A Rondeau for the ostracized

This is a black and white picture of a lonely man. I've used it because my poem talks about ostracism

Find me outside the temple gates on littered streets
Where beggars roam and hawkers sell their rancid meats
Where lepers and malingerers don’t have a chance
At ever swaying to the beat of triumph’s dance
Where you’ll find rickety old huts with threadbare sheets

Here succubi know men and the unclean beast eats
Here rustic thrones lie mangled with disfigured seats
Here beauty lies defeated by affliction’s lance
Outside the temple gates on littered streets

The vendor in his broken lodge sells hardened sweets
The dullard brags about unreasonable feats
The crone does everything expected to enhance
Distress and pain. Yes, you’ll find me in this expanse
Ensconced in halls of grief where the elite excrete
Outside the temple gates on littered streets

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

Life as I know it

This is a black and white picture of a depressed man's face. I've chosen it because my prose piece is a personal confessional about my struggles with depression.

I’m a broken man who leads a very lonely life. I don’t have any friends or ‘treasured acquaintances’ as Sheldon Cooper puts it. I’m highly introverted and gravely misunderstood. I have made my share of mistakes, and they haunt me like the spirits that made Legion break his chains and torture himself.

I’ve lost my sense of duty, and I’m as irresponsible as they come. Hours pass with me smoking cigarette after cigarette and listening to the same song on repeat. And when I’m feeling a little determined, I try losing myself to a book. But there are days when I can’t read, let alone write. I feel numb then and try to stimulate my mind with a lot of caffeine; hoping some feral burst of inspiration will strike me, but it rarely works. And I’m left like a defeated prisoner, bound up and tossed in a cage; looking down at the grime and piss.

Once, I was idealistic and believed that I’d hold the stars in my hand like the Son of man. But fate dealt with me harshly and made me realize that I’m dust and ashes, and nothing more. He cruelly stomped on my feet as I chased the will-o’-the-wisp, taking from me the people and dreams I held close to my heart. He made me live out a reality that I once mocked – nurses in pristine white gowns injecting me with tranquilizers, doctors plotting to throw me in a halfway home and over-medicating me like I was a lab rat, and even my parents looking away with contempt.

Then, I looked for solace in religion. I went through mad spiritual phases in my life where I thought serving God is the only purpose in life. But religion only accentuated my grief. I found more terror in faith than love. I had horrific visions which led to more white-gowned nurses and doctors.

Finally, I accepted my circumstances and walked away from wanting validation from people, and no wrath from God. I can’t say that I’ve gained closure, and I doubt I ever will, but for whatever it’s worth I’ve decided to exist as long as there is breath in me; not caring if I’ll fade like discarded Polaroid over time or if I’ll find myself framed on someone’s mantelshelf.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

A portrait

This is a portrait of a man in black and white. I've used it to depict tortured personality that yearns for freedom.

Well, I’ve known him from school and I’ll admit that he was natural. He did win a writing competition besting me with the sharpest prose. But later, he quit writing altogether and took to another field that never suited him. A field filled with authoritarian therapists and pseudo-scientists trying to decipher maladjusted minds with cryptic jargon, and abstract sentences: Wrestling with creativity and trying to stuff it into a box, before crumpling it and tossing it into a wastebasket of indifference. I guess that got to him, because he couldn’t fit into one particular genre of ‘thought’ and he eventually quit, picked up a pen and started writing again. But doggerels of years, forced him to re-learn all that he’d forgotten, and I guess in that sense he taught himself how to write. The irony was that he did this while he sat in the patient’s chair, listening to those very therapists prescribing him with machine gun doses of antidepressants, anxiolytics, mood stabilizers and antipsychotics. He initially speckled his poetry with the softest tears of naïvety, but I’ve learned now that he is his biggest critic, his biggest judge and that might be both an axe and a box of treasures. He eliminated his writings once he got popular, tried getting off the medication, and tried religion, but a certain doctrine from Geneva haunted more than it ever saved. And then began a period in his life which no hermeneutic will ever explain. The last we met, I was balding, struggling with similar side-effects (albeit to a lesser degree) and I tried setting him up with a girl who was seven years older. He said, “I’ll think about it,” and that right there is the problem. He did date her eventually, but he probably thought twice before making love to her, and wondered if passion will lead to something that lasts or if it will fizzle out. And so, he gave up on her, and thought about everything, except when he wrote, because then something strikes like lightning, and it just spills on a page – verbal vomit that strangely has structure, but I guess it’s better if he thinks and pours out syllables on a page, stringing together alliteration, drawing from every other eclectic source, and the suicidal aspects of his own life, because when he ghosts away, that’s when he suffers the most. I mean that’s when he gives into utter madness. He once walked on the street at two in the night, tried gouging out his eyes, stepped on thorns, and came back home completely befuddled and disoriented. He thought it was penance. Fortunately, some slight wand of fate always prevents him from going the distance. And then he’s back to writing, stitching together pieces, and it seems like each time he disappears and comes back, he gets better at what he does. I always thought sorrow is the muse that makes a few, but I guess I’m wrong; it’s inner torture. And from what I’ve read, I thought his writing parallels Perrin Aybara’s life: very moralistic and willing to go the distance for art, but it doesn’t. It’s definitely not Matrim Cauthon because you won’t find him frequenting bars and writing bard poetry, even though he says that’s his favorite character from the series. No it’s Rand, starting naïve, and then judging himself and letting his anger flare though each line, before finally struggling to break free, and then walking into a new age. But then that’s a series. I think by now everybody knows that art and life are not completely connected. Anyhow, he’s back on his medication, and writing to survive, and I read from a distant land with a wife that I often hate, and a son that I love, and I’m glad as long as he thinks and reads and thinks, and then writes, because if he vanishes, I’ll have to call immediately and find out that he’s done something terrible to himself again, and I don’t want that.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

Glorious Violence

This is an image of a twig of cherry blossoms silhouetted against a black background. The contrast represents mental illness (especially Bipolar Disorder) which is what my post symbolically speaks about.

The Japanese Cherry stands in front of me, shivering and trembling. She shies away from the breeze, and her Cherry Blossoms look like cotton balls soaked in blood. It’s noon, and I hear the crickets. They sound like a man with a slit throat gurgling. The sky is a pale beige, and red birds fly across it reminding me of slashes on a depressed man’s wrist. The sun is dying as the black serpentine tendrils of the night slowly choke him. My eyes are bloodshot with little crimson rivulets running across them, making their way to the dark brown iris, the color of putrefying flesh. I’m unwashed and unclean with a matted beard that looks like a burnt rope. It looks like the remains of a once healthy cord you’ll find underneath the stake after the witch dies – shrieking and screaming; howling and wailing.

A choir of angels dressed in pristine gowns plays its harps and flutes behind me. A chorus soars, and an ethereal melody inundates the place with sweet sopranos, smooth altos, and rich baritones. Fireflies drift into my space, and at that moment I’m whisked away by something inexplicable; something beyond reasoning, and it teleports my senses to a haven outside time and space. The realm between this world and the next splits and showers of mercy fall like gentle rain, caressing my every bruise; healing each scar I’ve gathered over years of fate kicking me in the ribs.

But the feeling quickly evaporates, and I find myself held upside down – fastened by chains to a sturdy branch of the Japanese Cherry – by the same demons, the same imposters, the same charlatans and I feel the blood rushing to my head as quickly as pus leaks out of a broken abscess. The old enemies then place a saw between my legs and slowly cut through ballsack and midsection, and my screams are like soothing lullabies to them, making them nod their heads and cut right through. At that moment I’m the archetypal Kierkegaardian poet. The one who suffers for the pleasure of others.

And then I hear a sweet call from the abyss. A soft minimalistic piece rivaling Richter’s ‘She Remembers.’ A glorious, delicate song. I’m overwhelmed with emotion and forget the torment. The song reminds me of dewy grass and sun-kissed slopes. It reminds me of the cool mountain mist obscuring the ugliness around me like a scabbard conceals its sword. It reminds me of petrichor and its invigorating taste. And my eyes close as the music breathes life into me; stitching my wounds. I look at myself, and I’m in a valley of dry bones, a cadaver myself, but tendons and flesh envelop me, and I’m soon alive and marching to the promised land.

The Japanese Cherry stands withered, and the azure sky symbolizes more things than words can depict. Am I free? Will the old demons never haunt this house again? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but by and by, I’ll win.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

The gravedigger’s son

This is an eerie image of a grave. My post is about a gravedigger who loses his sense of self because of the stress of his job, and I thought this image perfectly captures that.

I’m a gravedigger’s son,
the shovel and spade, nick
-snick-flick, earth as raw as putrid flesh,
movements and sequences, nick-
snick-flick, instinct, impulse, rationale, reason,
combining, conglomerating with each nick-
snick-flick, making my father weary,
and the eulogies for sons lost in
accidents, daughters dying of cancer,
got to him, and the fire and brimstone
spewed, unnerved, unsettled him, and
so, he drank and drank, and came home,
never abusive, but neglecting everything
and everyone, his surroundings a chorus
of the dullest beige, his song softer than
the mildest blue, his eyes red, his cheeks
crimson, giving no one, even a semblance of
green, and when he died, I took the spade
and shovel, not out of want but need, nick-
snick-flick, a slow monotonous cadence
settling in, standing in a corner, averting glances,
and then fine-tuned to them, the buzz and flow
of the traffic, the cacophony of horns
making no difference, nick-
snick-flick, coming home
to an aging mother, and a wife without
the alcohol and yet failing…falling short, nick-
snick-flick, each picture slowly turning
sepia and then a blurred black and white,
while everyone I knew or cared about,
or loved still breathes,
but is sadly dead to me.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

Autumn

This is an image of autumn. I've chosen it because my poem relates autumn to my personal struggles. The title of my poem is also Autumn

During periods of distress, I seek the season of mangled leaves
and barks undressed, the whalebone dully lighting the undergrowth,
a tincture of purple dusk a stark contrast to the auburn canopy
of the red maple, my footfalls a solemn crunch like that of a
weather-worn, debilitated infantry that’s trudging on,
and at that moment, that silence of realms both earthly and eternal,
I find a hush within too, not one durable, but enough to see
That there’s time without that’s just as weary as the time within.

© 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)

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)

The fiddler plays but we’re not dancing

This is an image of a hand peeking out from the abyss. It symbolizes the struggles that the mentally ill go through which is debilitating and excruciating.

We don’t need to talk tonight, so hush, because the demons sleep. Sure, they’ll return tomorrow while the fiddler plays his sad violin on the roof, and I’ll wonder if this is the little girl I carried, and why, oh why has fate struck her with my curse and blessing, my gift and punishment. When we wake, they’ll howl and like little insects pierce through our thick skulls and feast on the serotonin in our synapses. But they sleep now darling, they sleep. So hush, it’s best we don’t wake them up at this hour. I hold you in my hands, gently stroking your hair, while you softly snore, and I think these thoughts. If I could, I’ll wage war against them, though my grip is weak, my sword blunt, and my shield shattered like a dented car’s hood. I’ll play the arsonist and set them on fire. Or the sacrificial lamb, take them upon myself, and let them completely disorient me, thoroughly destroy me, and drown myself after so they never return and you grow up normal, healthy and strong. But they exist in a realm I cannot touch, and prayer is dead in their post-apocalyptic metaphysical realm. They shield the sovereign with a black curtain, and so, I can’t do anything but stay at your side. I often think of years from now, when I’m gone, split by these fireflies from hell forming a scythe, cutting through skull and mind, finally making me a body blue and cold. Will you find a way by then to beat the apparitions? The ghastly horrible hounds? I never did, but I hope you succeed. And what if you don’t? Who will you turn to? Your mother’s an alcoholic mess, showing up now and then and using us selfishly for money, and your older sister succumbed, hanging from the ceiling fan, and taking with her, a part of me. I wish you’d set yourself on righteous fire, killing them off once and for all. But wishes are just delusions, probably placed in our minds by the same little death-moths making us believe, so we can suffer more. Find strength in the torture, find meaning in the pain, and when you can’t handle them, find a way to rip them to shreds; tear them, torture them in an inner purgatory reserved just for them. Show them pain; grant them unendurable havoc. You’re stronger than me. Become steel, transcend, and make them afraid: Terrified of causing you despondency or paranoia. Give them neurosis and psychosis and liberate yourself. And then walk into a new age. But tonight sleep easy, they aren’t here, and I am, and even when I’m gone, let my presence remain, because I won’t rest until you’ve flayed them alive, impaled them, and thrown them in a pot of boiling water. Kill depression and psychosis by using the old brutal adage: an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. Show them no mercy, but always remember that I love you. Sleep easy, my daughter, sleep.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

Lessons

This is an image of a man looking up at the stars. I've chosen it because it represents a contemplative, sorrowed man who's learned his lessons, which is what my poem is about.

My sorrow, she comes to me, when lifeless apartment
complexes with inanimate windows like cardboard
boxes with holes punched in them, replace the
honey chested, sweet ashen-winged thrush
with her vivacious, polyphonic birdsong,
and echoes of who I’ve become are the only voices
in my mind – saying, ‘You’re forever failing, and falling into a
fading symphony…you’re forever falling, and failing like
a fading symphony…’

I wish I could let her go, I wish I didn’t hold her dear.
I wish I can see past her, I wish she didn’t stay.

But life’s taught me that sometimes dog-eared, beaten
books give us the best knowledge, both reprimanding
and edifying us, both reproaching and elevating us
because of their sheer wealth of experience.

Suffering refines us in fires of grit, in a strong, stony forge
and then imbues us with the greatest of muses.

The women in my life come and go, and love’s both
lost and regained, but in the softest nights when no
one’s near, and I long for a hold or a hand to grasp,
my sorrow, she comes to me, and she’s here to stay.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)