Enveloping. With her touch now,
he spoke. Offering her hand,
he enunciated
With palm pressed to palm,
he prayed
When she clapped,
he shouted. When she discovered
her hand spoke as his did, carrying messages here
and there, he told the tale. Teller of Tales
he envelopes her,
she listens. Now, that he's gone, she replies
With sounds with letters
into fingertips. Her hand reaching out. Her father's voice
echoing in everything she does

20-Oct-95

 

 

A THOUSAND WHISPERS
for Shashikala Tiwari

Up


Thrown against a wall, battered into a frame,
what shoulders ease you down and raise you?
What hand brings forth such color?
I feel beneath those wings, brush strokes of some final cry

Yet you do allure. You hollow. You hide. You hunger.
With the wind's caress, you let in the light. Shade sent forth,
body that sustains. Is it the sea or the mountain crags
that keep you from us?

I see no difference. What rises from your felt-forms
is the mountain's voice itself. In battered stone soothed by touch
Leaves that will not fall E V E R, the heart's blood moist and thick,
a thousand lips w h i s p e r i n g

 


 

WHEN SEASONS CHANGE
On the art of Shashikala Tiwari

Up


To appreciate the paintings of Shashikala Tiwari we must consider integrity and openness, especially their dialectical play and bonded wholeness which is a basis for creation. Her work draws us to the creative process in its natural manifestation, and despite what her poetry might say, never leaves us wanting. Her offerings - of mountain, bird, flower and leaf, whether shrouded by valley mist or mountain air or singled out by the clarity of a garden's immediate light - are gifts that maintain the artist's presence within.

Shashikala brings us back to our origins in nature prior to any distinction between forms. Mountain and valley are one, and at the heart of their oneness is the openness of a flower, its centrifugal petals, and the fallen leaf. Nurture and memory have their hand in this process. The mountain itself is a flower, its arising an openness, a spreading of wings.

How does she do this? As a bird does whose fluttering wings feel not the barriers of distance or as a bee drawn straight to the flower, hovering, still. It is the movement of her eye that senses where to be drawn and the assurance of her hand that carries us, as well, to her savored insights.

Her poetry raises a mirror to this process, and we should not fear what we see. In the moments when the brush is not in her hand, when she has not yet taken wing or when there is no place to alight, questioning herself, she speaks of persistent lack or betrayal. But, there is no lack in her painting, no need for self-questioning. With the painstaking effort of her craft, what she envisions manifests. It is the surety of her vision and the yielding nature of her presence that draws us to these paintings.

 

 

GLORY
for Shashikala Tiwari

Up

They knew nothing about her
They wrote, "intoxicated with color," and she was
Still, they knew not

how startled out of dream
she would see the walls
open onto streams and mountains

or that she would begin
with a branch and a long tailed bird
in the far corner

or with the wind whisking the dandelions'

silken threads
towards a distant earth

her brush gliding from palette to canvas,

the emergent forms
guiding her hand,

the sleek wings of her brushstrokes
ceaseless till the colors assent

these glorious blooms scented forever

 


 

EMBODYING MYTH
On the art of Ragini Upadhyay-Grela

Up


A human mask: a peacock-tailed cow gazes at us
Shank-ed and torso-ed within, a peacock-effaced woman dances;
Bird of dreams hoisted on her shoulder and outreaching arm
A key around the cow's neck, a lotus for teats
and a hand, like those that smear the space behind her,
stamped on the cow's hind leg

Heavy, stable, secure
implacable presence, not a cow
or a lion, but cow
-mother, lion
-mother, that will not
abandon her progeny--though torn from her
they be scattered over the earth

Hands on her body and dwelling place,
signs of the forces she submits to, the violence willed against her

Peaceful, yet indomitable
There's no moving these mythic beings
from their rightful place at the center of creation

To become one with the cow mother,
the peacock dreamer, the woman dancing, the lotus nurturing,
take the key from the cow's neck,
and remove your handprints from her thigh

Soon…soon… For…
Familial and haunting, magnetic and morph-like,
this unaccountable creative force,
these emblems of forbearance, signs for what outlasts
and precedes us, Ragini's menagerie,
so familiar and unfamiliar,
from another world, are revelatory glimpses of the world we inhabit
or (like Pig with topi and shoe)
explicit condemnation of those who can no longer
dissemble that world

 

 

RAGINI'S MENAGERIE

Up


Flower bearing snake
and distant city; beneath your shadow,
a man and woman, a river flowing

Snake-tailed monkeys dance,
rubbing bodies, rubbing lips, the city in their hands

How is it these beasts, feigning innocence, defy gravity,
never falling from the world they trample?

Flame-footed, beak-footed, lotus-footed, stair-footed
female-faced lion, the sun balanced on your snout, your tail aflame,
your many lucky numbers secreted within

Legs shackled, turning inward and away,
your bird-beaked and winged-women, keys in hand,
gather force
--horse--
that will not be tamed

Big-bellied pig, your sock & shoe-fitted foot
strutting sure, how happily you balance and sniff that worm gnawed apple
So full of shit, flowers and weeds root on your back
Your topi seems out of place. So small a cap for one so large in girth
and single-minded in greed

 

 

PATIENCE--WITH AND WITHOUT EYES
On Ragini's Odyssey 2001

Up


What we are
from the earth emerges
What we become
from the sky
merges-In between
steadying,
rooting, rocking,
balanced,
round, moonlike,
curves,
weight that doesn't
sink us,
water in air,
lotus rooted in our lungs,
head raised,
torso like a wave,
stairs--
step by step,
the tongue
tells along our thighs,
so at ease we are,
we levitate--
a leaf
on our lips,
a leaf,
on our eye,
a leaf
on our eye,
hand prints like rain
holding on
as they climb up the rock
of her belly,
and the ease with which she allows them
to see how pleased--
outside the shell that covers
our desire-

one can be

 

 

ON RAGINI'S SENSITIVE WOMEN

Up

From the elements
forms intermingle and twine
From the many, one
that within is always two
Unabashedly so

The frame slips loose
Shapes submerged swim towards light and air
Embodied-the blush of color

You call this: woman
I say: multifarious within
Unendingly so

Its singular form
delights those who behold her

 

 

ON ASHMINA RANJIT'S EXHIBIT: HAIR

Up

When hands or lips brush against hair, Ashmina laughs

Playfully,
she lets us part the way in
The feel of hair
is in & through her work
This emblematic hair--
a living force--
woven and loosely bound,
so ready to be undone
or to take on
the shifting shapes
of its maker

Though three chambers
contain her installations and drawings,
the innermost (sanctum)
where one could kneel and worship
says it all

On the wide open roof
the rising tortured tangled strokes of hair
shake themselves free
from the confines of the paper
and rise on the wind
The same wind that moves through her installations
and drawings

 

 

ON ASHMINA'S ART

Up


Not the image, but…
the image maker's telling through hands
that sees
what cannot be contained
in forms
we hold and are held to

As if shaped and returned to us
with intent
to be unburdened,
loosening,
as well as one can,
knot by knot untangled
strands,

that we would with her
hanging freely,
unwoven,
in that braided space
say-- yes
this is what we are
made for
this
is

what we are

 

 

MIRRORING HAIR

Up

There lies a point where turning away
one enters a wilderness;

where turning one away,
a wilderness

loosens its hair and reclines. In that gifted space
encountering a will to emerge

one falls
forward onto knees
or stands
amazed at the graceful
descent
that never stops
seeing

how it falls
how it feels to be all around you

There lies a point
in the execution, an in-turning
that makes of its power
a source for all. With upraised wings,
emerge from her chamber
With a strand of wet
With a loop of unbinding
Without fear
Emerge. Without horror
Emerge. Open/wet/with and without
doing what she does

always there
always there

 

 

UNBOUND
after a painting by Shyam Lal Shrestha

Up


Drawn to the women gathering at the well
Not to the crouching
hauling bodies,
hands engaged minds chattering,
but to the bent
elongated arms and legs,
the rounded rounding
hips and thighs that lengthen
with a gaze that draws her
outside the frame. Undraped unbound
hair and arms enveloping
what you see. Enveloped you get wet
Soapy wet like the clouds like the band at her waist
that hold it all together

 

 

WHEN A CULTURE PERSISTS
On The Prints of Uma Shankar Shah

Up

A man is tired--
the night is not his

Wall and street
stammering but still

Subdued hues
held within

glow in the dark
Day does not reveal this light

Not one but 21;
not two but a hundred

The forms of a culture
catch the light

Shape and sound persist in the dark

When a culture persists
these are the shapes and sounds
it is known by
(in)
the un-peopled
dark

 

 

GALLERY AT DUSK
for Sangeeta Thapa

Up


Though the paintings
are there to see,
I listen. Measured tones tell me
these figures draw light in,
saturating color with longing
Light dims, the images you describe
do not fade; down the stairs
talk patters and recedes
dinned by traffic. From frames
that hang on the wall
I hear arise, and through us
reclaim their lives--
these angels born of light
and longing

My Earth My Sky
Siddhartha gallery, 9/92

 

 

NOTES FOR A POEM FOR JAC GIJZEN

Up


Met Mr Zen at AK's apartment 1/ 29/99
Struck by the sculptured lines of his face,
the interior resonance of his eyes
Were he a creature of my whim, I'd
make him a painter and be done with it. By his hands
I'd draw forth forms
the rhythms of which would scan space east & west:
this the net color brings forth
the net that swings across the abyss

Had this whimsy-borne artist, legs, he'd walk on air
had he eyes, he'd refract light caught in immaculate stone
had he hands he'd crawl out of your ear
and shout across the chasm that separates uncreated from created
But what would he shout? The libretto of this crossing
is not one heard, unless..
to be tossed stone in air/ to stake a point in space
to hang on as you swing/ to fall through riveted gaps/ to land
four footed/ to crawl back on your belly
a mollusk-ed thing,
wing-plucked and scalded,
copperhead-ed molt
swept away

right turn, left turns
swept away, in within, out without
patterns/ intersections/
yellow gold black white red blue
pulsing currents
that need not imagination
to fuel their expanse

Flesh and blood cloaks he who goes by such a name
flesh molds/ blood seethes/ eye spins; its ligature unfurled
the map that squares the circle and tips its hat
is the swirling sea that brings forth light. The paintings of Mr. Zen
bring forth light, and yet in their execution
there is an element of surprise
not unlike death--
light is life if the colors refracted in the living
are gifts for the living--

descendent of the cross is jac/
ascendant of the uncontained symbol:
point of light/ point of departure/
point of no return return re-urn urn of ash
ash of blessing given the name given the form
the gift of light refracted in earthen,
thick and wet, formed in flight in in in in in in
the gift of giving sieves forth /untold… it

infuriates the air/ rasping our eyes like struck stone,
so melancholy, so pale

 

 

UNACCOUNTABLE OBJECTS
(on the work of Rolf Kluenter)

Up


Object which is not you or yours
So to claim in the shaping a form that is other
to make known
the feel of a distant world
which within you a part of you a distant ever-present hailing
to hold on
to curl up in the shaping
hands
to feel not warmth but light
to nest in that
need

suggesting how it might be
(for another) to be wrapped in skin of flesh
To scrape out of that nestling
an imprint impinging on the eyelid of a sleeping dog

With that bark-less bite,
those drops of color on the tongue, to taste that…

arise as if there were a fathering a husbanding a negligence
that stood for that stands in for abandonment

as when dawn defies night to partake of it
you cradle in you a crawling that won't like leeches won't let go

a bristling claw, a hand that bridles the moon
objects like leeched blood coagulating at the point of fear's

luminous thread its thickness. How it hangs
in the meshing thrall of this weathered

want that says this is/ that was/ all we're meant for…
to be held. To behold

 

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