Poetry that can be sung

Poetry Editor ANANYA S GUHA’s note:

 

Almond Syiem’s poems have an infinite lyrical quality about them. They can be sung! Also a singer and musician, Almond’s poems have a music of their own, they are urgently felt narratives telling stories that are introspective of passion and compassion. They are varied and universal in their themes from the local to the global. A widely published poet, Almond who serves as a missionary is enmeshed in his apocalyptic fits, and breathes, through his words sheer lyrical poise and poetry. Read his poems and you will find unforgotten lines!

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Labyrinth of Dreams

 

Like unapologetic monsoon of summer fury

Torrent of sentences meant to be spoken

From wordless years of crouching fears

Lash the beleaguered face of a tormenter who

Once battered a young body and timorous soul

With sexual tyranny and spiritual duplicity

Foggy afternoon of silent birds and still bridges

Walking blurred streets, crossing atmospheres

From pain to regret to flashing traffic to families

Caught between going home and leaving

Between a desire to make everything right

And a panic to conceal everything wrong

Fields of slowcoach snails and soccer dreams

Alien ships hovering over decrepit tenements

Bloodied grass on which I slay my enemies

The abyss I fell into was a welcoming ocean

Where night cannot fathom the darkness

But the hands that rescued me had wounds

Walking school corridors, entering rooms

Of grim blackboards and emerald uniforms

I cannot decide whether I am a man or a child

But in the playground beneath a cotton sky

Blindfolded dolphins contend in a wild race

And my flawless feet dribble the leather ball well

Machines floating on the sea of a midday sky

Procession of insurgents hoping to negotiate

The unusual melody of songs never heard and then

I entered houses from which I emerged sorrowful

Delirium follows questions follow baffling sunlight

Follows the fear of death and the fear of disclosure

Like a cloud ready to quench thirsty earth beneath

The tangible atmosphere of the Spirit is here

From weeping to laughter to brokenness to peace

To derelict lives lying prostrate to rise remade

I return the keys of judgment that I had once stolen

And stand together with the one I abhor, forgiving

And forgiven

 

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I Am Not Certain

 

I flung a coin into the bowl the beggar kept beside him

while he raised both hands to explain they once had fingers.

I am not certain in whose name I had done it.

I pretended I did not hear the doorbell a man with matted hair

and drums slung on shoulders rung for I knew he wanted a rupee

or two. I am not certain how I felt when I saw him walk away

to open my neighbor’s gate.

I sing and offer spiritual advice to calloused men and women

who live and die by a river that dispenses sand and stone

and dismal hope every week outside a city that has decided

to leave the poor behind. I am not certain

how much I really love them.

I watch structures rise in gardens where the outcasts once collected

tea leaves before they sent the police to chase them away. The city is changing,

suburbs metamorphosing, but love, I am not certain I want to dine

in that restaurant serving global cuisine there.

I watch two madwomen strolling daily on highway of jerks

and bus drivers ignorant of mercy, one lost in an alternative world

and ropes she had tied around her shoulders, the other with eyes

I could not interpret and tattered blouse that could not contain

a perfect breast below a neck ravaged by a disease I knew nothing about.

I searched my heart and I am not certain whether I found compassion

or coldness there.

Gaudy eunuchs slap my face inside trains and threaten to lift their saris

if I refuse to give in to their extortion. I rush to hide for centuries

in reeking toilets and emerge to find shelter in the wings of a prayer

my love prays for me. She holds me in her arms, my strong lover, while

disembarking passengers pull their bags to the door of the slowing train.

It happened sometime in spring this year, before the Indian sun began

its ritual of anger, before floodwaters of dirt and disease overran huts

in low lying plains. Last week, the eunuchs returned to a train

that was bringing me home, yanking bed sheet, clapping hands,

thickly made-up, stubble showing. The nausea returns and I am not certain

I want to forgive them.

I heard a wise man say he’s made a declaration of dependence on God.

I flirt with darkness and drink turncoat wine, dragging a cart of tears

along the way. After all these years of knowing you, I am not certain

I know what dependence really is.

 

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Song in Antalya

 

Where the birds of steel land and take off all day

Where seagulls glide on the wings of salty breeze

Where sailboats of blaring techno drift on waters

Of ancient history and few respond to the call to prayer

Beer and laughter are not enough to set the slaves free

And the cries of sexual pleasure are soon followed

By screams of fleeing friends drowning before the eyes

Of their mad captors who had made much already

On buses of air-conditioned relief ride men with faces

Determined to earn a living and skimpy women with hair

Bleached into blondes and sunglasses like tentative butterflies

From sidewalks of cafes and retail headscarf mothers window shop

And talk with string-topped adolescent daughters

From parks on cliffs wrinkled men with walking sticks watch

A sun dipping into the ocean of the other side of the world

On the fringe of the city lives a dying community

Where the drug peddler grows his marijuana

On a terrace and buys a second hand car

Where the wounds of a diabetic man are not healing

And the fingers of his arthritic wife are crooked

Where the good hearted foreigner goes to help

And he takes his friends with him and they wash

The children’s hair and give them chocolates

From America and try to speak their language

Beyond the haze where water ends and mountains begin

Between verdant ranges where cotton-clouds waft lazy

Shepherds with their virgin sheep feed on healthy earth

They tread the paths of yesteryears and know a little

Of life across the sea where buildings and parks

Men and women from countries that have lost hope

Supermarkets of yoghurt, lamb and things processed

Cobblestoned streets of trinket sellers and ruined churches

Breathe like a middle-aged man knowing half his life has gone

 

***

 

Between City and City

 

Between city and city are dilapidated buildings

of forgotten villages whose fractured boundary walls

are smattered with political adverts and protest graffiti.

There are fields of sugarcane and rice where turbaned men

with cadaverous faces fix their eyes on an earth they till

to repay loans that were never meant to be taken.

Somewhere between city and city, where crops fail

and children starve, one more farmer has decided to die.

Between city and city are uncertain towns of semi-darkness

with joyless men confined to their little shops for the rest

of their lives and women discovering breathing space

in late afternoon gossips. The children play in slow-motion.

Then there are days when the countryside is suddenly awoken

to tumultuous bells of political speeches of how life will truly

get better after another season of elections is over.

Between city and city are people of religious importance

and little kingdoms created in rustic seclusion,

where those who committed the folly of being born low

are not allowed to believe they matter. And out of bloodstained

thickets, the young diehards rise to taunt chief ministers and laugh

at the rituals of promises they failed to keep one more time.

But when the sad music of traded insults and gunfire handshakes

is over, drunk villagers dance to film songs again and young girls

become pregnant again to forget the life of repeated unhappy endings.

Between city and city are incomplete highways where trucks overturn

and speeding night buses with groggy-eyed passengers puking

through windows. But on roadside shacks where truckers rest,

a disease is transmitted to families determined to end their poverty.

The government then write statistics and the NGOs rush to help.

But the people of the highway do not believe them anymore. We

have been poor for too long, they say. Do not pretend you care.

Go home to your wood-panelled mansions and digitalized offices.

We are only trying to earn a living.

Baklava

On a wet afternoon we entered barefoot the mosque of tourists

and worshippers and photographed a beautiful boy of twelve

who smiled and said he was dressed for circumcision. Outside

we watched swooping pigeons and bargained for yoyos and postcards

on earth that knew the tremor of horses of empires that rose and fell

and people that sullenly accepted the will of rulers and their religions.

We crossed a bridge over strait of blue water from continent to continent

and wept from tall buildings overlooking the city of Istanbul on mornings

when buses began their faithful ply and nights when angelic intruders

entered our room of bed-bunks and varied literature. Our friends,

they discovered little Americas and rushed in to gobble up king burgers

and shared their family tragedies and God’s mercies between songs, walks.

I know not where she came from, but she sang the sad song of Turkey

for us one humid evening, mascara eyes explaining and deflecting, footsteps

of her voice drifting into a night I thought she would not return from.

At our motel of dirty cutlery and guests that did not pay their bills,

the sad receptionist and her friend poured another drink and complained

about the men that did not love them and the children they had lost.

I saw her picture the other day from the other side of the world,

laughing, beautiful, baptized in green pool water.

We made love between many misunderstood evenings, losing our way

in cobblestoned streets, understanding some Kurdish pain but not much.

Somewhere in the east, where the mountains are cold and traditions

important, plans were being made and then blown-up bridges speak

to the country again. But on ancient ruins, tourists step on footprints

from an apostolic time, time of upheaval and persecution, days

of spiritual controversy and courage.

We perspired without shame inside a steamed room and walked out

into narrow lanes of crowded cafes and cheap fashion stores.

A flirtatious waiter tried hard with our friend on a romantic street,

a teenage boy kisses his girl before she stepped into a boat

that took her to the sprawling city on the other side of the blue strait

of ferries and fishing boats, and we yawn at bedtime together

with a nation caught between the east and the west.

Almond Syiem

Almond Syiem

Almond Syiem was born in Shillong in 1970. He is a singer-songwriter and poet whose first few poems got published in the early 1990’s in several magazines, journals and newspapers. He went into a period of creative hiding from the late 1990’s and has emerged only recently to begin sharing his poems again. His poems had appeared in publications such as Poesis, Indian Literature, The New Welsh Review, Grace and Truth, The Telegraph, Indian Writing in English and in the collection Anthology of North East India Poetry published by NEHU. Some of his poems have appeared in online publications as well. Excerpts from his poems were quoted by the Welsh poet Nigel Jenkins in the book Khasia in Gwalia (1995) and Khushwant Singh’s newpaper columns. His poem On Top of a Hill was shortlisted in All India Poetry Competition in 1993 and included in the published collection organized by The Poetry Society (India) and the British Council. He now lives and works in Siliguri (West Bengal) in and through the organization Youth With A Mission (YWAM), providing leadership for FM Northeast India and Bhutan. He is married to Bameri and has two children who are currently pursuing their studies in Shillong.