Editor's Note

As contemporary poets increasingly move away from formal meters and rhyme schemes, musicality in our poems comes from other choices. Often, it takes place in the tension between lines and sentences – between the visual pause of a line break and the syntactical end of a full-stop.

In Priyam Goswami Choudhury’s ‘berlin dream ledger’, for instance, the first seventeen lines (and five stanzas!) are one long sentence, creating a breathless energy. The layering of image after image without breaking the sentence resembles the dreamscape alluded to in the title; it has the motion of jumping from moment to moment, as dreams do, creating seamlessness where there isn’t any. At the same time, the line and stanza breaks pace us through the poem, allowing us to take in one image at a time, to breathe even as we must hurtle.

Or consider ‘summer corpora’, which constantly moves back and forth between long, spilling lines and crisp, intense sentences. As the larger context becomes less important than the specifics of emotion and narrative, the lines are broken to allow us to pause on the imagery and word play (for example ‘but even the water will not give me a way/ even this water will give me away’). This careful pacing, clause by clause, is what struck me the most, for how it builds music into this set.

I invite you to enjoy these poems for both, what they say and how they sound.

— Aditi Rao
The Bombay Literary Magazine

summer corpora


If the only hope is waiting, then let us wait—


At 2 am, expand this room into Prague, Prague into this continent, and this wretched continent into the universe. This is the distance between us. This is the void I am transmitting my words into. Now bite your tongue and fill your palate with blood.


When Dresden was bombed, you could see the glow of the burning city from the highest point of Prague. All of this is history, you said. All of this history is a riddle for the things we leave unsaid.


Now take my hand, I should have said. It is a small hand, it is a moth-eaten hand. All of this will absorb and become obsolete.


Extract yourself with a long sigh that will punctuate the air and hold out your hands for a farewell said too quickly—


the moth-eaten hands, these lighter than smoke hands that drown wordlessly in the Vltava, we will hold on to the world with our buzzing blood.


but even the water will not give me a way

even this water will give me away


At noon I have had the most terrible urge to walk the length of this city and find a café at Americká to drink coffee clumsily and break a few ceramic cups, one at a time


only you and I will know this by design—


On a summer day when it was 32 degrees, someone you knew took a photograph. It was you with your hair that made me wordless. I want to be

your baker, your barber, your waitress in Steglitz in 1921

to touch your fingers when you pay

to comb your hair fondly


All this to say, why don’t you take my hand? My moth-eaten hand, my water-porous hand.

Come, let me absorb you.


The world is fallow with this waiting

I am holding it still with a bloodbuzz.



at thirty


By thirty, you must learn how to create a human being. So, pay attention.

Touch a fingernail and learn to make a man out of that. Start

with the distinguishing features: eyebrows but not quite Brezhnev; neck

not quite a crane; hands that can put themselves through the arm-

hole of an unpressed shirt with a touch of grace; a head that can stare but

not be stared at in a busy intersection on a crowded Indian street. Then, molecule

by molecule, sheet by sheet: stack the veins, the arteries, the capillaries

with skin that carries perfume without cheapening the air around it. Create the mouth

with time to spare—you want every vowel spoken with sharp diction, one

that does not give away any province in particular; you want the insolent syllables

to be proud; every silence must become an ocean of fervent quietude.


Now set down this man and watch it walk away.



berlin dream ledger


the one on the precipice of this unknowledge

where a gentle stir of the universe is all that is left

 of the last evening of being 22;

 of the last summer with the fireflies;

 of the first time when it burnt at the back

 of the throat and you coughed back tears;

 of the last time in that empty room

 when you swept away dust from the floor

 soaking the weight of the old country

 deep in your bones before taking the flight out


the one where he kneads the dough, blinded so fully

by the florescent lighting of the U-Bahn station


the one where you still do not know what to do

with your hands when you are in a photograph


the one about him


the one where you lose your bearings—a glacial melody

thawing out the dream, breaking it slowly, stealthily.


the one where I only tell parts to the three people who were in it—

the rest I keep for my shame: that shroud of wanting in veils of innocence


the one where you are told a joke, but it is no longer a joke; you only know

it was a joke because it lingers like one—warmly in your chest, after all the laughter has died down

years later, the punchline guts you like a late tremor:

a lingam, you were told in that dream, is the view from the other side.


the one where you started dancing all alone and I did not say anything.

I was a timid pool of water underneath your table in March—

the one where I said I cannot be consoled.


© James Turrell. Baker Pool, 2002-2008. Photo by Giffen Clark Ott, via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

A couple of lines in one of the poem: “but even the water will not give me a way//even this water will give me away” inspired this choice. Architect James Turrell specialises in installations that explore the so-called Ganzfield effect. This is a case of the brain making meaning out of undifferentiated reality. Sometimes, this is referred to as Prisoner’s cinema; prisoners who are kept in pitch-black cells start to see light shows. Experience is our birth right. Force darkness upon the human soul and the brain declares: fiat lux! So do these poems, we felt. Out of horror, come the flowers of hope. As the first poem begins: If the only hope is waiting, then let us wait—


[It was commissioned by Lisa & Richard Baker for the basement of their barn in Greenwich, CT.]


Priyam Goswami Choudhury is an Assamese poet who lives in Berlin.

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