Monday, March 30, 2009

Two Birds

It is easier to be the tree than the dawn, the worm than the birdsong. Easier to make wings out of broken air than trace the flutter in your heart.

Given the choice, it is easier to kill the birds in the bush with a single stone than to hold one in your hand and not smother it. Given the choice.

The truth, like a flight of swallows, moves in all directions at once.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Book Guilt

"You again!"

"I'm afraid so."

"What is it now? More questions?"

"Just a few."

"Well, what then?"

"Where were you the night June was killed?"

"Oh, Jesus! Not that again! I told you - I was here, at home, reading the new Bolano."

"Yes, you said that. The thing is, John, we took your copy of Bolano and checked the pages for fingerprints. And you know what we found?"


"Nothing. Not a single fingerprint of yours on anything but the cover. How do you read a book without leaving fingerprints, John?"


"You've never even opened that book, have you, John? You made the whole thing up."

"No...I...maybe your lab made a mistake."

"There's no mistake, John, you lied to us."

"Oh, all right. I lied."

"So where were you?"

"I was right here, like I said, reading. I just wasn't reading the Bolano."

"What were you reading then?"


"What was that, John? I couldn't hear you."

"Breaking Dawn. It's the last book in the Twilight series."

"The Twilight series? You were reading a book meant for teenage girls?"


"You're a professor of English Literature and you were reading a book meant for teenage girls?"

"Yes. Yes, alright. A friend lent it to me. It's totally ridiculous but I got hooked. I was embarrassed to admit it, which is why I lied to you."

"I'm sorry John, but I don't believe you."

"What? Why not?"

"Because it doesn't make sense. A man like you - a Dante scholar - reading vampire chick-lit? I don't think so. I don't think you were reading at all that night. I think you were over at June's place and the two of you got into a fight and you killed her."

"You're crazy! I'm telling you I was here. Why would I lie to you?"

"You did before."

"That was different. I didn't want to admit I was reading trashy pulp."

"And enjoying it. Did the books turn you on, John? Was that why you were reading them? Did you maybe decide to do a little bloodletting of your own?"

"Are you insane? Of course not. Look, here's my copy of the book, you can have it tested, you'll find my fingerprints all over it."

"Won't help, John. Fingerprints will only prove that you've read the book, not when you read it."

"But I don't understand. How does it matter what book I was reading? My alibi's still as good. Or as bad."

"Yes, but now you've lied to us. And that makes us suspicious. Very suspicious. Which is why we're going to take you in."

"Take me in? You mean arrest me?"

"I'm afraid so."

"What for? I've done nothing wrong, I tell you. Reading a crappy book isn't a crime, is it?"

"We'll just have to see about that, won't we? Okay, cuff him and take him in. Oh, and take those books along as well. They're evidence."

J'ai perdu mon Eurydice

She cannot go home with him. With his air of endless injury, the mad anguish in his eyes. This man prematurely old - so different from the brash, laughing boy she married, so long ago now, she can no longer remember, in this place where silence is mortal and every arrival false.

Can it be that a different time runs through the hearts of lovers? That one lives from minute to minute, while the other counts the hours?

Is this what it means to be apart?

But how to tell him this? After all he has been through, all he has risked. Better to desert him than to betray him, turn away when he isn't looking, leave him leaving her behind.

Better that he should blame himself than he should understand her.

[for those unfamiliar with the title]

Friday, March 27, 2009

Splendour falls

The water is shocked into stillness. No one cries.

Slowly emptiness returns to the mirror from which you startled it. The trees begin to whisper behind the wind's back.

Approaching Eden

Hunger is a season between the mouth's blossoming and the ripening of fruit.

Butterflies dance in the stomach of the forest, nibbling away at the raw, green light.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Pet Peeve # 67

Musicians who insist on talking about the piece they're going to play before they play it. [1]

Special pet peeve:

Musicians who not only insist on talking about the piece they're going to play before they play it, but then say things like, "words can't do justice to the beauty of the piece - I think the only real way to describe it is to play it for you" Duh!

Was at a recital by Jose Franch-Ballester yesterday - he's a talented clarinetist, but he insisted on subjecting us to the most annoying inanities before every piece, and then had the nerve to ask why no one was applauding his 'introductions'. Some people just can't take a hint.

[1] This is especially true of classical musicians - if you're a jazz artist talking about a piece you've composed that's one thing, but do I really need someone to stand there and tell me how Brahms was a great composer?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Publication day

"Why did you do it?"

"I had to."

"Had to?"

"It was a beautiful poem."

"It wasn't a 'poem', Hal, it was a coded message."

"Yes, but it was beautiful."

"So you sent it in to the Kenyon Review."


"Knowing it contained sensitive government information."


"You realize that's treason?"

"Oh come on, nobody's going to know. It's a lit journal, for Christ's sake - hardly anyone even reads the thing. Certainly not anyone capable of cracking an obscure cipher."

"You can't know that for sure. You have no idea who may be reading it or what they may or may not be capable of."


"So the information is now compromised. And it isn't just the information. You realize the kind of attention this is going to draw? One day you're an obscure English professor in a dead-end state college no one has ever heard of and the next day you're in print next to John Ashbery. We can never use you for anything again."

"'In print next to Ashbery'. Don't you see? That's the whole point! All those years collecting rejection slips, knowing I was no good, only managing to get 'published' by signing up to be a government agent. And then one day I'm sitting there wrestling with the code book and suddenly I turn out exactly the kind of poem I've always dreamed of writing, the kind of poem I've spent a lifetime training myself to recognize, a truly great poem, my one shot at being a real poet. How could I not take it?"

"Well, I hope you're satisfied. Because it's the end of your career as a writer."

"You don't mean that!"

"I'm sorry, Hal, but that's the way it is. Starting tomorrow, you're going to disappear. There's nothing I can do about it."

"I see. Will you at least let the poem go?"

"Well, it's already been published, so there's not much I can do."

"But what about republication? In anthologies, for example."

"I don't know. I don't see how it could hurt. The damage has already been done. If anything, getting it more circulation may help throw off suspicion - make it seem more legitimate, that sort of thing."

"So you'll let it go."

"I'll think about it."

"I guess that's the best I can hope for. Shall we go now?"

"If you're ready."

[with bonus points for getting the Fay Grim connection]

Saturday, March 21, 2009


Why is it that sadness weighs so little? Like the light from a candle in a room where shadows dance, their bones growing longer with every song.

Why is it so hard for the violins to belong?

Sunday, March 15, 2009


(for Space Bar - because this is as visual as I get)

Did I mention that I just got back from the Philadelphia Art Museum's Cezanne and Beyond exhibition? (NY times slide show here)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A secret

"Can you keep a secret?"


"Well, don't tell anyone you can."

Thursday, March 12, 2009


With all the things you did wrong in our relationship, why did you have to do the breaking up right?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Drinker

Three months of steady drinking and his brain started to take the edge off the liquor. That was when he knew he was in trouble.

Pretty soon he was spending his evenings in bars, telling anyone who would listen that he was choosing to stay sober, that he could get drunk any time he wanted. The others looked at him with pity, their eyes bleary with drink.

The night he got back to his apartment at five in the morning, stone cold sober, and found no one waiting for him, he knew he couldn't go on. They found his body the next day. He had injected a syringe-full of cold, clear air into his veins.

Monday, March 09, 2009


Once I thought it romantic to be resigned to death.

Now I am dead to my own resignation.


Once I thought it romantic to be resigned to death.

Now I fear romantic resignation will be the death of me.


Once I thought it romantic to be resigned to death.

Now I am resigned to the death of romance.


Once I thought it romantic to be resigned to death.

Now I romance death with resignation.

Friday, March 06, 2009

A bookstore near you

Remember how I said the release of Shahid's Collected Poems was the best news I'd had all year? Well, thrilled as I am about that, there is one other publishing event that I'm even more excited about. That's the release of études, a collection of short fiction by my dear friend and occassional alter ego Aseem Kaul, now available - either in bookstores or online - to those of you in India. A book, needless to say, I strongly urge you to go buy (or at least find in your local book store and read the back cover of).

Not that études is a great book or anything. There are days when I'm not even sure it's a good book. But it's different and fun and bizzarely imaginative and there are so many different pieces in it that you're bound to like something. Plus if you're sitting around reading this blog you're not exactly spoiled for choice are you?

As a matter of fact, regular readers of this blog may find significant similarities between the writing on this blog and the work in études. It may even, at times, be hard to tell the two apart. This is not, however, reason to type 2,569 indignant blog posts and put them up on DesiPundit. The writing seems similar not because Mr. Kaul has been stealing my work (nor because I've been stealing his - how dare you even suggest such a thing!), but because the two of us think so much alike that sometimes it's as though we have a single extremely demented mind between us.

What this overlap in styles does mean is that if you enjoy reading this blog you're almost certain to enjoy études, and should go out and buy it without a moment's further hesitation. Not only will you get a nicely bound collection of classic Falstaff-like pieces that you can pass on to your grandchildren, you'll also get to read 16 brand new (Never seen before! Untouched by hand!) stories that cover such diverse topics as deviant omelet recipes, kinky sex, a retelling of the Orpheus myth as a Fernando Meirelles short and the horrifying secret behind Facebook. Plus that way you can enjoy the blog / website that goes with the book with a clear conscience. And if enough of you buy the book it will restore light and hope to my world so that I won't kill myself out of sheer depression and may even go back to writing posts that are more than two sentences long [1].

Those of you who live outside India are, I'm afraid, going to have to wait before you can get your hands on the book - I'm told the book will eventually be available on Amazon, but I can't say when / if that will happen. I did manage to get hold of a few copies myself, but shall be distributing those to people who:

a) will sign off on my dissertation
b) will do my taxes
c) are sleeping with me
d) have slept with me
e) would sleep with me if they didn't have this rare, little-known medical condition
f) are liable to beat me up if I don't give them copies (hi MR!)

in that order.

The rest of you can either be good dutiful children and buy the book the next time you're in India, or watch this space for further information on availability, while hopefully whetting your appetite for the book by reading about it on the site.

Happy Reading!

[1] and with footnotes

Thursday, March 05, 2009


You slice open the top, scoop out the tangled mess of brains, and all you're left with is the sweet, green skull.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009


When he came to, he could no longer feel the gun at his temple.

After a moment, he moved his head a little. Nothing. He lay still for a bit, listening, then turned over. No one there. What had happened? He must have fainted. But why hadn't they shot him anyway? Had they never meant to execute him at all? Had it all just been a joke?

He felt cheated.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Under the table

He writes that way sometimes. Notebook pressed up against the unvarnished wood, pencil in hand because the pen won't work.

He knows his poems don't amount to much but he writes them anyway.

Trying to capture what lies beneath language. Trying to negotiate with his other, more sober self.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

The girl with the headphones

I don't know what she's listening to, coming down the street, head bobbing almost imperceptibly to the beat in her ears.

Whatever it is, it makes her smile at strangers.


A smile too is a kind of music.

Yours, for instance, could fill a stadium.

The traffic, the security, the restless crowd. The sudden hush as you walk out on stage. The faces flickering to life one by one, as the audience starts to smile along.