In my daily life in Bombay, barely do I spare a thought for the urban wildlife around me, consumed as I am, by the worries and timelines of my own existence. I’m sure I’m not alone. It takes a special rendezvous to tune in to the intricate web of other beings. But what does one do in the absence of such avenues? Turn to art, I’ve discovered. Reading Jayant Kashyap’s poems reminded me how art, in its primal energy, can sometimes stand in for nature.
In his set of themed poems, Kashyap gradually thins the veil between the reader and his subject. Rather than a singular moment of empathy, over the course of the poems, Kashyap creates an immersive experience. The poems’ triumph lies in the fact that the reader does not even realise when they step out of their own skin to merge with the bird on the page. And our triumph? It lies in the realisation that we too are creature, first.
— Yashasvi Vachhani
The Bombay Literary Magazine
Bird, at the Stroke of Midnight
There’s nothing so soft as a bird, its feathers
set upon fire this year / this year
the snow melting down into tears, tears.
The bird clawing at the window it has thrown itself
inside, now the smoke-filled room / now the windows
shut like doors. In the petrol-fire
turning the trees into ash, it looks at itself
in the midst of smoke, looks at mirrors of leaves /
mirroring its feathers falling
on the ground. Tomorrow, when the smoke
recedes for a while, the people will first
look at the ash / wash the ground
with so much water, as if the sea
never ends. Millions of years ago,
when snow melted / we’d wait
for the birth of a sea, now the snow
. just melts,
. and melts—
“Do birds always fly with purpose or also just for fun[?]”
. — Meg Dunley on Twitter
To bury – or to burn –
is to dissolve a body
of its past. The roots must stay
but the roots know
what needs doing.
The soul must be free
if it learns to transcend.
To do what needs doing
asks of us courage.
It asks of us
the desire to do.
Someone asks if birds
always fly with purpose.
The answer is no.
The answer is
a purpose is a purpose
but birds have been found
to enjoy flight, found
to take longer routes
to the same destination.
have often found
on the wrong continents –
a bad turn
from migration, perhaps,
a mistake, that is,
or the general madness,
curiosity or courage.
Birds, as they falter,
scurry the wind
with their wings. Bodies
hold on to the past –
a favourite memory,
a broken knee, a child
To dissolve a body
of its past, we use incense,
we use flame and flowers,
or shovels and soil.
and pieces of wood.
Birds peck at worms
in the logs
embraces the logs of wood.
helps in transcendence.
. i. Haze
Winter walks in like a dog –
sheds snow from upon its back
and, quietly, climbs into its cot, waiting
for the sun to rise.
. ii. Perennial
. busy and lost in love.
. iii. Mirage
Summer is the sun once it has
readied itself to choke the earth with sweat –
it walks around like flies
. sits at chai stalls and near mithaiwaalas;
everything thrives in summer
. but nothing survives too much sun.
. iv. Return
Rain comes in like a bird
meant rightly to be in the sky –
its opaque wings spread like clouds;
the feathered drops falling with the wind –
so the bird that takes flight from the ground
keeps coming back every time.
. after Polly Clark’s ‘Sunset’
As the sun sets you’ll see people gathering
along – in parks and by lampposts, the lamps
now dimly lit. We see here fiery afternoons
evenings you spend in your balcony, sending
me photographs of people walking in the street
of dogs looking for food, of stars
once the day has dusked – the sun god
dipping himself in his pool, like in a Hindu ritual.
It happens the same way every time: the birds
returning home gather at your veranda – some
have twigs in their beaks, others gather the grain
you’ve laid out; I’ve learnt that birds can feel
with their beaks, so when the grains rest there
they look at you – as if to say thank you,
to say this harsh world is sometimes kind.
. for Anshika Sarin
Image credits: Itziar Mendizabal in The Firebird. © Foteini Christofilopoulou, courtesy the Royal Opera House.
Jayant Kashyap is a poet, essayist, translator and artist. He has received nominations for the Pushcart Prize and Sundress Publications’ Best of the Net, and is the author of two pamphlets and a zine, Water (Skear Zines, 2021). His work appears in POETRY, Magma, The Fourth River and elsewhere.
Photo credits: Anshika Sarin.