Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Peasants Waiting for Rain -- 7 Poems by G. S. Sharat Chandra

Peasants Waiting for Rain

By G. S. Sharat Chandra

At dusk
they come back from their parched fields
dragging their ancient plow.
The untethered oxen dreaming
nose deep in a mirror of water.

They sit under the banyan,
arms bared against the sky,
frowns grown accustomed to doubt.

On the mud wall of the village,
the evening throws their turbaned shadows
lean like the helmets of knights,
slithering their heads into the roof.

The twilight swallows their stillness,
leaves on the banyan top ripple,
there's the sound of a stone skimming,
a hawk dives into the empty courtyard,
flutters awkwardly upwards
into a whittled cumulus.

They doze, ears cocked only
to sounds from above,
the sudden charge of wild horses.


Muzmahil Treating the Sorcerers
by G. S. Sharat Chandra

(inspired from a 16th century Mughal school painting found in Maurice Dimand's, Indian Miniatures.)

It is the year 1575.
Dastan i-Amir Hamza rules India.
Persian & Hindu elements appear side by side.
One fat assed bird catcher walks east of the painting
With no bird or cage.
A goatherd and his mistress watch their goats
Lick the vanilla off the place wall.
An inscription says it's a sunday.
The trees are in full bloom.
The rocks are well fed.
Thus everything is serene
Except what appears to be the palace courtyard
Which, thanks to the painter, we see clearly.
There, things don't look so good.
Well dressed Persian & Hindu nobles
Are tearing each other to disarray.
Yet it is no orgy.
One hefty woman rolls on the floor punching her nose
Which barely squeaks,
A noble opens his mouth to let the devil spit,
Yet another stands firm as a table
While his midget companions ping-pong through his ears.
It is plain the royalty is in one heap of misery.
However, in the center of the painting
There sits a man with a huge beard, velvet jubba and muslin
roomal,
He is without doubt, Muzmahil, the great hakim.
At present he is treating a sorcerous elbow
Twisting it like a rubber band.
The owner of the elbow lets out one helluva yell.
He is going to be O.K.
Next to him there waits the apprentice archery commander
Transfixed with red cushions,
His ass has been shot full of sorcerous arrows.
The legend says, Muzmahil will get to them.
By and by no doubt,
And by and by, Muzmahil will become
Muzma, Hill & Sons,
As sorcery continues through the centuries.


Love Song of Rasheed the Mad Cap
by G. S. Sharat Chandra

Praise to thee great Allah,
For carving my beloved
Pure as the sand of Mecca,
Rarer than the rose rarest.

But Allah,
Why you make her princess
Beyond reach of servant Rasheed?

The suitors are at the palace gate
Hankering after my love-bird.
Her father the Khaleef
Hath proclaimed-
Let eet bee
Who touches the rose tree
The one she marree.

How great you are Allah,
The fat prince of Persia
Fed on lard is passing
Touching not the rose tree.

Hurray Bismillah,
The Nawab of Nokredeet
Has his eyes on the balcony
His hands on the box he carree,
He touches not the rose tree.

Marches Ahmed, prince of 7 palaces
Missing the rose tree
By an isle & 14 torches,
O merciful father of horses.

& Zanab Tak-i-Wauk
Takes his walk
Right past the rose tree
O lover of the love famished

With each suitor passing
Touching not the rose tree,
My beloved blushes
Hoping it will be mee,

Guide me then
With hands of strategee,
To the rose tree the rose tree.


Shortchanged Lives

by G. S. Sharat Chandra


"You from India? Dreadfully poor place,
I was there for three weeks,
saw a dead boy on the street,"
gasps Mrs. Gentry,
sizing me with squinted eyes
as if to give more lens might tempt me
to dive into her yuppie life.

How can I tell her
I've nursed the starved, the forsaken,

or those on a parched afternoon,
that give up under a thin tree
or the shade of a culvert,
hallucinating a winged charpoy
to whisk them to swarga,
where gods line up
with handfuls of bliss to make up
for their battered mortality.

Waking At Fifty

by G. S. Sharat Chandra


Show me a man who sleeps to be miserable,
I'll show you myself
the story isn't easy,
grown into my own soliloquy
I've become a face beside a face
waiting for the ferry.
I tell myself it's all right,
all faces become one
in their fall after fifty:
others gone ahead will offer tea
between wakefulness
and a good deal of forgetting.
I wake up to a bed half empty.
My lover of last night
has become mother downstairs
in a conspiracy of children
who think birthdays are fun
for someone who seems undone.
Down the stairs I pretend not to remember
the lantern that flashed red
by the gates of my clear dream,
Charon's hooded whistle,
the silent boat rocking alone,
all hands blossoming into waves,
for those love gathered downstairs
are gigling with ribbons,
ask if I slept well,
do I remember it's May?
My daughters give me candy bars,
my son shaving brush, face mask,
my wife, hair growing treatmentÑ
gifts that a middle aged man
must truly needÑ
sweetness, clear conscience,
the pardonable chance
to believe in miracles.


Barbers of Nanjangud

by G. S. Sharat Chandra

In Nanjangud
there are five hair cutting salons
named after the goddess of India
with the picture of the goddess
inset with circular photos
of Gandhi, Nehru, Subhash. Bhose,
hovering over the curvature
of the globe with India in the middle.

In one hand the goddess holds the national flag,
with the other she blesses
everyone who bows their heads
for hair-cut, shampoo or blow-dry.

But business is slack,
young men have taken to wearing their hair
longer than women or modem saints,
pilgrims are scarce,
there's drought in the air.

The five barbers sit
vacantly in their chairs.
They're bald, wear no dentures,
bet on horses in far away races
after consulting the race guide,
town tout, the astrologer,
finally the goddess on the wall
in whose moving smile
they divine the well groomed horse
that'll make up for their business loss.


Midlife

by G. S. Sharat Chandra

I want a vacation
where the mind doesnt stray
from the starry stratosphere
of motel ceilings
to remember it's become a whale
dipping in & out of itself.

I want to bounce on the bed
from the first kiss
to the last hurrah,
to collapse without pit stops
back into the body
without backing into memory.

I want my mouth
not to watch my tongue,
my tongue my words,
my words my brain,
the rage that was relevant
only yesterday
which now makes me say
I'm glad I've lost it.

I want to dream
of youth's cocky impieties,
the inexact ways to your love's certainty,
not this vision of oranges
under the bed,
the world waiting to see
if I get to eat them free.



Author's Bio: G. S. Sharat Chandra was a renowned poet and writer with international reputation. He worked as a Professor of English at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. He died in 2000. The following information on the poet was obtained from The Kansas City Star: (http://www.kcstar.com/item/pages/printer.pat,fyi/37746839.420,.html)

By JOHN MARK EBERHART - The Kansas City Star
Date: 04/20/00 22:30

G.S. Sharat Chandra, an internationally renowned poet and writer and a professor of English at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, died Thursday at 64 after suffering a brain hemorrhage.

Chandra was one of the most honored poets of his generation. His 1993 book Family of Mirrors was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. He had traveled the world, giving readings in settings as prestigious as Oxford University and the Library of Congress.

A book of short stories, Sari of the Gods, received favorable reviews in publications including The New York Times Book Review. He was the author of several books of poetry and was widely anthologized.

"He was very highly regarded nationally, even internationally," said Robert Stewart, managing editor of UMKC's New Letters, which over the years had published Chandra's poems, stories and even some drawings. "The quality of wit and real human poignancy in his poems was almost unprecedented among contemporary poets."

Chandra would have been 65 on May 3. He had been on sabbatical from UMKC, but in March he returned from a trip to his native India, where he had been doing research.

The hemorrhage "happened very suddenly" Tuesday evening, said his daughter, Shalini. Chandra never regained consciousness. He died about 9:30 a.m. Thursday, "very peacefully," his daughter said.

"We're just stunned," said Michelle Boisseau, an associate professor of English. "He was someone who still had so much to write. To feel we've been robbed of him and the work he would have given us makes me very sad."

Associate professor Dan Mahala, whose office is next to Chandra's, said he saw him Tuesday and that Chandra looked well.

"It's shocking because of that," Mahala said. "I feel deeply saddened by his death. You look at the writers we have on staff at UMKC, and he was probably the most visible and acclaimed."

Chandra was born May 3, 1935, in Mysore, India. He came to the United States when he was 27. He was first educated as a lawyer, holding degrees earned in India and Canada.

"But he was not happy doing that," Shalini Chandra said. "He wanted to be a poet, of all things. I just find that really romantic. He just loved English, loved the classics."

That love took him to the University of Iowa's famous writers workshop in the late '60s, where he earned a master's degree in fine arts, said his wife, Jane. The Chandras came to Kansas City in 1983.

Chandra is survived by his wife, Jane, of Overland Park; a son, Bharat, of Miami; and two daughters: Shalini and Anjana, both of whom attend the University of Kansas in Lawrence.

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