The optician adorned me with asteroid spectacles,
taking away my sight before restoring it back to me.
I was made to read the alphabets on his electric screen,
first with one eye and then the other but not with both;
letting it sink in that perfect vision was going to be his gift.
We lingered in his heavily curtained, neon-lit underworld.
He sat in front of me, his scanning machine between us,
he concentrated on the state of my pupil, cornea, retina and iris.
The silence of the room was interrupted by his whispers
urging me to look at the ceiling, floor, walls on either
side, follow his phallic finger with my eyes
as it roved wildly within my arc of vision.
He bent patiently over each eye studying their defects,
his fingers pressed on my hair and temples when he turned
my head to study my profile as if he were a phrenologist.
Do you see better in this lens or in this? He queried
as he switched lenses with the dexterity of a magician.
It was difficult to say: Is there optimal vision?
Much depends on how much you want to see,
he muttered having explained my failure to see the world
as it really is. His lenses had the gift of perfect sight;
he could mend long or short sightedness, astigmatism,
all aberrations of vision. Self-contained in a box,
unassuming, the powerful prisms of glass
stand evangelically between me and the world.
My world manageable with its ilI-defined, frayed,
squinted edges. The lenses, round fish eyes,
dependable eagle eyes, alert cat eyes, beautiful in
their glassy sheen; clear as running streams in a forest.
Through the looking glass, I could see the world
pretty much anyway I pleased. The prescription was free.
It is that feeling on first awakening
at dawn to the matins of bird song,
with your face playing hide-and-seek,
sunlight through the mists among the trees.
I whisper your name like a mantra
as if the mere repeating of your name
will restore you to me. Even in my sleep,
I know you are not there, gone missing;
an absence in the family photograph.
A tree immersed in snowy forgetfulness,
I am cursed to loose my flowers and leaves
dreaming of buds, newly sprung leaves and a festival
of flowers to rescue me from this bareness of being.
I dream of you and mother riding
on the white steed of spring,
having waited patiently all these years for my leafing.
I stand alone, your daughter, without offspring —
reaching for the foot of the rainbow encircling
us in its halo, blessing, promising…
On waking, I discern your features in every stranger’s face
or lips as it curls into a smile crossing our nondescript streets;
learning that the most delicate balancing act of all is being
a drop of water in the ocean without losing one’s identity.
When the sun sets and the stars begin their vespers,
I recognise the myriad ways of our losing and finding.
MRS KAFKA’S DILEMMA
While he was busy with his studies,
She noticed a subtle transformation in her.
When she sneezed, butterflies flew out of her nostrils;
She laughed and music flowed with a spectacular
laser show. Weeping had the same effect
though the sounds and colours were sombre.
Her clipped nails she sold as rice-pearls
and her tears as precious moon-stones.
All this amused her, made her popular.
The trouble began the day he metamorphosed
into a dreadful insect. The same day wherever
her hair fell, they turned into snakes.
Since then a strange terror seized her,
she could finally get rid of him, perfect murder,
but could not imagine other men fancying her.
Annoyingly, part of her was in love with Franz;
although she could never be sure which part.
She covered her head with a thick black lace,
plaited her long hair tight; refused to stir
out of her room, kept her door locked;
wore herself out hiding the wretched
creatures in her washing basket
each time they mysteriously appeared –
luckily they were harmless in her hands –
before despatching them to the forest
swearing her trusted maid in eternal secrecy.
She dreaded her husband coming to see her,
fearing that sooner, or later,
a single strand of her own fine hair
would betray her; making a liar of her
for confessing her snake-hair her partner;
that she herself was innocent in this matter.
Perhaps, her maid would vouch for her?
But what if they did not believe her either?
If she could keep her counsel and pretend
she knew nothing about his disappearance,
could she then enlist the silence of her maid?
Thu uncertainty of it all quite simply destroyed her;
she knew not when these strange things would stop happening to her.
She experienced loneliness as never before.
Nor could she predict the violence of her thoughts
if she were to see a snake mating with a beetle before eating it?
Pity he could not reproduce himself as easily as Zeus…
Cradling her youngest son on her lap,
one arm strapped across, firm as a seat-belt;
the other spread-eagled over the rest of her brood,
we travelled, a live poster of a family.
hoisted precariously on a rickshaw.
My brother highlighted along our journey
all of life‘s amazing little touches to us,
a seasoned commentator immersed in the game.
My mother appealed for peace and quiet.
Then suddenly a man on a bicycle approached.
full speed, no different from a huge black kite
intent on scooping down on its prey, and sped off
hitting my mother hard on her shoulder and breast.
I clung to her handbag with all my strength.
The rickshaw-wallah, unable to redress the situation,
stopped but could not give chase; the offender having
disappeared into the myriad alleyways of an ancient city
devised for escape; it’s dilapidated walls reeking of urine,
which even the scorching sun could not fumigate.
The rickshaw-wallah’s glistening sweat was a familiar
odour of stale water – rice, salt and crushed garlic.
We continued with our journey to visit our aunt.
My brother said he wanted to become a police officer,
the youngest cried until we reached our destination.
Games and snacks with my cousins dulled my memories.
Back at home, later that night, I tiptoed upstairs
after the evening guests had their tea and I my dinner,
up to the open verandah, join the family and half-listen
to their daily gossip which I so loved to hear,
dozing in the cool breeze of a slow summer’s night,
tracing the pattern of the constellations in the sky.
I lay a hand lightly on her shoulder, having forgotten
the incident of the afternoon. My mother swerved her head
as if in danger; I had triggered off her delayed reaction.
She screamed and screamed and nothing could silence her.
Holding me in her arms, she could not hold back her tears.