Poetry at Sangam



FACE TO FACE by K. Satchidanandan

(Translated from the Malayalam by the poet.)

Have you seen nothingness face to face?
It occupies chairs, walks the streets,
slightly concave.

We can see its other side:
like crystal, or word.
It will descend the staircase
and stare at us,
will hide behind trees to
suddenly appear and scare us.
It will rise laughing like lightning
from funeral pyres and graveyards,
with no clothes, not even skin.

Sometimes we meet it on the shore of
the sea or desire or a book,
its body covered in sand, secretions or letters.

I have seen it in homes,
not just in drawing rooms,
but even in bedrooms.
Have seen it adorned with garlands
in the temple’s sanctum.
Sometimes I have heard its footsteps
in the rhythms of my heart beat.

Dogs can see it just as they can see
ghouls and demons, clearly,
head and limbs in place.
Then they howl that rare howl
as if they were seeing the other world.
Crows too know when it comes: it is then
their cawing gets slanted.
We cannot foresee its arrival as
our instincts have been blunted.

I wish to get my sharp sense of smell back
and my crow’s sharp vision.
Then I will warn you too,
With a black howl or a slanted cry,
until you too are able to see nothingness
on your verandah clearly, like seeing
the unclaimed ghost of a child
bleeding all over from bombing.