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Three Poems: Spring in Beijing’s business district, Mosque (c. 700), Xian and Monsoon Nocturn

By Priya Sarukkai Chabria | 1 September 2013

ABOUT THE POEMS One of the more restless and wide-ranging sensibilities in contemporary Indian poetry appears on these pages this month in two incarnations. The first is the traveller, leaving verse footprints upon secular and sacred landscapes in China. The second, in ‘monsoon nocturn’, is the singer of the dirge that mourns and memorialises the passing away of a loved one, in this case the poet’s mother. Showing us this figure more voice than body, meditating upon “the squirming/shimmer of creation” and leaving behind an argument reverberating in the world, the poet manages to interweave cosmic time with generational time, the mysterious luck and patterning not just of life but of lineage. In Sarukkai Chabria’s vision the unusual verb “grains”, flitting like a weaver’s shuttle between rain, light, and time, suggests both the interplay of the world’s elements and dimensions with one another and the marks of human presence rippling across other bodies, other minds.


Spring in Beijing’s business district

Acres of glittering glass
towers tell the global tale
of power and anonymity.

On clean pavements, specificity:
slender magnolia trees
endowed with the ageless

asymmetry of spring efflorescence
stand bare but for buds
in pink and white. Nothing stirs.

Here primordial familiarity doesn’t
reinforce the power
of possible transcendence but

reverses it. Nature turns synthetic
and scentless; the heart relates
to man-made monstrosities.


Mosque (c. 700), Xian

Lacquered in late afternoon light
the ancient mosque constellates

as a sacred chameleon sourced
from mingled memory: toorki/

chini. The old desert dreams
of water surface as turquoise

tiles; the surge of the Dragon
sheens its winged roof of glaze.

Here peace emanates
through the proportions

of courtyards, clipped shrubs,
stippled carp in stone basins, fallen

light and carved calligraphy
in lapis lazuli: Allah hu akbar

The muezzin’s call is inflected
in Mandarin. Here the hunting heart

quells its hungers: the unfamiliar
is welcomed home through beauty.


monsoon nocturn

i.m. saroja kamakshi


neti, neti:
not this, not that either—

is an inadequate
definition of the primal

being she said, the squirming
shimmer of creation

adrift in the cosmos
can’t be contained thus

nor the refulgence

so abolish
oppositions, negate

negations, she said,
instead affirm, expand

the concept of the first
cause, come on, conceive

neti, neti
as: not only this, not only that either –

a single word
can birth universes

don’t you see?

was her unyielding

her singularity)

i walk alone
through puddles of sky


rain grains light
as tumbling sparkle

as light grains time
as a bath of polished slide, as

dawn’s rain-shot sheen, as
tube-lit shine on soused shadows

around us:
around us

the gift of graininess
grants presence

to the falling and
textures the ineffable

i remember her
through a gap

in rain
in snapshots

of time diffused
by grains of memory, by

the slow burnish
of living

that whets

but the implacable
rules of radiance

demand their price:

for burnish,
sparkle, polish,

sheen and shine
to emerge

and light
our being

grains of our substance
must first be scoured

and lost

Priya Sarukkai Chabria is a poet, writer and translator. She has written four books, the latest being Bombay/Mumbai: Immersions (2013). She is currently translating the ninth-century Tamil mystic Aandaal’s songs with poet Ravi Shankar, and is at


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