‘Ouroborous Pastoral’ and other poems

Satya Dash

2022

Introduction

What is that old saying about poetry being the right words in the right order? And does order have anything — or everything — to do with structure? Satya Dash’s set of poems stood out for me because of their careful forms. Poets are often tempted to play extensively with form and structure (how many gigabytes of experiments lie in my folders!) with the aim of achieving architectures that are powerful, memorable — and hope against hope — elegant. In this set, the form is not attention-seeking. It demands no additional calories of the reader. It isn’t peculiar or startling or gimmicky. Instead, it is considered.

Each poem works its lines uniquely, whether through caesuras, couplets or enjambments. As much as the poems are independent, they are linked through continuities and patterns.  From the daisy-chain style of ‘Oil on Canvas’ to surreal loops in ‘Ouroboros Pastoral’ and gentle echoes in ‘Golden Hour’, even their selection as a set does not seem accidental.

Why, however, do these choices work? What exactly is the effect? The novelist David Leavitt said that a writer is successful when the reader’s first reaction to the ending is “Oh my god”, followed by “Of course”. Dash’s endings — through their structures — are surprising and yet, inevitable. As you make your way to the last full stop, you’ll wonder at each turn, and yet know it couldn’t have been any other way.

— Pervin Saket
The Bombay Literary Magazine

Ouroboros Pastoral

Since you kept walking the unlit length of the field    in the periwinkled
night you were certain    to run into the old man with his walking stick
with its aluminum alloyed handle shimmering    like a flash
of illicit day serenading the damp earth    with stifled thumps
he is here to take stock of bounty    he is here to vindicate sacrifice
of eroded layers    the metaphysical urgency that compelled him
to leave his wife fast asleep on the bed    at this dense hour wears off
as soon as he meets you   and God above flies
a spaceship low    over the peepal trees whose heart
shaped leaves release oxygen through the night
in exchange for the howls of the excitable jungle
say you greet him with folded hands    and he pats your shoulder
with the prodigious affection of a force    bonding bodies born on either
ends of a century    you curse yourself for thinking he might pass
away right now    and you might be the only witness in flesh
he sees horror    in the impotent red of your eyes    doesn’t mind    he smiles
his omniscient smile    wants you to steel up for a life of dignity
enjoy the falling down, he says, before getting up    and don’t get up too fast
wisdom eases the wind     he tells you how the five-trunked ten-tusked elephant
invented rain    by sucking in oceans    and spraying the mountainous flux
of a continuous fountain for days    the tusker’s reward: guarding the gates
of heaven    who is to do that thankless job tomorrow    the old man asks
you don’t want to look clueless    so you look in the direction of house bulbs
shining from at least a few hundred meters    thinking God is responsible
for the hot song    of a hot filament that could make of blazing
irresistibility a useful vocation    when you are home you rant about fate
how your phone suddenly died when you entered the field
yet it hummed when the old man spoke    you claim such a night comes rare
when language is healed a little    during its generational passage
through the medium    of a vulnerable vernacular
days later when the old man breathes his last on full moon night
you imagine him waving from the middle of the nimbus field
vague heft of barnless straw    a scarecrow wishing you in earnest all the
very best      so you run to the spot but dismiss the idea of sleeping on soil
despite carrying    pillow blanket bedsheet     mostly due to a fear
of    snakes vultures thunder    in his obituary it is mentioned he was a prolific
writer of short stories    his wife tells you his last story was unfinished
it became a little too long    it was about some city boy and a field

 


 

Golden Hour

There’s cause, there’s effect, there’s splaying open of backyards
into lilac meadow— here blooms the average of nothing and everything,
daily a hint of twilight to replenish the pulse of our half-lives. What was your first
moment of bewilderment at the center of this meadow? Mine―
at a desolate guesthouse on the eastern coast of India, a kind of glee
to watch for the first time, my mother’s tears. The rapture of revelation
that grown-ups cry too, disappearing fast into the despair that came from viewing
her weeping face. The culprit― red faced, curry spangled, eight year old
me who went for a walk after breakfast and came back at sunset. To notice
the pin of unconditional love prick a fully functional adult

heart― a lesson or premonition? Almost every day I use the word
paradox as a way to fake resolution. At a parlour in Bangalore,
when a small kid brings the house down, I watch. He bawls
from the scrape of razor on scalp. I watch. Strands fall on tiny shoulders,
his cheeks flooded in pink. I watch. When the heist is over, the dad
and barber shake hands with tired smiles. The kid sobbing
in Daddy’s arms, the brunt of trial and burn of blade
fading away. Turning his eyes slowly, he takes me
by surprise. On my lathered face, stainless steel erasing
oceans of accrual. Is this how symbiosis works? His actor,
now wondrous big eyed observer
in response to mine.

 


 

Oil on Canvas

My friend asks me to resend photos when I text images
via Whatsapp because the resolution is reduced to a third

          of the original. Image quality matters to him. My father, a
          passionate watcher of cricket since television first came to
          town, around the time India won the 1983 Cricket World
          Cup, wakes up at 5 am to watch a match being played

in Australia. Still he doesn’t really know what a googly or
a square cut is; he has never cared for jargons and stats. He cares

          about the connection between bat and ball, 
          the sparring between two teams to ultimately decide
          a winner. The experience to arrive at this conclusion matters 
          to him. That he stays glued to the TV, very much matters
 
to my mother, who steps out during India matches for
shopping. It mattered to me once— the length of the interval

          between two text conversations with a beloved, the count 
          of days— a juvenile way to calibrate yearning, the long 
          frisson between moments of forbidden intimacy.
          It’s remarkable how anticipation appears nebulous

in hindsight, as if the rear view mirror was suddenly glazed
with a jazzy Instagram filter. As if time coats a blur around

          desire, seduces borders into liquefaction. Is it through passage
          that days stir light and kisses turn to water? This could explain
          why I kept glancing at a large Monet painting at a friend’s house
          all the while we played a drinking game. Or perhaps why I saw

in a dream a cabbage soaked in blood, after a friend told me she
saw one in her dream. This mood— the inquiry to always connect one 

          thing to another, when did it really start? It’s difficult to point 
          to an exact moment, but one infernal evening during casual 
          conversation began the parting of our ways. And then futile 
          attempts through rest of the waning nights to measure lengths

of shoulders with briny fingers. If my thumb dripped despair,
it was from aching to dispel the memory of the future we call fear.

Contributor

Satya Dash

Satya Dash is the recipient of the 2020 Srinivas Rayaprol Poetry Prize and a finalist for the 2020 Broken River Prize. His poems appear in The Boiler, ANMLY, Waxwing, Rhino Poetry, Cincinnati Review, and Diagram, among others. Apart from having a degree in electronics from BITS Pilani-Goa, he has been a cricket commentator. He has been nominated previously for Pushcart, Best of the Net and Best New Poets. He grew up in Cuttack and now lives in Bangalore, India. He tweets at: @satya043

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