Poetry | ‘Witherstone’ & ‘Aspen’ | By Sudeep Sen

Witherstone
       for Fiona & Peter

The deaf don’t believe in silence.
Silence is the invention of the hearing.
— Ilya Kaminsky, Deaf Republic

1.

In bucolic,       translucent silence, I overhear:
stone-slates aligning themselves
                                    in tiered mosaics —
floor’s varying heights competing
                        with rural mud-grass gradient —
sheep excitedly running downslope
            to greet their master, seeking salmon —
a quartet of chickens in an open shed
   pursing their rear, revealing pink eggshells —
and Wye waters creating an unintentional arc,
                                    verge of an immaculate oxbow.

2.

Sam[p]son and Delilah, Church and State
           jostle, trying to carve their own space —
a map whose coordinates appear flawed —
                       fragmented like old Balkan fissures,
like Brexit’s comedic miscalculations,
           like pandemic’s political mismanagement.
Tudor stone’s past — like a misleading folly —
    gradually withers away history and time
           as erosion’s song-cycle prepares for a coda.
A perfectly-pitched aria or cantata
    calibrates its modulation in this wet heavy air —
the frequencies unsure,
            like a directionless weather vane.

3.

Magnolia’s magnificence in the front garden,
           its regalia in temporary full glory —
before the snow-smitten air bites through its tree-bones.
In the large glass-paned sunroom,
           a long red cylindrical punching bag hangs listlessly
                       waiting for an uppercut to deflect
a dangling modifier — a poet’s primal prerogative.

4.

A red metal kettle in the kitchen, excited by heat,
whistles like an old steam engine on a disused rail track —
           brewing rose, green and white infusions.
As I set aside the coffee story,
the large black cooking range
           mirrors an age-blackened timber lintel.
Therein lie unrevealed, unsaid stories —
           stored within chamfered beam’s wood cracks.           

5.

Wireless signal, desperately elusive here —
the valley’s rough music
                  rearranging the air-waves’ diatonic notes —
its common prayer bridging
                        the geographical distance between us
                                    in this limestone country.

6.

How topography fine tunes our sensibility,
                       landscape reshapes our psyche —
how everyday banalities of potatoes, animal farm,
    persistent rain can soothe our senses to calm —
how simplest of neighbourly gestures
                       cements communal intimacies,
                                                reorienting our dna.

7.

Morse code conveyed in silence —
           skyscape, ever changing,
                       planktons floating on unreliable waves —
their dramatic formulations,
           shape-shifting cumuli,
                                   thermal up-draughts
matching         a local brook’s innocent eddies.

8.

At an abandoned countryside churchyard,
           I pause at each gravestone
to decipher their ornate genealogical etchings —
their looped serifs hold still the heartbeat of many lifetimes.

It’s the kind of clock I want to measure time by —
           time that depends
    on the company of those who care —
                       time minutely layered
on this open windblown Herefordshire terrain —
                                               an expansive canvas roll.

9.

Traversing a four-acre fenced land in borrowed Wellies,
           my pugmarks leave a foreign imprint on this soil.
I find among the muddy squelch,
           a piece of dead bark. Its smooth weatherworn
seductive shape reminds me of an ancient whale,
           its striated sanded-down skin bearing a script
           left undeciphered until now.
I am tempted to decode enjambment’s mystery,
                                                but I resist.

10.

Inside Witherstone,
the well-worn kettle-nozzle tweets again,
           a trio of iPhones peal their pedestrian pings —
I choose not hear this uncoordinated medley.

                                   In my imagined silence,
ceramic cup-stains graph every minute detail,
           letterform’s each ascender and descender ||
                                   as I drink my infinite cups
of bergamot oil infused tea       without haste —
                        slow-staring at the sky’s ash-rose stories.

*
Aspen
  for Simi

Gold-orange patina
  imprinted serrated leaves

glow silk — incarnadine
  like russet sunsets.

Foliage slow-shivers —
  every breath, heaving.

Winter-white barks
  studiously slow-burn.

Even forest fires
  cannot conflagrate

the incandescent love
  for my beloved.

*

Wave after wave,
  the Northern lights’

luminously pirouette
  in polar-cooled wind-

chill — redolent colours
  sculpting translucent

letters in this frozen air —
  a sacrament of faith,

brightly lit. Decoding
  hieroglyph’s lost

lyrics — an exquisitely
  sung ghazal unfolds.

*

Sudeep Sen’s [www.sudeepsen.org] prize-winning books include: Postmarked India: New & Selected Poems (HarperCollins), Rain, Aria (A. K. Ramanujan Translation Award), Fractals: New & Selected Poems | Translations 1980-2015 (London Magazine Editions), EroText (Vintage: Penguin Random House), and Kaifi Azmi: Poems | Nazms (Bloomsbury). He has edited influential anthologies, including: The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry (editor), World English Poetry, and Modern English Poetry by Younger Indians (Sahitya Akademi). Blue Nude: Anthropocene, Ekphrasis & New Poems (Jorge Zalamea International Poetry Prize) and The Whispering Anklets are forthcoming. Sen’s works have been translated into over 25 languages. His words have appeared in the Times Literary Supplement, Newsweek, Guardian, Observer, Independent, Telegraph, Financial Times, Herald, Poetry Review, Literary Review, Harvard Review, Hindu, Hindustan Times, Times of India, Indian Express, Outlook, India Today, and broadcast on bbc, pbs, cnn ibn, ndtv, air & Doordarshan. Sen’s newer work appears in New Writing 15 (Granta), Language for a New Century (Norton), Leela: An Erotic Play of Verse and Art (Collins), Indian Love Poems (Knopf/Random House/Everyman), Out of Bounds (Bloodaxe), Initiate: Oxford New Writing (Blackwell), and Name me a Word (Yale). He is the editorial director of AARK ARTS and the editor of Atlas. Sen is the first Asian honoured to deliver the Derek Walcott Lecture and read at the Nobel Laureate Festival. The Government of India awarded him the senior fellowship for “outstanding persons in the field of culture/literature.”

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