Treasure Island

Sudeep Sen

(1964 - / New Delhi / India)

Prayer Call: Heat

I wake cold, I who
Prospered through dreams of heat
Wake to their residue,
Sweat, and a clinging sheet.
—THOM GUNN, ‘The Man with Night Sweats’

Outside, “Allah-u-Akbar”
pierces the dawn air —
It is still dark.

Inside, electric light
powers strength
to my feverish body.

Mosque minaret
radiate prayer-calls
all around —

like coded signals
from old radio

transmitter-towers —
relaying the dangers
of heat in this stale air.


A bare body
sleeps peacefully
beside me —

her face’s innocence,
and generous curve
of her eye

lashes, try to sweep
away my
skin’s excess heat,

one that is fast
making my bones
pale and brittle.


A brief lull
lingers outside.
I cannot hear

the heavy lyrics,
their rhymes
trying to invoke

peace and respect,
their wafting baritone
instilling faith.

Such things
are luxuries
for me now.

I lie, trying
to piece together
the eccentric song

of my own
inadequate breathing.
It is a struggle.


It is also a mystery.
Mystery of a body’s

its vulnerability,
its efficient circulation —
they are perfect

models I remember
from school’s
very early lessons.

They are only
how things ought to be,
not how they are.


Only now, I realise
the intent
of prayer’s persuasion,

its seductive expression.
I also value
the presence and grace

of the body that willingly
lies next to me,
as her breath

tries to realign my will’s
magnetic imprint, and
my heart’s irregular beat.

My vision is awash
with salt
of her night-sweat.

My hearing is trapped
within diaphragm’s
circuitous drone —

in Arabic’s passion
that etches
its parabolic script,

sung loud
so that no
slant or serif

can be erased,
or misunderstood.


Religion’s veil
and chiffon —
its sheer black

and translucence,
its own desire
to give and want,

its ambition
to control
and preserve.

Such songs
mean nothing
to me

if one’s own
peace and privacy
remain unprotected,

or, are not at ease.
I want
the chant’s passion,

its heat
to settle
my restlessness.
I want the song
to soothe
my nerve-ends

so that the pain
and faith’s will

enables to rise.
I also want
the beauty

of this faith
to raise
its heat —

not body-heat —
but the heat
of healing.


But for now,
the diaphanous lull
is a big boon.

Here, I can calculate
the exact path
of my body’s

its unpredictable
rise and fall

of heat, and
the way it infects
my imagination.


I step out
of the room’s
warm safety.

I see
the morning light

to gather muscle
to remove
night’s cataract.

the mosques threaten
to peel

their well-intentioned
sounds —
to appease us all.

But I see
only darkness,
and admire it —

I also admire
the dignity and gravity
of heavy-water

and its blood —
its peculiar
viscous fragility,

its own struggle
to flow,
sculpt and resuscitate.


In quiet’s privacy,
I find
cold warmth

in my skin’s
permanent sweat,
in its acrid edge,

and in my own


Submitted: Saturday, June 23, 2012
Edited: Saturday, June 23, 2012

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