Poems by Afsar Mohammad and Vidya Shankar

Name Calling

Usman, Uushhhhhmaan….

Uuuussshhhh…maan… !

1

The sky is hanging

Like your cloud-colored goatee.

Trying hard to hide your body

In a dirty pajama

You scared all the children

Away from the river.

A body like a wound

Peeks from your torn shirt.

You’re the one street dog

Doggedly haunted by a ball.

I remember the evenings

You would run to my mother

Complaining to her that

I was with the naughty kids

Who never stopped teasing you.

I also remember

With just one cup of tea

All those burning oceans inside you

Would cool down abruptly.

2

Now I don’t see much difference between you and me.

We are the same.

Except I don’t have tears in my eyes.

Mother’s not here to share my stories.

Usman, times never change,

Only the roles change.

Several years past your death

I realize

You’re a wound as tall as a human body.

3

I’m the wound now

And when I go to sleep

The wounds open their huge doors

And amidst the wounds

I still tease you,

Heckling you: “Ushhhhhmaan….”

Afsar teaches in the department of South Asian studies at the University of Pennsylvania, USA. He writes in Telugu and English. Currently working on the translations of the Telugu poems into English. He has also published a monograph with the Oxford University Press, USA with a title “The Festival of Pirs: Popular Islam and Shared Devtion in South India.”

 

(This is not a reverse poem that can be read both ways. There is only one way to read this: from the bottom up.)

 

Know this tree to know Truth.

The Supreme Bliss, the joy that Life is!

The zenith of Ananda, the pure and absolute!

To reach the roots―

Till we have escalated beyond our minds

Mounting the trunk,

And rise up, one footing after another, 

from the leaves and fruits and the branches,

As we move on

Let our breath and awareness be our equipment

And scale the tree, progressively.

So, let’s take off those rationalised spectacles,

And claim the tree!

Or ascend all the way to the roots

To descend and live among the leaves and fruits,

The choice being ours, in what we choose to think—

Upward or downward,

Our thoughts streaming along its trunk,

Pleasures and deflections, its leaves and fruits,

Emotions, its branches, spreading at the bottom,

Its roots evolving at the top,

with a paradoxical upward growth—

For, this is the imperishable tree

spectacles of illusion,

wearing those constraining intellect-coated

It seems that we can’t climb this tree

 

THE TOPSY-TURVY TREE

 

Vidya Shankar is an Indian poet, writer, editor, English teacher, and a “book” in the Human Library. The recipient of literary awards and recognitions, she uses the power of her words to sensitise her readers about environmental issues, mental health, and the need to break the shackles of an outdated society. Vidya is the author of two poetry books, The Flautist of Brindaranyam (in collaboration with her photographer husband, Shankar Ramakrishnan), and The Rise of Yogamaya (an effort to create awareness about mental health.) She finds meaning to her life through yoga and mandalas.

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