‘The Ruined City of Thebes’ and other poems

Ashish Kumar Singh

2022

Introduction

Mark Doty in his essay ‘Souls on Ice’ says: our metaphors go on ahead of us, they know before we do. He calls them ‘the advance guard of the mind’; the poet’s business is to trust this intuition and feel their way towards the poem. When I first read Ashish Kumar Singh’s work, I was reminded of metaphors signposting poems. It seemed like if I could backtrack the process, I might make my way to its source metaphors: warmth and cold; morning and darkness; desire and emptiness.

In fact, the three poems might even be considered one long narrative though they are distinct in their structures. For instance, the lines ‘every face looks the same, as one ruined city / to another’ does not appear in ‘The Ruined City of Thebes’ as expected, but in the next poem, ‘Cruising’. In one poem we’re told, ‘nothing is warm except / my own body’, and by the next we’ve journeyed to ‘the sun will seem warmer / than these hands’. It is not new for a single-minded preoccupation to dominate a poet’s verses, sometimes spanning several books. And when that happens to be homosexuality and its associated taboos, phobias and loneliness, the work needs — no, insists — on this immersion.

— Pervin Saket
The Bombay Literary Magazine

The Ruined City Of Thebes

 

Let me see how the past looks now that I’m no longer there
like a ghost that stayed while the body unheedingly

moved on. Grandmother tells us it’s the profession
of the old to dapple their feet in the sweet waters

of memories and not of a boy of mere 22. Since my younger
days, I have known hunger as one does a prayer,

always present, always insistent. Pray as much as you like,
God will always be mysterious and absent, and hunger

an abysmal cavity. Every night before sleep beckons me,
I swallow the past in mouthfuls so when the sun comes

sneaking in, happiness won’t be forgotten. How it was all
breeze and summer- father laughing at my inability to throw

a ball beyond my own shadow, mother always in her red
saree, granny’s pickles in terracotta jars on the roof and

everything was flooded with a peculiar light. In school,
Ray kissing me on the cheek saying, you are my friend and

so much more, stealing it from a movie we had watched
together. How it was all exploring and nothing, not even

shame was for burial. It was the season of short pants,
long t-shirts, running noses and bicycles. Then,

we dreamed of descending into the future, of bulging muscles
and juggling girlfriends, of old parents and new secrets.

And now, it’s all winter and nothing is warm except
my own body, how it struggles to escape, how the present

sits like a sphinx at the door of the past, asking questions
in a language mother never taught.

 


 

Cruising

 

When a child crawls out of his mother’s shadow,
what can she do but bemoan the loss;

another soul tricked by the world. She tells me
not every hand that touches you is warm,

not every love kissable. So I light a lantern,
go out and touch the first man I see. In the dark

Ma, every face looks the same, as one ruined city
to another and fleetingly, I’m in love. It’s like

seeing god; I just fall on my knees. Every night,
a new deity, a new prayer to learn. It’s a gamble,

I have realized, this odd search in odd places
and a miracle if I return home, unharmed.

Once in biology class, the teacher told us about
the concept of a little death for a little life,

meaning that every animal tries to mate at least once
in their lifetime in order to preserve themselves.

What is our purpose then; two faggots trying
to catch each other as winter stumbles into the

city like a drunkard. Out of love or heat,
we keep the other alive because when morning

comes, the sun will seem warmer
                    than these hands.

 


 

Animalistic Search

 

There is so much of it     but none for me
On tv    people can’t seem to keep their love
to themselves as if it is something that
only belongs to others    Take it    share it
heap it    reap it    store it    Except
nobody wants mine because I have
queer love    love that might not shine in the
spotlight    Nobody willing enough to give
me theirs even for safekeeping    But
desperation is an evil two steps ahead of me
Even as a kid    I was as insistent in getting
what I wanted    as Zeus from Mount Olympus
One day    Ma explained a recipe that involved
deities    pray and you might get
what you are looking for     And so    I prayed
but as is the nature of divinity
nothing happened    Then I took to digging
with my talons decided I’ll man up and
dug love out    However    I am what people
call a curse    because every time I
plunge these hands into the earth of every man
I meet    they come out red and empty of love

Contributor

Ashish Kumar Singh

Ashish Kumar Singh (he/him) is a queer poet from India and a postgraduate student of English literature. Other than writing, he reads and sleeps extensively. Previously, his works have appeared -or are forthcoming- in Chestnut Review, 14poems, Mason Jar Press, Banshee, Native Skin, Tab Journal, Blue Marble Review, Trampset and elsewhere.

Twitter: @Ashish_stJude
Instagram: @ashish_the_reader

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