Poetry at Sangam



CALLIGRAPHIC LIVES by Dipika Mukherjee


Shoes, wet from yesterday’s rain, squelch
in reluctance. The teenager trips down stairs
black hair, black Man U shirt, black shorts.
Woohooh, he sings, let’s go dudelums!
his voice full of a Shanghai adventure.

I am not so sure. I miss the writers
at the Mezrab, words framed by gentle
clanks of trams of Amsterdam
Iranian bread, black tea, arguing
about art and artifice.

Here, a silent smog overpowers –
food broiling and boiling, warm steamy
smoke of stews and preserved vegetables–
in the French Concession seeking
a shared history, there’s only fog.


In an alleyway a man grabs a woman’s
shoulder spinning her around as she claws
flings her on the pavement; she lies there, not
bleeding, taking short choked breaths of air.
No one stops. He tries to jerk her to her feet
she hits his groin with a stiletto.

I am haunted by inner reels which
refuse deletion. Random violence
in too-shared spaces, jostling
through life in teeming crowds…
I know this too well.


Every morning, the river choked
by a lush hyacinth carpet of green is
pierced by the fishermen making themselves
small in narrow barricades, squatting
on haunches, fishing in silence.

A river, food, friends and time.
We glamorize lives beyond this gated
community, feel a bend in the river as
our lost opportunity…which it —
clearly — is not.


In the typhoon, the trees blur framed
in pagoda windows. The wind whips
picturesque. Rain sheets down an
elemental violence, sheathing the world
emerald green. On ancient waterways
float carved wooden bridges criss-
crossing a feng-shui pathway to
deflect evil spirits. These have borne
lovers and poets, a ghostly
voice –the high trill of a girl– hangs
in the mist like a song.


Newspaper headlines have too much
death. The guilty in the melamine-milk-scandal
executed. A party official taking bribes
executed. Muslim rebels fighting in Urumqi
executed. There’s talk of that drunk driver
being in the gallows soon.

The heart stops too easily here.

Even blood
spilt on white porcelain
starts looking like calligraphy.


(First published in Terracota Typewriter (USA), Issue 7, Winter 2011, 4-6. This poem was shortlisted for the 2010 Fish Poetry Prize, Ireland.)