That Vanishing Figure in the Landscape

I’ve seen the receding figure– a silhouette – Against the sinking sun Or was it the rising moon? Sometimes sliced by a rainbow. No one noticed you When you rose
05 Feb 2017 11:03
That Vanishing Figure  in the Landscape
Satendra Nandan

I’ve seen the receding figure–

a silhouette –

Against the sinking sun

Or was it the rising moon?

Sometimes sliced by a rainbow.

No one noticed you

When you rose with the rising sun

Bent like a sickle into a new shape,

In a new landscape

In the sounds of birds, beasts and bees,

Nests of hornets, across the seven seas.

Ants from many anthills crawling

In the morning to their work place;

In the evening, turning, returning,

That gave their life an unusual grace.

You’d travelled distances I can’t imagine

On foot, bullock carts, trains, ships with sails

Across so many wild and wanton waves,

The journey was rough, the nights dark

The whips cruel in a life-in-death duel:

No bright stars guided your dark destiny.

The gods you worshipped on mountains

And river-banks remained distant

Except that unknown God

Of travellers without destinations

Who embraces us like the ocean –

Ghosts haunting the moon in motion.

Your life took many routes

The bones of your dead fed our roots

Tears of women bore the first fruit:

And a homeless generation was born.

A heart of pain, no words on your lips:

Digging, ploughing, planting-building,

The days endless, the nights sleepless

But you gave shape to a shapeless world

And lived with those

Who knew the difference between men.

But the rainbow comes and goes

In green fields, on many a wind-swept shore

While life was strewn debris as never before.

Then the mad men came

Bullying and betraying: what a shame?

How together we’d played,

Broken bread and prayed:

While the palm trees grew

As our children skipped the waters

Like stones: below the rain-trees,

Above the black birds cheeped, flew.

We’ve known the kindness of people

In temples, mosques and church steeple.

And brothers were born:

You tasted both: the love of Abel,

The murderous envy of Cain

Heard Ruth’s sad songs amidst the alien corn

Remembering Sita’s solitude of islands

Of exile and longings and banishment

Before the first killers

Made you bleed in the sprouting seed

With such malice and so much greed.

You made cities out of the strange beauty

Of swamps, sweat and daily routine,

Planted green fields on barren soil

Are there lilies which do not spin or toil?

Until your children were betrayed:

Their dreams, memories, homes destroyed.

They said you must live in no-man’s land.

But you did not raise a violent hand

And kept working, living, loving –

Dying in small places, among strangers.

You never again felt your mother’s hand

But this became your motherland

How you’d left your home, a mud-hut,

On a misty morning, a bleeding cut 

You paid the price:

Miles on foot; nights in train; and those ships

Their sails scything the darkness of black waters

Like mighty, flying birds

Floating as false promises in words

Waves rising and falling

You survived, arrived, believing

To work on a slave crop –

Sweet sugar-cane of bitter harvests,

And many a recurring dreams:

You walked in the dead man’s clothes

Across  hills, valleys, rivers and streams.

Then a soldier betrayed us all

But he knew that after the Fall

There was a deeper knowledge:

Ah, after such knowledge, what forgiveness?

What distances we all have had to travel

What waves I’ll cross bearing that Cross

And earn our living  in another country

In exodus, exile and dispossession,

With the sweat of my blackened brow.

I’ve kept honestly to my ancestral vow.

They threw the thirty pieces of silver

Or was it gold?

I’m too old now to see my life

Broken into countless pieces lying

In the potter’s field,

Where a fig tree stands barren

And perhaps understands why

A man hanged himself with a cry.

But I’ll ever seek and never yield.

How you ate bread hard as stones

To strengthen the marrow

In your bones, renew your sinew,

You were made of skin and flesh

Breath and blood and ash

And those cells that shape an after-life

Taking us closer to where it all began

The measure of every woman and man.

Call  it girmit, if you wish –

Ignorance is an unfathomable bliss –

For hidden in the depths of a word

Are harrowed, haunting souls

Wrapped, clothed in pure white

Burnt on pyres that burn the night.

Such is life in paradise –

History’s facts have many lies,

True and false

But truth like life is deep

Unlike one’s shining teeth

While broken branches lie beneath

So many withered, desolate trees.

But I AM – that OUM

In the eye of the sun

In the sounds of rain, in winds in storms,

In full suitcases, empty hands,

As you fly to other lands.

Remember the figure in the landscape :

It will follow you like the shadow

When there’s only half light

In the evening meadow of your mind:

It’s there your lost world you may find.

The figure in the  landscape

Will not let you so easily escape

From yourself – your soul,

Till the story is truthfully told

And made holy, a sacred whole,

In summer’s heat with winter’s cold.

Feedback:  jyotip@fijisun.com.fj

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