“This Connection” and other poems by Shanta Acharya

BELSHAZZAR’S FEAST

(After the painting by Rembrandt in the National Gallery, London)

In the Dutch room amid Rembrandt’s paintings,
I sit sharing my reflections with myself –
my woollen jacket no comparison with Belshazzar’s
mantle of ermine studded with jewels,
his silk turban, white and resplendent,
crowning his distracted gaze.

The room acquires the aura of a court in session,
members of the jury appear unmoved,
floating like creatures treading on the moon.
The wooden bench, the murmuring crowd,
the parched sensation in my throat,
deeper rumblings in my stomach,
tired eyes and cold feet, a bone-marrow fatigue
alienates me from the artistic feat.

The haloed hand, the writing on the wall,
offer unexpected food for thought.
Mene Tekal Upharsin: You have been
weighed in the balance and found wanting.
Belshazzar’s face aghast with such revelation!
Do not despair, one was saved; do not presume, one was damned.

I close my eyes thinking of god mercifully
adjusting the divine scales in my favour –
myself poised on one side, insubstantial;
my burden of sins on the other, weighing down
heavy, leaving me quite unbalanced.

So god kept adding extra weights of suffering
to help me overcome my unbearable lightness of being
like an ingenious doctor shrewdly intent
on restoring me to life by increasing daily
the bitter pills of my life in self-exile.

I had a vision of grace reconciling me
to myself, to see me poised and not wanting.

You may have mistaken my strength, dear God
to emerge from your gift of suffering balanced.

 

From Imagine: New and Selected Poems (HarperCollins, India; 2017)

 

NOT ONE OF THE MYTHS

Not one of the myths we make
will outlast the muting of our breath.

What comes and goes in silence
represents time’s landscape of self.

So long estranged from myself,
I have created an illusion –

carefully camouflaged
to welcome our re-entrance.

It is like passing from the object
to its unredeemable shadow.

Like leaping off the canvas of a painting
into the gallery of free spectators –

only to dread that moment of return
to another image that would recapture us.

A plastic version of all that passed among us
or others who unknowingly resembled us.

The imageless wind is the appropriate conception,
projecting the naked self, the final relation.

There arrives a time when the fiction is a mirror
image of itself, a thing final in itself.

Unable to discern between illusion and creation,
we have stopped revolving in self-abnegation.

After the wind has gathered its unique composure
and we breathe deeply the pure, fulfilling air,

our halcyon gestures resurrect words from silence
like conjurors revelling in tricks and games.

The myths dissolve in the silence that guts
our ineffectual, self-mutilating words.

 

From Imagine: New and Selected Poems (HarperCollins, India; 2017)

 

MY GOOD LUCK HOME

You presented me with two scarabs,
hieroglyphs etched on their lapis-lazuli backs,
from the gift-shop of the British Museum.
It’s for good luck, you said.

I survey the pieces, their sacredness
treasured in the hollow of my palm,
imagine them alive, pushing the setting sun
along the sky, entreating my heart to be pure and light.

They nestle beside a coral stone and a pearl
framed in rings of beaten gold on my fingers,
charms given by my family to protect me from evil.

I find the Egyptian scarab couple their own home
away from the crowded open-house of my Indian gods,
transforming each corner of my living room
with gifts of fetishes from around the world.

Two Chinese cats guard my speculative angle of vision.
Even Ganesha travels with me in my handbag
to help me overcome obstacles in my adopted homeland.

The seven gods of luck from Japan smile on
as you eye my marble turtle god with its fine chiselled look,
its beady eyes, hand-crafted, appraising your secret nook –

leaving us with the legacy of an understanding –
the knowledge of what it means
to carry a whole household in oneself,
to be so perfectly self-contained, poised
at the centre of all manner of creatures unsheltered.

 

From Imagine: New and Selected Poems (HarperCollins, India; 2017)

 

THIS CONNECTION

Clusters of pods from branches of hornbeam
hang like Chinese lanterns pregnant with dream –

tales of transformation witnessed collectively
is theatre, experienced solo becomes prayer,

the journey from chrysalis to butterfly,
waking with desire, an aviator defying gravity,

a mountaineer scaling peaks drawn
out from the core of a changing world,
spinning, tiptoeing on a slippery slope

like trust in the face of uncertainties,
luck when the chapter of life is coming to a close,
alchemy turning the worst in us to our best,

unafraid of failure, taking risks, following our dreams,
seeing for the first time, eyes and mouth

opening wide with wonder, lovers swirling
in ecstasy on the dance floor, walking

on top of the world, bottom of the sea together
like earth moulded by wind, water, ice and fire,

knowing time will change all we cherish in our globe
taut as a belly with foetus becoming human

where we like gods are defined by what we are not
except Love that is everything and excludes nought.

 

From Imagine: New and Selected Poems (HarperCollins, India; 2017)

 

AMONG THE IMMORTALS

I dream my painting and I paint my dream.
Vincent van Gogh

Reflecting on life’s many false starts –
art dealer, teacher, lover, preacher – always the outsider,
fearful of failure, loss of face, faith, family,
except for brother Theo providing a reason for living
in sorrow yet ever joyful.

                                                      In the depths of darkness,
moments of clarity bridge the gap between art and reality.
Dwelling in possibility, awareness of the one true God
gives way to insight – quest for the light within all beings.

The idea at first vague until the initial impulse,
a scribble, takes form, becomes a sketch
and the sketch a painting – mastery of the thing
promising an unexpected flowering.

Brushstrokes come alive in a rapture of aseity,
crying out with creations of flesh and blood –
self-portraits breathing, original in their view of the infinite,
touch the heart of humanity, open a door to eternity,
walk among the immortals, communing with the light.

 

From Imagine: New and Selected Poems (HarperCollins, India; 2017)

 

“This Connection” and other poems © Shanta Acharya

Shanta Acharya - (c) Dr Sanjay Acharya.jpgShanta Acharya won a scholarship to Oxford, where she was among the first batch of women admitted to Worcester College. A recipient of the Violet Vaughan Morgan Fellowship, she was awarded the Doctor of Philosophy for her work on Ralph Waldo Emerson prior to her appointment as a visiting scholar in the Department of English and American Literature and Languages at Harvard University. The author of eleven books, her latest poetry collection is Imagine: New and Selected Poems (HarperCollins, India; 2017). Her poems, articles and reviews have appeared in major publications including Poetry Review, PN Review, The Spectator, Guardian Poem of the Week, Oxford Today, Agenda, Acumen, Journal of Postcolonial Writing, Philosophy Now, Stand, Ariel, Asia Literary Review, HarperCollins Book of English Poetry (2012), Fulcrum, Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia & Beyond (Norton).

www.shantaacharya.com