umashankar manthravadi

Rookie (23/07/1945 / kakinada, India)

Proem - Poem by umashankar manthravadi

ten will be the sacred figure
for this exercise
these are times of anger
and we shall count ten
backwards if that is slower
and take the step backwards
before we begin

ten will be the sacred figure
torrent nightfall light
wipes off with an even hand
action off this part of the land

every streetbrawl bruise has crawled to bed
darkness multiplies the recollected vision
of collective anger
so count ten
torrent nightfall light
shines on our green faces
as we count our thumbs

we are free men
and some of us have the required strength
for a little offensive sacrifice

we will breed our anger
like termites in their tunneled cities
save every shred of our hatred
for our children

give it a name and it is permanent
a name is the acid preserver
and the pickled dream server
fathers for us our pruned fears

so count ten
there is no real advantage
in doing it backwards

let darkness spread
from mountain top to mountaintop
as it does here now

this morning the new shape
has its first shadow
the corners and crannies
of the opposite wall

a ghost tree grows

this morning the new shape
has its first shadow
the corners and crannies
of the opposite wall

half thoughts vine the ghost tree's branches

this morning the new shape
has its first shadow
the corners and crannies
of the opposite wall

vines bring down the ghost tree's branches

dusk grows
a red waterless vision
every nightmare crawls into its appointed bed

in the insane asylum
black Christ the reaper
man with the machinegun smiles

he had fought with his favourite tree trunk
all day
argued with it made love to it
wrestled it to the ground

dead as the fish skin drying is the dream
at the beginning of the prayer

he wakes with the light
answers the call
mother mother though I love you
I am too heavy
lying on you like this

now count ten
the order is not important
lock to any random fear
but get here

now the men triumphant ride in
horseless but bowlegged

and here we stand
as darkness wipes off with an even hand
the errors of a green grieving morning

the eyehole stares
the muzzle shares
the view

this is the tenth
the last shape the last change
I stand at the foot
let me wake I pray
I stand on my feet asleep

darkness spreads

let me find my feet child
let me find my words
let me look at the world child
before you crowd it out with your smile

this is the beginning of the long night


on every mountaintop he says
here me I am hermit
in my stolen cave
I am hermit seal
silent and silenced

and now from the mountaintop
I see the patterns
for a moment
everything falls into place
I will hold that moment
for you forever

hear me says the hermit
before it all shatters
come to the mountaintop
where there is silence
and the still vision
of order below
there is stillness in distance

on cold mornings of the wet months
winged ants build towers
like smoke plumes
atop each still burning streetlamp

some crows awaken
call across bright wide spaces
a branch breaks in querulous argument
the burning bush fades

do you hear me
I am hermit crab
I have given my hunger to the roots
what have I left to give to you?

only the sky
waiting for the kites
and other carrion birds


I do not know
where this tunnel will go
my orders are to dig
won't you join this path to the stars?
on the other side is the sun
my orders are to dig
to reach the other side
before the day breaks
just another wormhole in the apple?

fear is a fine dust
that settles on everything
fear is a fine thing
on which to write our names
I am afraid when I do not know
which string to pull to raise my arm
which string do you pull to raise your arm?

listen to me do you know
why we are here?
I am the finger my body
is the tower
of silence riding the dust
I am ordered to dig
by precise calculated hungers
so do you give forth your dust

with my fingers I have traced
every deadend in the maze
every fold in the skin entraps me

under the mat
termites build tunnels
during the night

after the deadends
I come back to the eyes
but they are bared
bright and wide
waiting and hungering
quite lost to my fears

crows awaken
argue stiffly
across the branches
a door closes tighter against the wind

I grow old and you grow young
I would still be bent without the wind
a ghost tree grows in the folds of your skin
would you grow old if I grew young?

I grow old and you grow young
I had planted my questions in every fold of the wind
the ghost tree grows feathers a fern on the wing
and where my questions fall
the mandrake grows
can you give me back my freedom by refusing to smile?

do not blame if tomorrow
we wake without a future
days shorten grow hotter
disappear in the haze
tomorrow may be the beginning
of the final event
do not blame me
for presuming this
ice melts in your lungs
winged ants no longer
die under streetlamps
do you breath then?

I am looking around
the donkey's tail in my hand
I am looking around
for a simple word
to pin on all this

my finger is a prayer traced on your skin

the last light softens
the shapes of the mountains

I can arrange your legs
when you are willing
but what can I do with your hair?


a small compassionate cloud
a feather on the horizon
a million tons of suffocating sweat
bodies in the ball drum all oiling together
grinding dry grinding fine
the wheels churning dust
of dry delicate finely lined
completely yellow
of dead trees

small clouds claw at the treetops
pour down the shoulders
of bone crested hills
come down
boiling and bloody
on the nest of guns


what of those of us
who do not have the strength?
we still count ten
there is no awful shadow
[your shadow does not fall on time]
those of us
[not you and I
perhaps myself alone]
wait without prayer
we wait with time
[for the arches to fall and cavities to fill]
for the unfolding of the precise vision
for the prayer to begin
the process of the last incarnation

the straggler is alone with the terror
sleeping with a pillow on his face

we are freedmen
our bodies are shaped by the whip
we cannot unbend
so late in the race

a ghost tree grows
too close to the sea
bent and bared by unending wind

shadows grow old
snuff out the last lit crowns of the mountain:
there are no new shadows
there is no space for new shapes

dreams wait in formicating acid
for further investigation

after the night
ants search
wings broken off
for cold dark places

the dying misshapen sentinel palm
sends out small swarms of its flowers
floating out on to the sea

lord have you left us
to go a drinking at the bar
lord have you left us
like the children in their cots
to starve to death?

May 15,1973

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Poem Submitted: Saturday, April 15, 2006

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