The beautiful game

This is a picture of a skull face smoking. I've used it because to me represents the human condition. Are we good or evil? That's the question the picture asks

Do you remember when we played football on that turbid field? You’d pass the ball to me, and I, lacking acumen would race past defender after defender, before being tackled. You’d laugh sometimes and sometimes – irritated – yell at me, urging me to play better.

After the match, you’d resort to your post-match ritual of stretching and warming down, while I’d puff on a cigarette analyzing my game. Looking back, I think we’ll both admit that football fuels some degree of narcissism, even though it is the beautiful game – celebrated by the rich, the poor, the loner and the winner. But then again, I often wonder if you even have traces of nostalgia drifting through your consciousness today.

How did you get radicalized? Was there always some aspect of your being that thrived on serving a wrathful deity using a sword? Sure, you loved discipline on the football field but championed liberty and freedom in life. You believed all men were created equal, and your identity lay more on the hedonistic side of the spectrum than the conservative one. You disdained acts of terror in the name of religion, cause or philosophy. You believed in empathy, forgiveness, and peace.

And then, you disappeared and came back aloof and troubled. But you were unwilling to share your problems. I tried, like any best friend would do. I firstly gently coaxed you before directly confronting you.

“Is it a woman?” I asked.

“You wouldn’t understand,” you dismissed me.

“You were never like this; never indifferent or callous. So, tell me, what happened? You know I’ll never judge you.”

“There are some things in life that we mustn’t speak off,” you answered cryptically.

Soon, you cut all ties with me. And then I heard about the beheading; about the gruesome, despicable way in which you’d robbed two children of their father. You said you did it in the name of God because the man was a blasphemer and an infidel. You said that you’d do it again.

At first, I was shocked, but after accepting that you’d become an animal, I wondered if I was asking the right questions. Is there a caged beast in all of us that we’re only unaware of because society’s norms keep him trapped? Can even the most educated men fall prey to the simplest deceptions, thereby throwing away their moral convictions? Are we prone more to violence, greed and a lust for power than kindness, beauty, and truth? Do we even know the truth or are we all living out internal postmodern realities where everything’s distorted, without insight?

They say education saves but does it? You find cruel men using inherently good technology to carry out ingenious but vile schemes. From gas chambers to the nuclear bomb to cyber-terrorism to identity thefts to Ponzi schemes to fake news to Facebook pages spewing propaganda; I can’t help but think if there’s something sinister creeping in our veins, threatening to break out and metamorphose us into terrifying, feral primitive beings, consumed by the wrong passions and pride.

I remember when you passed the football. You had such vision! You’d know the direction of the run, the striker’s speed and the defender’s positioning before your feet touched the ball. You played chess on the football field, calculating moves in advance, and knocking off pieces. If only you’d had that same insight in life. I wish you did and pray that I get it because that may be the only way to keep the beast caged.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

A terzanelle of regret

This is a black and white image of praying hands. For me, this image captures raw pain, loss, regret and repentance which are themes my poem explores.

I have no Piper’s charm but still, my errors trail
Like rats, they swallow me without a trace of grace
And you see a fragmented ship without a sail

The mirror now reflects a bearded, nettled face
A life filled with vicissitudes and seething hate
Like rats, it swallows me without a trace of grace

I can’t do anything to stop this storm of fate
I’m shifted by the current, and I hit the rocks
A life filled with vicissitudes and seething hate

The jester laughs, and a deranged oppressor mocks
I lose my footing, and I rupture my weak bones
I’m shifted by the current, and I hit the rocks

The children sling a heap of mud and pointed stones
My song grows weary, and I reel, about to fall
I lose my footing, and I rupture my weak bones

I never walked with giants or stood strong and tall
I have no Piper’s charm but still, my errors trail
This song grows weary, and I reel, about to fall
And you’ll see a fragmented ship without a sail

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

You and I

This is a picture of a railway track running through a beautiful wood during Autumn. There's a delicateness about it which complements my romantic prose-poem

I don’t want to place what we’ve built in a shoebox: parading our affection with embellishments like picture perfect Facebook lounge bar shots, or relationship statuses with a hundred likes, giving us reinforcement. No, I’d rather keep our little home, nestled in a reverie that only we know about, where passion echoes, and subtle grazes actually mean something substantial, carrying a depth like lines of well written poetry personifying the muted moon, and its soft reflections on the gentle tide – the ebb and flow stitching the iamb, and steadily building up the pentameter. You and I both know that what matters more than blood poured on a page is the actual give and take off-screen, the real absorbing and reciprocating when you’re sitting across me, and your laughter and your delicate smile giving me inner opulence and helping us both compose this ethereal sonata, notation after notation, bar after bar, and its beauty breaks dawn, makes the songbirds chirp, coats the leaves with dew, and scents the faint drizzle with petrichor. And with each tug of spring, the colors of effervescence bathe us, with each glow of summer, the waves of ecstasy overwhelm us, with each crunch of autumn, august serenity envelops us, with each mist of winter, a solitude of togetherness, keeps us huddled, comforted by blankets, naked but warm, skin against skin. I don’t want to constrain us to just the seasons or color though, because a plethora of underlying semantic makes this thing we call love, and yet when stripped of its bark, it’s vulnerable and simple, and I guess that’s a paradox we’ll never understand, and so, we’ll just keep loving each other, stripping our essences to bare minimums and yet finding in each other maximums.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

Forever and always

This is a picture of a lonely autumnal cottage. It conveys deep despair and loneliness.

When you read this, I won’t know if you’ll be shocked or just subdued. I won’t know if you’ll think I took the coward’s way out or had the courage to do something most people only dream or talk about. Life is filled with tragic curves and barely guarded hairpin bends and there’s only so much I could climb. You’ll ask yourself if what I did was the most selfish act someone can commit or if I said what I needed to, did what I needed to, left behind both rapture and devastation and quit on my terms.

Each day felt like an inner concentration camp, gripping my soul and squeezing hard, crushing my will and slowly and steadily I became a slave to forces beyond my control. I tried explaining this to you and if one person got me, it will always be you. But words are both spoken and unspoken and the latter always resides even after you think you’ve purged it all out. I felt like I was being a burden, a curse and a shame; thriving on my self-pity like a leech on blood; growing fat, drinking the blood of sorrow, and by and by I needed freedom and though I smashed the trapdoor with my fists, clawed at it even; it refused to open, and day became night and night became day and I lost sense of purpose like a walking cadaver doing his duty.

But I kept at it, until fate wrung me dry of emotion, and apathy kills darling, but also gives a man courage. I didn’t want to fake love, to fake sorrow, to fake that you meant something long after my heart grew cold. I wanted you to mean something always because nobody else gave a damn, nobody else fucking cared. I’ll remember your passion, vulnerability, elegance and fierceness if there’s an afterlife where sorrow lies defeated and we drink from the waters of beauty and rest on the shores of inner quietude.

Now, I don’t expect you to understand. And even if you do, I don’t expect you to forgive me. I love you and though they’ll say, “He never meant it because love translates into action,” and they’re right, I just want you to move on, to exorcise yourself of me if necessary. If what I did is cruel, then use it against me, but let me go right there. If what I did is difficult, don’t try solving that puzzle. If what I did is spineless, then remember me for being yellow and nothing else. I wish I could explain more but I can’t. I write this with dry tears and a dead soul and if that sounds harsh, remember me for being evil and for not walking hand in hand with you, and breaking ‘forever and always,’ even though paradoxically you are forever and always.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

Everyone

This is a picture of people silhouetted against a sparkling background. I've used this image to represent conformity and the dreams that fuel people and make them cruel.

Something special somewhere lies
out of reach of
everyone who longs to become someone,
frustrating, forcing
addled brains to know more incoherence
and then take their rage out on poor
nobody who knew no one and lived
nowhere.

Everybody looks up to somebody
who gives his umpteenth theatrical swansong
saying, ‘Oh! I’m depressed and can’t do it anymore!’
Amidst the clicks, flashes, cheers and claps
while poor nobody genuinely sings his song
to an audience of none.

Everyone wants to go everywhere –
fucking on wild tropical beaches
to the rhythm of the tide,
climbing the alabaster peaks,
just for the boisterous boast,
trekking through jungles with tribes
for a mugshot of an emaciated man
who crushes the serpent’s head with his foot before
the now famous ‘poverty’ or ‘education’ status
update, written on the spot, because voilà!
There’s connectivity! While poor nobody
knows no place except the thought of somewhere.

Oh devious, deceitful generation
with bloodshot eyes and zombie like fixation
on tips, taps, clings, rings, permanent vibration,
clicks, flicks, swipes, types, a cyber fake-salvation;
glued to the screen, books not read, dead attention –
the red light after a post, the ovation
you need – forever lost in fast transition

Everybody wants to live someplace better than
everyone else, and anyone who says, ‘no,’ is
nobody who’s tragically crying, ‘Anyone!’
While someone looks and laughs, saying,
‘Ha! Loser! He’ll never amount to anyone!’
And everyone joins in the chorus because
something special somewhere lies
out of reach of
anyone who wants to become someone.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

A sestina of madness

This is a picture of one man rowing. There's nobody else in the picture and it's in black and white. It represents acute despair.

I walked beneath a Maple tree arch
and knew appeal and something crimson:
the Painter’s flourish still surviving
despite the architect’s fierce madness;
returning I saw trees hacked: corpses
and gave up hoping for love and peace

They stood with candles wanting some peace
below a gaudy, dazzling false arch
and now we see the terror; corpses
the earth weeps since it’s not Fall’s crimson,
it’s finitude’s severe sheer madness
until no life is left surviving

I thought she loved me: we’re surviving;
thought life will give us solace and peace,
we just tore everything in madness,
we now live under a subdued arch,
love is soft, never something crimson,
these rings we wear now look like corpses

My friends are now remote, just corpses,
I thought we’ll walk this path, surviving
these tests and pains that just seem crimson,
perhaps I trusted in devout peace:
felt we’ll all race beneath a strong arch;
those cotton candy dreams are madness

I trusted my will till the madness
attacked it, left poetic corpses,
I stood beneath a perilous arch
and only thought I was surviving
until it dawned without intense peace –
the sky had turned a wintry crimson

My fate is sealed and only crimson,
I try but cannot fight this madness,
a mind cast down by war and not peace,
thoughts in the mud: they look like corpses,
I’m tired of fighting and surviving,
I only stood beneath a lost arch

I walked beneath a Maple tree arch,
the painter’s flourish still surviving;
returning I saw trees hacked: corpses.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

Innocence within the femme fatale

This is an image of a femme fatale. I've used it because my post is about finding beauty in raw writing. Writing that has a tough exterior is often full of heart and honesty.

There’s something about her writing that brings me back. It isn’t a Fitzgerladean crescendo, slowly building up in the tender night, tugging at your heartstrings eloquently and ethereally. No, it’s sprinkled with sawdust, and rusty nails, but once you dig deeper – at the risk of getting injured – you’ll find a hidden gem with so much depth and candor: multifaceted and transparent. But I’m sure a lot of people don’t dig enough, either from the fear of reciprocation, or because their superficiality and walking canes make them tragically stereotype themselves.

We’re quick to label writing as coarse, or cantankerous, when we have our own periods of vulgarity during the day, which the Sauvignon never solves. An artificial faux-elitist conservativeness is what I call it. An indelible keloid or a permanent tattoo both cut through skin, and just because the latter seems attractive, it doesn’t mean the former doesn’t bring with it the pain of experience.

But I go back to her, and I like the diamond in the rough – if you’ll permit me to use a cliché – or the esoteric sound like Miles Davis’ Paraphernalia submerged beneath layers of Grindcore. I find Meshuggah bringing individual units together to form a polyrhythmic machine, before finding another swirl of life in Chet Baker and Paul Desmond playing a standard like Autumn leaves when I read her: The latter’s unique alto tone evoking more than feelings; almost literally placing me in another space and time.

There’s so much beauty in unique art, but it lies in perception, and never in battles for superiority, or petty feud – counter feud poetry. We’re just individuals, and from a bird’s eye view, we’re one with the earth we walk on, shaped and molded by it, and what we create should facilitate growth, and nurture a collective artistic consciousness. Irrespective of the approach: confessional, descriptive, satirical, or a separation between the writer and his work, or pure stream of thought, this journey is beautiful.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

Finding my own

This is a black and white image of trains. I've chosen it because it represents life in motion, which is the essence of my poem.

I’ve often wondered if this tarmac path
now fractured — densely coated with fool’s gold
embodies my spindrift life — plague and wrath
the mirror now reflects what I don’t hold

It lies without — past costly flats and greed
past quilted beds and lives too far from home
I’ve pondered, wondered if there’s more to need
and would like walking its route — simply roam

But chairs stay still like ties we can’t break from
and light bulbs just glow with no feeling
and modern cabinets keep us lost, numb —
a life without approach to meaning

I’ve often wondered if screams coat my silence
or if it’s fading circumstance and hence —

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

I cannot make promises I can’t keep

This is an image of a path in the woods. I've used a picture of nature because my poem draws heavily from nature. The image adds to the realistic feel of the poem.

I cannot be your whimsical country cottage
with its beige roof, stone walls, and chimney,
against a breathtaking backdrop of Rainbow
Eucalyptuses with their postmodern barks:
The home you can retreat to whenever you
seek solitude,
I cannot be the solitary boat on the calm sea:
The one that always points you
to a saddened, Autumn-hued horizon
thereby empathizing with your every sullen state,
I cannot be the archway of cotton wool trees
under which you walk on a carpet of white clouds:
The winter vacation you need when it’s hot, humid
and unbearable to live with yourself,
I cannot be the layered tea-plantations in the drizzle
like pyramids, only natural and alive:
The elegance you suddenly desire
after a day like watery coffee,
you must understand darling that I’m flawed and finite:
just dice thrown not knowing where it will land
or what it will show,
a mote of dust sometimes suspended in the sunbeam,
a freshwater pearl that isn’t that valuable,
and you cannot expect a love that surpasses me,
because even the most beautiful people in one’s life are tragic,
but know this:
whether we’re ramshackle huts or idyllic bungalows,
whether we listen to the cock crow or the silence of the stars,
whether we’re eating in silence or walking hand in hand,
I can be the oak you rest under,
not always comfortable to touch, aging, losing its luster
and one day gnarled and leafless.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

On Meditations by Aurelius

This is a picture of a statue of Marcus Aurelius. I've used it because my essay critiques his philosophy.

I like Aurelius. I like his notion of withdrawing into yourself irrespective of the space and time you’re in, his idea of mortality and fatalism, and a few of his thoughts when it comes to controlling impulse with reason.

I love his philosophy of the present, and never adding more to an unfortunate circumstance. But I disagree with his concept of this being the best of all possible worlds, or the Whole, or the absolute Reason. This world we live in, is often more absurd than fiction, and it doesn’t take rocket science to figure that out. Things go unexplained and you’re never going to find answers or that quaint room with its beautiful symmetry and archaic charm.

No, you’ll often find yourself in a space that’s disjointed and fractured from your convictions: a room with yellow wallpaper, and yes, please catch the allusion, or a frightening, unnerving blurred mass enveloping you with zombies and tricksters breaking free, threatening to bite through flesh, and chew on your bones. And this isn’t paranoia. Just one panoramic glance with keen insight and you’ll see it: the horror, the miasma of living decay that’s abominable choking you, making you want to retch.

And I also dislike his insistence on man being social. Being social comes with both its flaws and its breakthroughs. Sure, it’s good to meet people, but finding yourself in a clique that stereotypes, or a group that hates with an unwarranted agenda makes void the entire notion of socializing being something always productive. He says it’s terrible to fracture yourself from society, but you find artists who’re are complete misfits or loners, giving you masterpieces. I think this is related to his notion of the divinity of man, or looking within to find the light. Now, I always interpret the latter in a very general way, and never make mystical or spiritual connections to it. You must look within to change, but that’s pretty much it.

I don’t believe in human divinity because when I see the world, I see a swirling mass of darkened grey. I use this color because humanity is prone to wickedness although it’s capable of good. The notion of humanity’s inherent nature is a subject that’s hotly debated ever since the first man and woman came into existence. Some say Adam’s fall led to a shift in balance and total depravity; others say we’ve not connected with our innate goodness, but I think both views fail.

We’re not totally depraved, and we have the freedom to choose, but we’re not innately good either. Just one glance at the holocaust tells you enough of the anti-divinity that’s present in man, unless you say that divinity itself is evil. I think man has no divinity, but I agree with Aurelius on the concept of a soul. But his overemphasis on morality puts me off. It’s preachy and becomes self-righteous. But then again he’s addressing himself. Also, is it humanly possible to exist with absolute mastery over impulse and emotion? Still, all said and done, concepts like embracing death without fear, knowing that you’ll be forgotten one day, and that it’s pointless weeping for the dead since they aren’t coming back makes sense.

But the idea of us being recycled by the universe, and just being reduced to mere atoms is only partially true, in my opinion. Sure we’ll all die and go back to dust or ashes, but that’s only the body. I believe that the soul lives on, not one with the Whole, but in another dimension. You can call it heaven, hell or purgatory, but the soul is immortal, but definitely not divine. But I’ll contradict myself here and say that it’s possible that complete soul-annihilation takes place. Hell, I’m open to change.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)