WHAT POETRY MEANS TO ERNESTINA IN PERIL
What should poetry mean to a woman in the hills
as she sits one long sloping summer evening
in Patria, Aizawl, her head crammed with contrary winds,
pistolling the clever stars that seem to say:
Ignoring the problem will not make it go away.
So what if Ernestina is not a name at all,
not even a corruption, less than a monument. She will sit
pulling on one thin cigarillo after another, will lift her teacup
in friendly greeting to the hills and loquacious stars
and the music will comb on through her hair,
telling her: Poetry must be raw like a side of beef,
should drip blood, remind you of sweat
and dusty slaughter and the epidermal crunch
and the sudden bullet to the head.
The sudden bullet in the head. Thus she sits, calmly gathered.
The lizard in her blinks and thinks. She will answer:
The dog was mad that bit me. Later, they cut out my third eye
and left it in a jar on a hospital shelf. That was when the drums
Since then I have met the patron saint of sots and cirrhosis who
used to stand
in every corner until the police chased her down. She jumped
into a taxi.
Now I have turned into the girl with the black guitar
and it was the dog who died. Such is blood.
The rustle of Ernestina’s skirt will not reveal the sinful vine
or the cicada crumbling to a pair of wings at her feet.
She will smile and say: I like a land where babies
are ripped out of their graves, where the church
leads to practical results like illegitimate children and bad
quite out of proportion to the current population, and your
is kidnapped by demons and the young wither without complaint
and pious women know the sexual ecstasy of dace and peace is
by short men with a Bible and five big knuckles on their righteous
Religion has made drunks of us all. The old goat bleats.
We are killing ourselves. I like an incestuous land. Stars, be silent.
Let Ernestina speak.
So what if the rose are in disarray? She will rise
With a look of terror too real to be comical.
The conspiracy in the greenhouse, the committee of good women
They have marked her down
They are coming the dead dogs the yellow popes
They are coming the choristers of stone
We have been bombed silly out of our minds.
Waiter, bring me something cold and hard to drink.
Somewhere there is a desert waiting for me
And someday I will walk into it.
GIRL, WITH BLACK GUITAR AND BLUE HIBISCUS
The reality of music is a problem
Waiting to be solved by the black guitar,
Not the girl, nor the jug of blue hibiscus
The pigeons are insane with grief because you left them
The clouds will be noble and distant as always
The scent of citrus flowers will fade in soft explosions
And the girl will put a blue hibiscus in her hair
And the computer will speak in flawless Japanese
Talking of the elegant instant and how the quasars are
How the jealousy of common stuff finds itself fully
In an uncommon criminal act. In the red earth lay her like a seed.
The sad subterranean gong1 will go on accusing
Until it becomes the black guitar and music becomes
A cleft of a certain colour waiting for the first quiver of strings,
Until the gong is quiet and the woman in the earth goes to sleep.
I will leave words too and be
A gunrunner, keep a boy to thrash
When he’s lazy or stupid or because
I feel like it. Give up cigarettes, take up
Opium instead… because, you know,
It sends us dreams.
I’m packing my things.
The sun can’t be much brighter there
Than here… but… anyway.
We all like to feel so special.
1 The ‘subterranean gong’ is an allusion to ‘Pi Hmuaki,’ said to be the first poet among the Mizos. As the story goes, she was such a prolific composer that the people of her village buried her alive with her gong to keep her company, so future generations would have something left to write about.