[This is an ongoing project on cities and desire.]
You and I have spent centuries
travelling across ruins in the city.
The ruins of the rugged skin
on a blacksmith’s palm,
the ruins of overdrunk streets
unhurried with nostalgia,
the ruins of the dark abyss of those eyes
on the molten face in the crowd
flowering up at the edges of cankerous memory.
You and I have tasted the sweat
on sun-baked bodies that shrivel up
with desire when winter comes,
with heart throbbing and pupils dilating
when an artful peck winds down
the texture of solitude.
You and I are always half-arriving on the hill
remembering the places we had promised
to visit but never did;
the lakes, the souvenirs, the airports
and the people we had planned to meet
all haunt us in repetition like unminted memory.
we are here at home on a Friday night
talking of New York, London, Amsterdam
staring at my lathered face in the mirror
while you recoil in bed
in the ruins of the Calcutta summer.
For the hundreds of commuters who use public transport, travelling in the city is an uncomfortable experience. Negotiating with the crowd and urban spaces can be a challenging task on a day to day basis. Standing in cramped places surrounded by bodies while travelling can be nightmarish at times.
hands that laugh and die
but dare not speak
with speech and sweat
on the other side of silence.
hands that drink
the black flower of your eyes,
and walk into your house
with no explanation.
stretched across your blood-nail face,
beneath your feet,
on folded shadows.
hands that hold, make love,
now hang in the silence
turning into Daphne’s claws.
Deserted places have a charm of their own. Visiting a deserted place throws up a complex network of memories and desires that haunts the mind. Do places have memories? These places that have once witnessed life and vibrancy have an uneasy calmness about them that lends them a spectral quality. Here is a wonderful archive of abandoned urban places that you can visit.
Meanwhile, she insisted
that we should count shadows
as we drove through the ghost town.
Dust circling in the wind,
faded light from the street-lamps hung
with the weight of memory.
The city churned like a spinning top
at the corner of mind;
long aisles, towering billboards, rusted shops
lay deserted in unflinching solitude,
memories of flickering voices
danced at the crossroads in the rain.
The factory, the little street, the rain
don’t smile at you,
The supermarket and the town-hall
their voices choked with soot,
stare you down with a displeased composure.
This city has migrated,
and put up all
its memories and desires for sale.
Every corner you turn
seems to shuffle endless voices
to make way.
Buy me the laughter, she says
buy me the hustle of busy feet.
– III –
This pavement beside the cafe
once gulped in weariness
an endless wave of human voices
where empty carriages now recoil
and the heaving of bodies
still disturbs the dust
like an obstinate afterthought.
The bridge on the boulevard
still drowns in the pain of recantation,
and the station in the falling darkness
anxious for a tender stroke of motion.
The mall is a catacomb of endings
proclaiming the infinite ways of silence
with glistening dust.
If we could taste the colours
that throbbed beneath the dying feet,
and mourn the hair and voices to rest …
If we could rummage through the dust
of feathers, bones and peeled off skin
to touch the hearts that moved mind and men …
Only a crow measures its flight
going round and round
in motionless circles.
Painting: “Sleeping City” by Marnie Pitts
Lilies can be metaphors
for cities that sleep
beneath your skin
Commuting in the rain
and falling light
with digital skins
you unfurl the transgression
beneath layers of night and laughter.
Cities, like lovers, can die a lonely death
throbbing inside your pubis
until the night takes over.
At the Russell Square tube Station
At Russell Square,
the fall is endless
into laughter and darkness.
A city flows underneath
out of the darkness
with its liquid tongue of fire.
Staring at those cadaverous eyes
dressed politely in hats and coats,
the bridge between the souls.
Please mind the gap.
Someone has left her soul
on the seat
in a crumpled ball of the Evening Standard.
I savour its secrets
like man’s first act of transgression.
morning flipped open the wounds
like an aimless streetlight
at a vacant bus stop
there was no need for that
we had sandwiches and coffee
and left for work
without a word
you returned drenched
in laughter and rain
you watered the plants
and fed the children
you sang them to sleep
and put out the lights
with meticulous dedication
we made love
with the same practised indifference
your body flooded the room
with the familiar scent of strange men
hair tied up
you were cooking scrambled eggs
your wrinkled face
buried in solitude
threw up the ghosts on arched windows
as the yolk sizzling in oil
and you stood
sucking your thumb
there are no ghosts,
you had told me once
only accidents that stop short of being a miracle
the persistence of your body
was a miracle back then
the casual glance of accidental unease
caught me off-guard
and left a winding trail
now the heat receding
winter having shrunk in,
there are no more accidents
unpaid kerosene bills and metacin tablets
jostle for space with noisy children
even the old photos
cling to the wall like strangers
dissipating rheumatic memory
don’t tell me death is better
not even the moth that dances on fire
can afford such a brittle supposition
the spluttering of the yolk now
opens up a dangerous precipice —
the brittle skin of the night
into a mechanical lump of flesh
some nights are beautiful
when we don’t make love
Someone told me once
that nothing moves in Kolkata.
Even the ghosts,
drenched in sweat and tired of returning,
remain stuck in the traffic
at the crossroads.
The lovers who sit
with crossed arms and baited breath
at 9 am,
I meet them at the same place
when I return home.
There is a blockade at Sealdah
for protesting against price hikes
and pipe-bombs descend on Esplanade
where communists and socialists are fighting.
Nothing moves in Kolkata,
not even a leaf remembers to stir in breeze
for the fifteen minutes
I remain stuck at Rashbehari.
There’s no place to move —
car bonnets kiss in mild consternation
to stop jaywalkers from squeezing in;
people jostle for placeright in packed buses,
and shops selling condoms on the pavements
mock mannequins in brassieres
for their misfortune.
Nothing grows in Kolkata
but concrete plants that vie with each other
like overgrown children
to erase the smoke from the orange sunset.
Stories of resistance
like glittering corpse and flesh
lie in uneasy graves
beneath classroom doors.
Bus to Piccadilly
We never took that bus to Piccadilly.
Wearing your soul on your shirtsleeves
with vacant unease,
floating through the germanium crowd
We never took that bus to Piccadilly.
Walking with sheepskin laughter
through half-baked dreams,
a city is also a language.
Bodies that traded ruination
flow through cities, dreams and light
meeting the white bird
that will fly north in winter.
Our voices written on the sky,
Thames seemed to flow softly
like in a dream.
At Oxford Street,
we had fish and chips for lunch
and rubbed the sunlight on our dreams;
at Tate Modern,
we stared at a Klee painting
with time blowing into a storm;
and at Clapham,
we bought forgotten novels for fifty pence
from an old charity store.
the tube station was closed for repairs
and we departed at Green Park
even without a solemn farewell.
You said you loved the rain,
how time dripped in the windows
and pushed you into an infinite fall;
your only regret as you left the city
was not taking that bus to Piccadilly.
Piccadilly is where all the magic lies,
someone had told you;
it is where the moon seeks asylum
in shop windows
and consumes the secret
of forgotten things.
It is just as well
we had missed that bus,
I wondered if you would feel the same
if you had been there.
After she left us,
there was only desire, but no meaning.
Consolation is nuanced
like the abrupt conflation of shame.
No one understands
the cut in the real that lies
The winds seethed,
dust settled on our souls
All through the winter,
I fucked strange women
to convince myself
that trauma is a carnival of truth.
In the end it was too much,
we decided to move out.
Even the house was torn down
and the bricks mutilated
as offerings to the gods.
The only thing we couldn’t destroy
was the lingering traces of her laughter.