Ambiguity

This is an image of a road in the woods leading to light. I've chosen it to represent hope even though my poem ends on a note of uncertainty.

When I last met sister,
her reality was a Kafkaesque,
disjointed, dysfunctional
nightmare that gave me no
respite, rest, recess, I wanted
to let her pain sink in, empathize,
or at least sympathize, she lay on
a park bench, muttering, stuttering,
stammering, falling short,
“I’m…just…a…fucking…w..aste
of vo..lu..me,” she said Prozac
ridden, her hazy eyes,
speaking more than prescription,
“Turn…me…d..o..w..n, s..t..a..t..i..c,”
she said, but I couldn’t leave her
in that weedy reality riddled with scraps,
paunched men staring at her
like she was a whore, ready to prance,
pounce, prey, and that litter stinks more
than the debris in the outskirts
of this seemingly cosmopolitan, dark
eye-liner, dark red lipshade façade
that only people who know India smell,
and you can call it a messiah complex,
a Jack Shephard need to save, and yes,
I have a similar tattoo on my arm, or a
pseudo-Samaritan need to fake-help,
or just love, but I picked her up, despite
my nonchalance which soon splintered
into tears, a heart of shattered stars,
carried her home, with my little
lean muscle, and told her
there is no mute, or a tuneless
song, but a new dawn, day, a spark,
a speck of hope, and she listened,
drifting in and out of consciousness,
but soon walked away, dissipating, dissolving,
disappearing again, and I hope with all
my heart that she found a place
with her name engraved on a
good man’s heart, and not on
a pothole reeking of addiction,
where she’ll be a target without
a need for an aim, and that shakes,
splits my core, with a jagged,
rough-edged knife, because I may
never be able to save her again.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

As if

This is an image of a plane wreck floating on the sea. I've chosen it because it augments the nihilism which is the central theme of my poem

I write poems of myself, as if there is a point of writing.
I wake each morning to the sight of the ceiling fan,
as if there is a point to sleeping and waking.
I breathe the fresh air, as I walk to the rhythm of
the thrush, as if there is a point to breathing and walking.

What is existence, but the dregs of the past carried
by the illusion of tomorrow?
What is solace, but a myth punched in our skulls
using a societal pneumatic drill of ‘thinking positive
thoughts’ and ‘high self-esteem’?

I walk on a cracked road, strewn with dead leaves,
crushed paper cups and the stench of over-ripeness,
the road is broad and here and there I find a tavern
or a whorehouse that only elevates my guilt,
the road is barren except for a few humps
like an old hag with sagging tits,
the road has stark tress, fruitless and leafless
on both sides, menacing, haunting, monstrous,
hideous like wooden upright cadavers,
the road leads to a murky horizon, askew
and blurry, never telling me what awaits.

The stories I’ve known, I’ve shared with no one –
because ears hear, but they don’t hear at all –
and so, I trudge alone beneath the sun –
embracing seasons dying – the filth – fall –

I write songs of remembrance, as if recollection
abets salvation, memories or flashes of them
forming a false beatific vision, lasting an hour
before the mind’s uneasy, unsettled, untidy,
unaided.

I write sonnets of love, as if I hold it in my heart,
which in truth is a headstone with an epitaph saying,
‘Here lies one unknown who died before he died,
here lies one obscure who never lived though he lived,
here lies one unseen who saw though he never saw.’

I write villanelles of ache, as if sorrow is the muse
that refines, coats hearts with the golden dew of
resilience, but my tears refuse to flood my eyes,
my pain has given way to apathy like that of a soldier who
first cries in sorrow over a dying friend before seeing
one too many fall and then desensitized and disillusioned
carries on.

I write prose both lyrical and anti-lyrical calling
the hyacinth layers of velvety tenderness or
calling it a myriad chopped off tongues stitched
together, but does it matter? I ask you, does it matter?

I can sing of myself, but I’m not myself.
I can rise to meet life, but I’ve never risen.
I can talk of rebirth, but I’ve never known birth.
I can talk of death, but I’m already gone.

And all this, the songs and their echoes,
the women and the cigarettes, the laughter
and the beer, the muted tears and the numbness,
the journey and the destination rises like
a monster with a scaly carapace, irises of fire,
a mouth with demonic teeth, sharp like needles,
four-footed, with vicious claws and wings with an
aura of a death-spirit, seeking to devour life, but
only to find itself thrown in the abyss,
only to find itself lost to obscurity and oblivion,
forgotten and erased.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

Polarity

This is an image of two maps: one with a compass on it and another without. I've chosen it because there's a line in my piece that talks about how time on the outside moves linearly while time inside a love-hate relationship switches between darkness and light.

I’m in love with you, but I also know it’s time to let go. Time within us remains the same flick between darkness and light, while time without moves linearly. These relationships are the hardest and will split cores and break skulls with sharp axes of a muted ‘why?’ We’re in love but also stay together for the sake of it. It’s this dichotomy that both divorces us, and makes each touch and words said and unsaid worth it. We’re killing each other, but our damaged cores spin on an axis of who we might become, or who we think we’ll become.

I fucking love you and the roots of this strong emotion grip my heart fiercely and furiously, but some other force hacked the stem; split the branches in two. We’re pivoting on broken heels on a floor of fire, and though the raw burn and charred flesh gives us a pain that transforms into guttural shrieks, we have nowhere to go for solace and so we cling to each other through it all, wistfully thinking that some Messiah on a cross, with a spear in his side will resurrect, and tear this pitch-black veil that separates us from a together sanctification, and clear the rubble and sweep the ashes, but darling, the stars stay in their place, glimmering just like glitter paper does. There aren’t saviors or forces that turn a sun-scorched garden with the tree of life into a paradisiacal Eden with the same tree. This duality will persist, and only a tear will help us both mature and seek something else, but will we find it?

I’ll always cherish our silly nicknames and quiet moments with lopsided grins and secrets kept. But then again, I’ll loathe myself for treating you with such disrespect and disregard. You said today, ‘I think we were never meant to be,’ but I know we’ll both weep over those words and abuses hurled back and forth. I guess gold meets rust, spring meets autumn, silver linings meet sepia skies, red meets crimson and love meets hate. And each adage like, ‘proximity breeds contempt,’ is tried, tested and proven. I wish I can forgive myself for all the hurt I’ve caused you, but the day I did, I’ll cease being human. What’s with love and vicious circles? What’s with romance like a serpent biting its own tail? I guess I’ll never understand and here I stand in the death-throes of this relationship which is also its rebirth.

I look in the mirror and know that just like the bearded man who stares back at me, no longer possessing the charm of his youth, these lines aren’t perfect, and maybe our search for perfection is causing this maelström of summer and winter, of brown sands with soft waves and the bitter cold chill. And I guess we’re too far in now to correct that flaw and know each other too much to stay in our brokenness. So, with the dying embers of tomorrow beckoning and the luminous reflection of yesterday – scintillating with both pain and joy; torn, threadbare, broken and beaten, I know it’s time to say goodbye. But know this darling, that though love manifests itself in ugly ways and tragically crushes souls when it doesn’t evolve, in the deepest recesses of my heart it’s forever you and me.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

An ode to self

This is an image of myself with an overgrown beard. I've used it because my poem describes me as a shabby poet who's given up on life.

Walt Whitman, you shabby bastard, reincarnated
as a straight man with dying honey skin, teeth like
sorrowed Chiclets, bleeding yellow—a coward,
a hypocrite, a liar, a farce, a façade of a man,
speaking with an almost bass smoky voice,
thickened by the Indian accent, just like belly fat.

Does the rum give you solace, a harsh catharsis?
Do cigarettes & coffee give you an old school aubade?
Do the pills you pop give you a blurry epiphany?

Forever histrionic and theatrical—
a pitiful demoniac’s twisted, sick despair—
a drift between distress and the hysterical—
forever searching for a life that’s just and fair—

Your wife’s cuckolding you in the next room
while you search for answers reading books
you hear her moans, sighs and deep sobs
and a part of you is titillated, aroused and likes it

Oh Walt Whitman, you filthy bastard, going weeks
without a shave or a shower, walking to the cigarette
shop in the track pants you shagged in, and then
to the supermarket where faces turn because you
look like a beachcomber but have a credit card

Oh Walt Whitman, you dirty bastard, coming home
with three cans of Red Bull and then spilling it on the floor,
and then licking the floor and lapping it up like a dog,
before you’re frustrated and need your porn.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

Coming home to you

This is a picture of the sea during sunset. It's a picture that evokes sadness, grief and loneliness which are themes I've explored in my poem.

I remember you composing
music to the poems I wrote,
infusing them with more
emotion and turning red droplets
to crimson stains of expression,
you sat blissfully tranquil
and while you drifted with time,
your hands gracefully sliding
across the piano, each quaver,
crotchet and minim merging
with my iambs, anapaests and
trochees, I forgot to remember
the burn of the bruises and scars
our knuckles and wrists bore,
because beauty and love triumphs
and creates a twilight far superior
to the pastel skies we retreated
into when the hands of our disturbed
fathers clawed deep, stole our
hearts, and planted seeds of
abominations in the soil of our souls,
watered each day by the tears
of an unforgettable, unfathomable,
undying trauma.

And how we wait
for the ax of unadulterated affection
to slice the harrowing, horrifying
fruitless tree with stark limbs,
and thorns instead of leaves still
growing within, but
I guess even that wasn’t enough. I
watched those very hands that played
grow stiff and the face that absorbed
itself in our art grow catatonic.
I watched as you lost even the crayon
world of yesterday and only saw
terror, uttering meaningless
neologisms now and then – a
clink and a clang, and finally
watched as you they took you
to a pristine, drug den where
they false promised you’d get better,
and though I visited, playing
your music and reading new poems,
hoping innocently that you’d give
them a score, they told me
a month ago that they found you
in a way that killed off all my hope,
and I didn’t attend your funeral,
because I knew that some
other pianist was going to play
your compositions.

I heard she
gave it ‘justice’ and that your mother
hates me now, and as
I walked to the beach
this evening, I crushed all the poems
I wrote you, left them on the sand,
jumped in and let
the waves crash against me
while I screamed, trying my best
to forget to remember us, and
get a hold of a life so fundamentally
decomposed.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

All we ever had

This is an image of the woods at dawn. It captures the emotion that piece conveys which is why I chose it.

When I married you, I didn’t think of bliss, but
something steady, sure, through the ups and downs
of our time and space, the clock ticking and our
stars sparkling, giving us more than we needed,
but time surprised me with euphoria, elation
and celebration, the first few years, walks in the
park, stealing kisses in the morning, watching
the twilight slowly seep through the gentle
gap in the burgundy curtain, together, and perhaps
expecting forever cost me, because you
suddenly withdrew, spiraling and spiraling
into your atmosphere, often catatonic,
sometimes laconic, and I remember the crushing
diagnosis, soon after she was born,
the horror of waking dreams, and
voices whispered, making, urging, beckoning
you to do things unfathomable, uncanny,
ugly, and I devoted myself more to little
Emma, and watched as she grew,
often sheltering, protecting, shielding her,
the burden draining my own atmosphere,
our ecosphere now a sepia photograph
of incoherence, and sleight of hand,
a fool’s game of cards, and then when she was
twelve she sank into something similar,
or worse, and care-takers, and prescription,
didn’t help, and I stood, watching the
two women I loved winding and winding
around a gyre of gargoyles,
and I wanted, I only wanted
to bring the structure down, make them see
the light again, and fall into my arms, but I couldn’t,
and it isn’t sorrow that kills darling, it’s a stage
further, a void that makes a man take complete
charge, free-will killing off fate, without the flip
of a coin, and I was no longer allergic to what
comes after, I don’t know if the two
of you were there, as they scattered my dust and
ashes, being finally becoming one with the soil
it sprouted from, but if you were, I wish you
shed no tear or even screamed, but understood
that I loved you both but stopped loving me.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

After the rapture

This is a surreal image of a person wearing a gas mask in an unreal setting. My post is about a lover coping with the disappearance of his loved one after the rapture and hence the image to complement it.

I

After the rapture, the gravity that anchored
us, split into two, and that beginning was
new and paralleled my
tobacco hazed setting, the smoke curling
and curling upwards, towards you,
the love of my life,
set in an impeding dystopia,
the aporias of what is
and what’s to come instilling fear into the
hearts of people, fundamentalists
preaching about raging seas, shrieking
and howling like the son of perdition
coming, the increased cosmic activity,
the Babylon of filth, only seemingly rich,
but those men preached with rage, unsettled,
uncertain, hating being left behind,
but most of me lost itself in all of you
who disappeared.

II

I watched Persona by Ingmar Bergman,
your favorite movie before your conversion,
trying to decipher it like you did in that
simple yet complicated way, Alma and Elizabeth,
the same person, the title giving it away,
I listened to Tomkins Square Park by Mumford
And Sons, and understood it better than
I ever did, I read Portrait of a Lady by T.S. Eliot
and changed the semantic, making it not one about
angst, guilt, and the fear of being unloved, left, but
you twisting a lilac in your hands, just for
a naïve thrill, and me smiling, accepting,
loving and knowing you, but still feeling
the arrow in my Achilles’ Heel, piercing,
making me shriek and scream, I watched
both John Williams and Ana Vidovic play
Asturias by Isaac Albéniz, you preferring
the former technical master and me, the latter
more emotional, graceful, elegant lover.

III

I walked, looking for you, hoping there was
a door to an alternate universe, a parallel
reality into which your soul migrated like
a plane in the sky, but couldn’t find anything
but brick, stone, war, chaos and blood,
a funnel of madness, through which everything
that was, slowly passed

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

Crossroads

This is an image of crossroads when viewed from above. I've chosen it because it depicts the penultimate scene in my story where an abuser finally reflects at the crossroads before sadly returning to his old ways.

He grew up in a semi-urban, hot and humid neighborhood in India, and prided himself more in his caste than in his ethnicity. He believed that the term, ‘Brahmin’, brought with it a plethora of intelligence that fate denied men of other castes. He feasted on his social status, and the wisdom that the gods bestowed on the ‘chosen few’ or to use an Anglicized term, the ‘elect’ because his parents taught him exactly that: His father, an archetypal ruler of the household, erect and stiff-necked, and his mother, immersed in making sure prayers with bells ringing, and honey and milk were attended to with intricate detail. Both his parents believed in omens and the right alignment of the stars and called it ‘science’.

As he grew up, he lived his dream of making money, and making his parents proud, and giving them something to boast about, which was his father’s dream, and which in turn will be his son’s dream. He got the grades necessary, applying his acute intelligence, and won a scholarship abroad. He landed in the Bible belt, and lived there with a Southern Baptist family for the duration of his MBA. He found them odd at first, and could never reconcile with their religious beliefs, but their conservatism appealed to him, and like most Indian men who study abroad and then return, he came home with an accent that’s put on, and a façade of Americanism, while fundamentally clinging to his tradition. He got a high paying job as a management consultant, and soon traveled, sticking to his vegetarian roots, burps after each meal, and the loud, boisterous fart in public, while wearing an Armani suit, a Christian Dior watch, and fashionable leather shoes.

He gave his talks in his fake accent, while CEOs nodded in approval, secretaries gave him the look, although he wasn’t great looking, and women bosses found him alluring, despite the idiosyncratic fart. He returned to India later; spoke to the crème de la crème only, and soon owned a pristine white Contessa, because he preferred it to the Ambassador, and those were the only two elite vehicles then, owned by politicians in white and powerful men. Sure, there were the Fiats, and the small Marutis, but he jettisoned the very thought of them, like the thought of chicken curry that the ‘uncultured’ cooked. His parents soon decided on finding him a cousin he’d marry, and settled on a squint-eyed Brahmin girl, who’d be her mother-in-law’s devout assistant, and the bearer of his son. But, he was a man of untamed lust, and couldn’t picture himself settling down with his cousin. He’d after all seen the most beautiful women and had struggled to keep chaste. He’d furiously masturbate, in posh hotel rooms for hours.

Now it was too much to handle, and he needed a beauty. And so, he befriended a middle class Christian family, and set his sights on their daughter who was fourteen years younger than him. He was nearing forty, while she had just graduated from college. And her beauty captivated him; despite him holding the thought that Indian Christian women were ‘immoral’. He went against his parent’s wishes, seduced her, pulling the strings of her naïvety, and married her. He didn’t want a Church wedding and so it was a secular affair of sorts that his parents refused to attend.

Until he got home after the ceremony – the urge to bed her, pulsating within him – he spoke to her kindly. His voice possessed a deceitful charm, a soft tenor that made her blush. But he then couldn’t find the keys to the Bungalow he’d built, and suddenly yelled at her. “Where did you keep the bloody keys?” he bellowed. She stood flabbergasted, and shaken to the core, until he realized that it was in his pocket. “Now, don’t tell me it’s my fault!” He raged, and she stood mute, not knowing what to say.

Years of this transcended to physical violence, and since she couldn’t give him a child, he disregarded her as a barren woman. Adopting a child was beneath his dignity. He’d take her to parties though, where she’d smile though she wept inside, and he talked boisterously and farted. He imposed vegetarianism and Brahmin beliefs on her. Soon decades passed, and porn had arrived in its resplendent glory. His CEO friends gave him the CDs, and he got away with pretty much anything by gifting policemen bottles of champagne, or bribing them when the neighbors complained of a wife mistreated. One day, after one too many blows, finding catharsis in a group sex video, he strolled in his expensive, rich neighborhood, greeting influential men walking their dogs with their own trophy wives, and stood at a crossroads, when a thought occurred. “If I go back, I’ll continue abusing her, and somewhere it gives me no peace, but the roads to the right and the left eventually go back home too. So change is futile. And if I let her go, I’ll give her freedom and be frowned upon by society.” And so, making his choice, he went back to his bungalow with its red roof, white luxurious bathtubs, a new Mercedes parked in the garage, and a puppy that was her only consolation.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

Love and Reprobation

This is an image of ash and lava. The ash represents destruction while the lava represents love in a terrible place. My piece is about finding love in unfortunate circumstances.

Meet me where the earth cracks and a dying stream breathes its last, where the ashen peaks lose their charm and look tobacco stained, where the asphyxiated grass choked by some sadistic otherworldly force gasps and wheezes, where love meets reprobation and we’re broken, neglected sinners in the hands of a silent sovereign, because when fate fades and we’re watching our lives unfold in hazy sepia, when wheels of fortune lie splintered and there’s nothing left but to weep without tears, and look but not see anything, I’d rather love you in a fucked up way than write or read or fake laughter and merriment. No, I’d rather love you with all the force of my core, breaking out of my rib-cage, splintering skin, and giving you the raw, red blood of affection. No, I’d rather hold you in this oubliette, ignoring the trapdoor and igniting the cell with seething emotion. And I don’t give a damn if they call this hyperbole, it’s all I offer, and even then, it doesn’t compare to what you’ve given me. You gave me your all, accepted me despite my demonic idiosyncrasies: my angst, my raging paranoia, won me over and if I didn’t act, reciprocate, feel and hold, it’ll be cruel. So know that I love your shadow and bliss, your shifting avatars and your true quintessential self, your skin, lips, breath, taste, flavor, balance and imbalance, and I guess we’ll just stay twisted this way.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)