‘What the Hero Said to his Heart’ and other poems

Diana Romany

2022

Introduction

There is a narratorial quality in Diana Romany’s poems. But that is where the resemblance to fiction ends. Where does the past end and the future begin? If what ‘The hero says to his heart’ is any indication, there is no passage through time more riddled with questions than that of the archetype. If it weren’t for the anchorage provided by the “stasis pod” would poetry be able to time-travel? Could this poem be read as a script meant to be whispered into the last humanoid ear?

I wonder. As the stanzas flicker from “then” to “and then”—an accordion-like movement builds up, aided by asides. Just when you think you are forging ahead, the aside—which signatures all three poems—acts as the slant. It is the price for noticing everything. In ‘Floodwaters start on the mountain’ that note-taking enters the gravitational pull of the humdrum. The courtroom, the hotel room, the plane ride. Told deadpan, it, too, accordions— between love and hate, assumption and imperative. It might appear heartless if it weren’t for the ending, which escapes everything, including closure. Just as in ‘Untamed…’ where—after a steady, dry-eyed accumulation of details in a simithery which sounds “English but not” and through the sibilance of spit in that other owned word thhuthhu—the poem rises, lambent with love.

Endings are where Diana’s poems swivel. From statement to startlement, story to song.

— Sampurna Chattarji
The Bombay Literary Magazine

What the Hero Said to his Heart

The folded blue rug
Big as a mountain

Yesterday’s dust on the table
Snapdragons far as the eye can see

Then
I am an officer of the law

Newly transferred to some godforsaken little town in the north
In tight policekhaki and Ray-Bans

My steel-toed boots go splashing through the soapy waters of Dhobhi Ghat
To wrestle down the pehelwans who dared to insult me

Then
I am terrified of ending like Firdousi
Caught between the Ghaznavids and the Samanids
He died poor and brokenhearted
Buried in his own orchard
At the edges

Then
There’s Arendt and Butler
Husserl and Heidegger

And then
I’m to acquire a degree to be in the world

They had an affair
Arendt and Heidegger
Unable to exit existence, they used an elaborate code of lights to talk like spies

Collecting interesting anecdotes does not constitute a thesis, they say

Then
I stayed up to hear a philosopher talk
The clock behind them had stopped
Just a little before 10:10
Almost advertisement time

.         Who deserves to live?
.         Whose hands hold my life?
.         Who am I free to destroy?

I must think about all these questions
But Merleau-Ponty’s buried with his mother, his wife, and his daughter
And I am alarmed at the thought of their disarticulated bones
Mingled together in an untidy heap

Then
I am Ripley blasting facehuggers with a pulse rifle and incinerator unit duct-taped together
Watching the Nostromo explode from the safety of the space shuttle

The lights on the mortuary vans blink quietly like Arendt and Heidegger in love
They come by so often they’ve stopped sounding the sirens
Just the lights will do, thank you
And the bill, please
Why wake up the living for the dead?

.         Blinkblinkblink – “I must come see you this evening and speak to your heart”
.         Blinkblinkblink – “I kiss your brow and your eyes”

Then

I get into the stasis pod

As if I knew more

But, Firdousi, I have no orchard

I have no orchard
And you have no heart for war.

 


 

Floodwaters Start on the Mountains

At the district court
I wait behind a small man with a dandruff-dusted fauxhawk
And a tattoo that says JESUS spread across his forearm
His phone has a picture of Christ in the garden
You know the one
Hands on rock, agony on face

.         You don’t have to wait outside if you’ve done nothing wrong
.         You don’t get locked up if you’ve done nothing wrong

I pull out a hair from the sleeve of my shirt

.          It’s not mine

A woman can’t stop sneezing
A girl in lavender coloured polyester chiffons is disgusted
A lawyer with a big moustache and sharp creases in his trousers talks importantly on the phone
He looks like every corrupt Bollywood police officer

That’s the kind of lawyer I need
Corrupt and moustachioed

My lawyer’s robes are torn at the back
And she forgot to tell me I need photos for the forms

#

From my hotel room window
I see that the red aluminium roof below is littered with cigarette butts

I love this city like it’s my own

#

On the flight back home
The woman seated next to me is tall and floral
We apologize to each other for no reason

Her boyfriend has muscles
And delicate wrists encircled with faded red temple threads

Every time there’s turbulence
Her various perfumes waft over

Has she waited outside courts?
I hope not
I don’t think she could handle it
I think she’d just fall apart

I can tell by the way she smells

#

Near Sabarmati
Where Gandhi’s dead
There’s a traffic jam
The cab driver is chewing paan
It smells red, leaden, corpuscular
Two men on a bike share a packet of gutkha
They spray red spit on to hot asphalt

It’s 46℃ in the shade

I hate this city like it’s my own

#

It’s imperative that I have radiance and repair care
An activating serum, an overnight vitalizing mask
Maybe a concentrated ginseng renewing cream
An essential balancing water
A purifying mask

It’s imperative that I eat everything
Like clouds eat the moon.

 


 

Untamed, They Rage About as Reckless Giants

My grandmother looks grey and wrinkled
Texture like elephant skin
A shrunken little woman too small for the box
They give us little pebbles of frankincense to put into the ugly plywood coffin
And my mother glares at me when I pocket a few
She hisses and says there’s no need to carry any of that back home
It’s bad luck
There’s a lot of things she thinks is bad luck

We’re all very superstitious
Spitting thhuthhu when a good thing happens
Telling each other not to laugh too loud because it calls to sorrow

I have some frankincense from my father’s funeral
It’s in a box lined with red velvet
I consider getting rid of it once I get back home
What if it’s responsible for everything that went wrong?

.         I don’t even know if it’s frankincense

They’re hammering nails into the coffin lid
That’s a first
This is only my third rodeo, though
Fourth, if I count the uncle
Not really an uncle
Uncle-adjacent
I walked by his house where he was kept in an ice-cream storage container
It had a see-through lid
His hands were wrapped around a rosary made of sky-blue plastic beads

They kept him on ice till his children flew in from whatever country they were in

All the children fly away
We couldn’t
Now look at us
The no-money-honeys

My cousin’s brought her dog along, it’s called Coffee or Toffee
Or maybe Muffin
Something with two f’s

There’s a couple of stray dogs walking around too
Pissing and shitting on the graves

I’m half listening to my mother

.         They don’t know how to make coffins in Gujarat
.         When your grandfather died, the coffin they made him was so wide it could fit four men
.         They don’t have nice graveyards either, no one tends to them
.         We have such beautiful cemeteries back home, well-kept, quiet, with trees
.         Look at that, no one would allow a dog into a cemetery back home, the priest would throw a fit

Simithery, simithery, simithery
I like how it sounds
English but not

She’s right, it’s a good place to die in
My father thought so too

My aunt’s a mess
First her son, now this

That house is bad luck
Filled with zamindar furniture
And fat lizards crawling on the walls

I watch my brother’s hands on the wheel
The green signs along the expressway

Anyone can see he’s sad

I look like my grandmother
She didn’t like dogs

The elephant skin blanket she gave me is soft with age
Pink printed flowers now faded

She should have had a henge
A dolmen, a menhir.

Acknowledgements

Image credits: Iran Travel, Tourism and Touring Organization

Contributor

Diana Romany

Diana Romany is a shambolic reader who finds herself continuously waylaid by text in various forms. Which is also why she is an editor specializing in art, architecture, and culture, and conducts writing workshops for future designers and architects at CEPT University, Ahmedabad. She likes playing with genre conventions in fiction and poetry for children and non-children. Her writing has materialized in the short story collection Spoonful of Grey (Mapin), the anthology 21 under 40 (Zubaan), and in Helter Skelter magazine. Don’t talk to her about Poland.

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