Editor's Note

I’ve long been fascinated by poetry that performs the function of the witness. It is most evident in work that is preoccupied by larger themes of injustice, war and trauma, but is no less powerful in unravelling the dynamics of complex personal relationships. In his poem ‘Enroute Kodaikanal’, Abhinav offers us two different kinds of witnesses. The mother, who keeps clicking photographs and goes through ‘[t]he whole courtroom / routine’ to gather proof to corroborate the stories of travel to be told to the relatives. And the speaker, who positions himself as the artist-witness, half involved in the scene, and half detached. While the mother’s photographs capture the sunset, the speaker’s words capture the mother in the process of photographing. I found that Abhinav’s way of introducing wry contrast between these actions builds the subtext of the poem, and also plays with the idea of true experience v/s true representation. While the mother’s act of witness is inclusive in her naivety, the speaker is critical of the mother for ‘missing the synthetic point’ even as he records this ‘in a language she doesn’t understand’. I was particularly struck by how Abhinav emphasizes linguistic distance and its politics, using line breaks: ‘a sentence that she doesn’t have / the words for’.

I invite you into this set for more explorations of language as chasm, language as music, and language as bridges.

— Aswin Vijayan
The Bombay Literary Magazine

Enroute Kodaikanal


In the nameless stretch

  between two commas,

 we peer through the bone-blank dawn

and wait

 for the daylight to dissolve into our skin,

for the skyline vein

 to wring into a curve

  we would tell our relatives about.

It’s my mother’s philosophy—

 that a life doesn’t count as lived

 without vivid witness and concrete proof.

Alibis and explanations. The whole courtroom


Memory isn’t testimony enough

 so she takes photographs on her phone,

 slippery and vague,

her stubby fingers always missing the synthetic point—

 the twirls of her hair struggling in the wind,

and an irredeemable cheer in her voice

 as if she is trying to make up for something

 beyond my reach

 in the liquid curl of her eye.

Seizing us up in her selfies

 with light in all its awkward slants—

  always inching

towards a sentence she doesn’t have

 the words for. In odd ways she’d ask why

I map the contours of my life in a language

 that doesn’t belong to her,

and I tell her it’s because it doesn’t belong to her—

 as if taking revenge for a wound

 she was as much given as she was

guilty of. And these things never add up,

life falls too short for checks and balances

 that make us whole. The peripherals dissolve

and we breathe the breeze in,

 to the point of cough.

 Mucus in our throat

 and our liquid eyes

 contained in a curve

 of time’s razor-thin slice.

The sky opens up eventually

like a flesh wound. The sun bleeding

 on landscape’s broken neck.

Pine trees slouching like old men

who have lived long enough to forget themselves

The asphalt curling into itself

 like a parenthesis and the water whistling,

its simian crease on stones older

 than all our names for them.

And I, in a language she doesn’t understand,

 the witness and the wound

  of my mother’s life.





Sometimes the metropolis is its own mythology, its night a litany of gestures and the slatted light picking them apart. Shadowy shutters hunkered in the dark. Stone syllables, silhouettes quivering at the verge of vision in the dimly-lit windows. The golden slit of doorsteps leaking some sacred chant. It’s either about God or about sex and sex is more immediate; concrete—here in the flesh, oozing of a certainty that goes beyond a wager we make for the Gods. My father made wagers for the Gods. Ate out of grass platters, hungered his way through days, cut out his pocket and scattered it all in the dying river. Told me not to reason with it. That logic is its own limitation and if you’re loyal to something long enough, it’ll take you down, and so what? at least it’s something, at least it’s yours. So I walk like a drunkard and turn wherever. Knowing how the maps culminate, how the syntax operates, and how the sidewalk under streetlight splits open like a bone-wound where there is always a mother cradling something to sleep. The street curving in the mink mouth of the oblong night. The landscape a blur of velocities. The skyline humming coarse-throat lullabies for itself. The river is dead. The city will drown. The sun will plunge into its own gullet once it is hungry enough. But truth is mere detail; vectorless violence. One must pick a lie and die for it. Take a stone and make it mean something; what are the possibilities? There is grotesque and there is sublime—both converging at truth which doesn’t count, as long as you make it, as long as it’s something. But I always slip past the point. There is never enough time to do it right so I squander everything all at once. Look at the skin hanging from my elbow and my blood on the sidewalk. This is an argument against intention.







In this dream you lie

in the green lake and call it dignity,

 call it instinct, call it an act

 of punching time in the gut—

its innards scattered in the slimy moonlight,

 your bones a melting soup

 of algae and phosphate.

Your eyelids closing

 like an ill-used parenthesis.

If I lend you a hand, you’ll swallow it.

If I step in the water, you’ll never forgive me.

 Instead, I stand in the mud

with blood on my toes and watch you dissolve

 in your own throat. The night divested

of its illusions, your mouth a quiver

 of afterthought.

Your sighs gnawing at the wind

 with gestures you can’t even spell right.





I should have been you

 but this is the cone of light that situates us.

You are you only as long as I am I,

 and you cannot die,

not yet. This dream doesn’t have the edge for it.

 Neither the language, nor the light.

The cranium is a cave and we won’t step outside.

 The green knot of your veins splitting

 like a river on a stony terrain.

 The skyline reckless and iridescent.

The cortex a carve clinging

 to the palette of its own.

You say if there is a life outside

of the life you wanted, you’d rather just sleep.

 That there is a wound in your ribs worth

the haemorrhage of it. And the water lingers,

 stagnant and decrepit.

You, a mouth bent

on devouring itself— I, an eye liquid and red

 with a fleck in my oculus.





You swallow the slant of light

 but I keep you awake;

the lake shifts and it’s childhood all over again.

 The wet blades of grass swaying

across the plane and the sky a wild static

 of sunlight. Moon a white smudge

 on the glassy slate.

You tell me about the myth that says

 the mind relives it all again

right before it gives in

 to a gentler gravity.

And I remind you that this is not your death,

 not yet. Sometimes memory

is just memory not a catastrophe.

 A wound dulls and another takes its place,

like the sound of a familiar voice calling

 your name—time is a curve

that you and I will learn to live with only in time.

And you wait for the water

 to swallow you but it spits you out,

 and that’s as good a sign as any.


Image credits: Fernand Léger. La Ville (The City, 1919).
Oil on canvas, 231.1 x 298.4 cm, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Cityscape paintings, of course, are a genre in themselves. Since the Idea of the city plays a significant role in Abhinav’s poems, we had also considered Sudhir Patwardhan’s famous seven-panel ‘Mumbai Proverbs‘ composite painting. Then we discovered Patwardhan’s painting had been inspired in part by Léger’s Le Ville. So we returned to our original choice.  It seemed fitting that we connect an old classic with a brand new perspective on cities and the transformations they work in us.

Author | ABHINAV

Abhinav is a graduate student from Delhi, India. His poems have appeared/ are forthcoming in The Chestnut Review, trampset, The Deadlands among other publications.

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