Reverence :: Nuisance
On walls of reception counters
and staircases of offices, hospitals, firms
and other ‘secular’ institutions –
pictures of Hindu Gods are painted…
so that casual people walking in (or up or down)
fear to spit on the adorned walls.
But still looking around or climbing:
you can always find the work done
an irregular red border underlining the walls
owing so much to betel juice and spit.
And on cheap roadside compound walls
that don’t bear ‘Stick No Bills’ messages or
cinema and political posters — the Gods once again
are advertised. And captioned with legends that read
‘Do Not Urinate’. And yet, the Gods are covered with
layers of smelly urine – they don’t retaliate.
Tolerance is a very holy concept.
Or like someone said,
the Caste Gods deserve
the treatment they get.
Becoming a Brahmin
Algorithm for converting a Shudra* into a Brahmin**:
Step 1: Take a beautiful Shudra girl.
Step 2: Make her marry a Brahmin.
Step 3: Let her give birth to his female child.
Step 4: Let this child marry a Brahmin.
Step 5: Repeat steps 3-4 six times.
Step 6: Display the end product. It is a Brahmin.
Algorithm advocated by Father of the Nation at Tirupur:
Documented by Periyar on 20-09-1947.
Algorithm for converting a pariah into a Brahmin:
Awaiting another Father of the Nation
to produce this algorithm.
Inconvenience caused due to inadvertent delay
is sincerely regretted.
* Shudra: the fourth and lowest caste of India – “serving” the three above it
** Brahmin: the first and highest caste of India
Both poems © 2006, Meena Kandasamy
Meena Kandasamy, born in Chennai in 1984, writes poems that
are a literary discovery of being a woman – and Tamil in India –
and about low-caste and even outcaste-ness.
Being a Poet is glamourized – often – all around the world.
But Kandasamy is not interested in praise or literary garlands
– she feels a responsibility to ensure that language is not always
at the mercy of those who would oppress others.
and careen, shed skin, refill, crest and yaw,
corrected our taste for oranges
packed by other hands from other places, bought
tokens of summer and the coming happiness —
we paused at the Korean romances: A Tale of a Prince,
Over The Rainbow, Tree of Heaven.
who went mad for a girl.
No prince arrived with a piece of fax.
You said: Plainly, it’s all money and for-
nication, just like everywhere else. We smiled
at the notion of moon bases and hummed a tune
from the movie we figured
we were still living in.
among bright open windows while the shopgirls cheered on,
and the pavement singers, and those women
fingering black laces in Foreign Lane
and we lived in and out of restaurants, smoking nonstop,
not thinking or speaking, our nerves
shattered by the urge to depart. All day
we have waited and waited
under heaven’s wide and lovely tree
for princes, advisors,
even some flannel postman to come and say
that the ship’s sailed, the bus
has left, all families look for us.
Have we said too much? Or not enough –
to its usual brilliant bedtime, the astronauts gone, the rain
now cadencing in our heads. The restaurant must close.
We have learned nothing. You wisely add: Really,
there was nothing to learn.
“Sir John A. Macdonald gouverne avec l’orgueil”
Sir John A. Macdonald gouverne avec l’orgueil
Les provinces de la Puissance
Et sa mauvaise foi vent prolonger mon deuil
Afin que son pays l’applaudisse et l’encense.
Au lieu de la paix qu’il me doit
Au lieu de respecter d’une manière exacte
Et mon droit,
Depuis bientôt dix ans, Sir John me fait la guerre.
Un homme sans parole est un homme vulgaire.
Fort et faible d’esprit, moi je le montre au doigt…
Je ne souhaite pas, Sir John, que votre mort
Soit pleine de tourments. Mais ce que je désire
C’est que vous connaissiez et souffriez le remord :
Parce que vous m’avez mangé, comme un vampire.
L’horizon, tout le ciel m’apparaissait vermeil.
Vous avez accablé de soucis mon jeune âge.
Et vous êtes sur moi comme un épais nuage
Qui dérobe à mes yeux la clarté du soleil.
J’espère voir la fin de vos pensées altières.
Vous avez fait le mal : et c’est ce qui détruit.
Vous tomberez peut-être avec le même bruit
Qu’on entend l’Ottawa bondir dans les Chaudières.
Vos moyens d’action, John, ne sont pas les miens.
Mes amis ont souffert de ma grande folie.
Ils s’en consoleront : car elle fut jolie.
Vous n’effacerez pas mon passé, car j’ y tiens.
Vous, vous serez connu pour le hardi mensonge.
C’est à vous que j’en veux pour ma proscription.
Je fais mon temps d’exil : et je mange mon ronge.
Et je suis, malgré vous, chef de ma nation.
Je n’abandonne pas mon plan : je l’étudie.
Et je l’ai travaillé d’une façon hardie.
J’ai trouvé ce qu je voulais.
Je vous connais à fond maintenant, peuple anglais.
. . .
An English translation by Paul Savoie:
“Sir John A. Macdonald governs with “pride””
Sir John A., shackled by pride’s endless chain,
Governs the Dominion’s vast domain,
And through perfidy prolongs my agony
To gain his kind’s approval, vain glory.
Disrespecting his commitments,
He does not heed the terms, fair and precise,
Of our Agreement
And my stated rights.
Nearly ten years I have endured torment.
A man who reneges on his word is base.
Let my accusing finger state my case…
Sir John, I do not wish upon you death
Riddled with pain and horror but instead
Days of dull remorse and daily regret
You, foul vampire, who have left me for dead.
The sky above once appeared ruby red
As did the horizon. Your actions soured
My youth and hid the sun. The day’s colours
From my famished eyes are cruelly bled.
To your own arrogance you must demur
Lest your actions wreak greater destruction.
Or, as in the Chaudieres rapids clamour,
Prepare your fall in swift swirling motion.
Your methods, John, are not the same as mine.
My friends have paid a price for my excess
Which, as a comfort, they may find sublime.
I will not let you rob me of my past.
You will be the seen prevaricator
And on you history will lay the blame.
I pine away in exile but remain
In spite of you my nation’s true leader.
I ponder now. I don’t relinquish
My plan. I fine-tune it and turn it plain.
My efforts have not been in vain
For I have seen the hearts of the English.
Sir John A. Macdonald became, in 1867, the first prime minister
of a newly united “Canada” – which had been up till that time
a loose arrangement of British and French colonies.
He was born on January 11th, 1815, in Scotland, and
came to Canada as a boy, settling with his family in
Kingston, Ontario, where, after becoming a lawyer,
he then entered into politics.
The big achievements of his political career were
the uniting of the vast and distant colonies into
one new nation – plus the completion in 1885 of a
transcontinental railroad – the Canadian Pacific
Railroad – from the East all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
Louis Riel (1844-1885) was born in the Red River Colony,
(later Manitoba) and was the charismatic leader of what
was an unrecognized new nation of mixed-race people,
The Métis (French and Native).
After an unsuccessful attempt to assert his leadership
versus Ottawa in “Manitoba” – the Red River Rebellion of 1870 –
Riel went into exile in Montana, south of the border.
It was there that he wrote his intense poem in French:
“Sir John A. Macdonald gouverne avec l’orgueil”.
Riel returned to Canada, and in The NorthWest Rebellion
of 1885 he galvanized The Métis to assert land rights in
what would become the province of Saskatchewan.
Macdonald hanged Riel for high treason after the
Rebellion was driven down by government troops.
The legacy of this event is complex –
Riel was deemed mad by the mainly Protestant
English and an Ottawa that saw in his charisma
a passionate, dangerous rival. In Québec Riel
has been viewed as a visionary francophone folk hero.
Increasingly, in our time, he is regarded
as a thwarter of simplistic ideologies of race and
culture. Louis Riel is, in his unique way, a great Canadian
– though he goes unrecognized as such.
Marilyn Dumont, born in 1955, is a Canadian poet
of Cree/Métis descent. The poem below,
“Letter to Sir John A. Macdonald”, was written in 1993.
Astutely, she points out how the completion of
the Canadian Pacific Railroad permitted the rapid
movement of new white settlers out West to
the very land Riel claimed for his people.
1885 was a crucial year, when both the
NorthWest Rebellion and The Last Spike
were “driven down”…
Letter to Sir John A. Macdonald
I’m still here and halfbreed,
after all these years.
You’re dead, funny thing,
that railway you wanted so badly,
there was talk a year ago
of shutting it down
and part of it was shut down,
the “dayliner”, at least,
‘ from sea to shining sea ‘,
and you know, John,
after all that shuffling us around to suit the settlers,
we’re still here and Métis .
We’re still here
after Meech Lake and
holdin’ up the train,
stalling the ” Cabin syllables / Nouns of settlement
/ …steel syntax [and] / The long sentence of its exploitation ”
and John, that goddamned railroad never made this a great nation,
’cause the railway shut down
and this country is still quarreling over unity,
and Riel is dead
but he just keeps coming back
in all the Bill Wilsons yet to speak out of turn or favour
because you know as well as I
that we were railroaded
by some steel tracks that didn’t last
and some settlers who wouldn’t settle
and it’s funny – we’re still here and callin’ ourselves halfbreed.
. . . . .
Photograph: Louis Riel and his Council, 1870
Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung)
A poem written January 9th, 1963
Reply to Comrade Guo Moruo
(to the tune of Man Jiang Hong)
On this tiny globe
A few flies dash themselves against the wall,
Humming without cease,
Ants on the locust tree assume a great-nation swagger,
And mayflies lightly plot to topple the giant tree.
The west wind scatters leaves over Chang’an,
And the arrows are flying, twanging.
So many deeds cry out to be done,
And always urgently:
The world rolls on,
Ten thousand years are too long,
Seize the day, seize the hour !
The Four Seas are rising, clouds and waters raging,
The Five Continents are rocking, wind and thunder roaring.
Our force is irresistible,
Away with all the pests !
– a lu shi
Winter clouds snow-laden, cotton fluff flying,
None or few the unfallen flowers.
Chill waves sweep through steep skies,
Yet earth’s gentle breath grows warm.
Only heroes can quell tigers and leopards
And wild bears never daunt the brave.
Plum blossoms welcome the whirling snow;
Small wonder flies freeze and perish.
Militia Women – Inscription on a Photograph
– a jue ju
How bright and brave they look,
shouldering five-foot rifles
On the parade ground lit up by
the first gleams of day.
China’s daughters have high-aspiring minds,
They love their battle array,
not silks and satins.
Guo Moruo’s Poem
On Seeing The Monkey Subdue The Demon
– a lu shi
Confounding humans and demons, right and wrong,
The monk was kind to foes and vicious to friends.
Endlessly he intoned “The Incantation of The Golden Hoop”,
And thrice he let the White Bone Demon escape.
The monk deserved to be torn limb from limb;
Plucking a hair means nothing to the wonder-worker.
All praise is due to such timely teaching,
Even the pig grew wiser than the fools.
– to the tune of Yi Qin E
Fierce the west wind,
Wild geese cry under the frosty morning moon.
Under the frosty morning moon
Horses’ hooves clattering,
Bugles sobbing low.
Idle boast, the strong pass is a wall of iron,
With firm strides we are crossing its summit.
We are crossing its summit,
The rolling hills sea-blue,
The dying sun blood-red.
Mao Zedong (1893-1976) tried to exemplify the well-rounded
Revolutionary, and so composed poetry in the moment – even while
leading “The Long March” over the mountain pass at Loushan.
The poem above was written in a type of verse called “ci”,
a form established during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.)
The “ci” poem was always written to be sung – and with a
particular tune in mind.
Mao as poet wrote in other classical verse forms as well
– like “lu” and “jue”, both of the “shi” form –
while proclaiming heroically his subject matter.
“Shi”, a classical Chinese verse form with strict tonal patterns and
rhyme schemes, also dates back to the Tang Dynasty.
An Angel on My Shoulder
(An Old-World Ballad)
Along the edge of the world at night
in the light of the Lord’s candle
somebody is wandering alone
with an angel on his shoulder.
He’s walking towards nowhere, to non-return,
he’s walking lazily like a child,
and the gray pendulum of life
prods him from behind,
so he won’t roam at night
in the light of the Lord’s candle,
so he won’t ramble around
with an angel on his shoulder.
A whirling wind blows,
a pestilential Herod howls,
the pendulum is striking stronger,
the barely alive angel is moaning.
But he keeps going on and on,
though the candle’s no longer breathing,
just his lips quiver:
angel, don’t fall from my shoulder.
On a heap amidst thistles,
on coal, soggy from rains,
two angels dwell.
They wax each other’s wings,
they kiss each other’s eyes,
Near them a lovely infant,
and no one can guess
who’s guarding whom?
Is the infant guarding angels or
do white-winged ones watch the child,
leaping, aiming for heaven?
What can white angels do
on this black soil? Crush coal
or weep into blue skies?
Each angel would carry the baby
into heaven’s garden any moment,
God does not will it . . .
On a heap of discarded Christmas trees,
and dirty orange peels,
on the frozen grass –
two angels and an infant
clutching a Christmas carol in its fist
– Christmas has gone.
Ivan Malkovych / Іван Малкович,
born in Ukraine in 1961,
gave up poetry ten years ago to devote himself
to writing children’s books in Ukrainian – and this
creative task he describes as “the noblest work”.
When Christmas imagery appears in his poetry he
up-ends cliché with his alert, quizzical mind
yet a real love of Ukrainian tradition also comes through,
making these unusual poems special for January 6th:
Ukrainian Christmas Eve.
Translations from Ukrainian into English:
Michael M. Naydan (An Angel on My Shoulder)
Bohdan Boychuk and Myrosia Stefaniuk (Folk Scene)
Ио́сиф Алекса́ндрович Бро́дский
Рождество 1963: 1
в лютую стужу.
В пустыне пылали пастушьи костры.
Буран бушевал и выматывал душу
из бедных царей, доставлявших дары.
Верблюды вздымали лохматые ноги.
Звезда, пламенея в ночи,
смотрела, как трех караванов дороги
сходились в пещеру Христа, как лучи.
Christmas 1963: 1
The saviour was born
into fierce, brutish cold.
Shepherds’ small campfires blazed in the wasteland.
A blizzard seethed and battered the souls
of the humble kings who bore gifts for the infant.
The camels lifted their shaggy legs in sequence.
The wind howled.
The star, aflame in the night,
looked on as the paths of the three processions
converged on Christ’s cave like beams of light.
Рождество 1963: 2
Волхвы пришли. Младенец крепко спал.
Звезда светила ярко с небосвода.
Холодный ветер снег в сугроб сгребал.
Шуршал песок. Костер трещал у входа.
Дым шел свечой. Огонь вился крючком.
И тени становились то короче,
то вдруг длинней. Никто не знал кругом,
что жизни счет начнется с этой ночи.
Волхвы пришли. Младенец крепко спал.
Крутые своды ясли окружали.
Кружился снег. Клубился белый пар.
Лежал младенец, и дары лежали.
Christmas 1963: 2
The magi had come. The infant soundly slept.
The star shone brightly from the vaulted sky.
A cold wind swept the snow up into drifts.
The sand rustled. A bonfire crackled nearby.
Smoke plumed skyward. Flames hooked and writhed.
The shadows cast by the fire grew now shorter,
now suddenly longer. No one there yet realized
that on that very night life’s count had started.
The magi had come. The infant soundly slept.
Steep arches loomed above the manger.
Snow swirled about. White steam rose in wisps.
With gifts piled near him, the child slept like an angel.
Joseph Brodsky / Ио́сиф Алекса́ндрович Бро́дский
(1940-1996) was born of Jewish parents
in Leningrad. He began to write poetry in his mid-teens
and taught himself English so that he could translate John
Donne into Russian. In 1960 he met the 70-year-old
Anna Akhmatova, who had written the great epic poem
“Requiem” about Stalin’s Terror in the 1930s.
Her encouragement brought out in the young Brodsky
a flow of ideas and creativity – such that by 1963 he was
being denounced as a social parasite and anti-Soviet.
Arrested, put on trial, he spent 18 months at a labour camp
in the Arctic.
He kept on with his poetry after his release but
harassment became routine. In 1972, after persecution by
authorities who sought to have him declared schizophrenic and,
therefore, “useless to society”, he was put on a plane out of the
USSR and, with the help of foreign poets who valued his work,
he settled in the USA.
The Nativity – and the many themes of Life it touches upon –
was a constant topic in Brodsky’s poetry. He wrote
one or more Nativity poems per year between 1961 and
We are grateful to Jamie Olson
for his translation from the Russian.
Visit his site: http://www.theflaxenwave.com