(Based on figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 200,000 asylum seekers and migrants, mostly coming from sub-Saharan Africa, crossed the Mediterranean in 2014. Some 3,500 of them did not make it to European soil. Meanwhile, perhaps under different circumstances (or not really), an undocumented number of Filipino sailors, who comprised around a quarter of mariners all over the world, continue to jump ship due to the harsh conditions on board and in continuous search for greener pastures in Europe. Many of them work as housekeepers and caregivers illegally).
Ferry Tales and Half-truths
Let non-disclaimers gather her hair messed
up by the changing moods of the oceans
into a bunch of introductions and forewords.
Let him narrate to her sun-licked nape
the love affairs of sailors jumping ship
to push wheelchairs and mermaids walking,
forced to surrender what’s between their legs
for a ticket to still land, paid to keep their voice,
nomads pilgrims refugees from African earth
towards the coasts of upper Mediterranean;
stories to bridge the desert between the oasis
on her shoulder and that rare wildflower
that is her ear, and there he will whisper
to her subplots and underlying conflicts.
And her smile bittersweet: a boat to take them
somewhere far from the headlines, the cries
and the crises, her sigh the wind on their faces,
ruffling their sails beyond the western narrative.
He will trace the lines of her palm, scars inherited
from wounds that sweet nothings and propaganda
could never heal, rearrange them into an insider’s
guide to his island in the tropics where the pasture
may not yet be greener, but the shade of China,
the changing color of a stronger currency,
where ship-jumping sailors take their first
head-dive to a journey of a thousand miles,
where aspiring mere-maids – as some first-world
vocabulary may define them – walk heads
up keeping their diplomas between their legs,
revolutions tucked in between lips, and pay
in advance to win more bread, dollar-remit
and tide over the family from one cut-off
notice and nth promissory note to another.
But before she steps on the very soil colonized,
fought over and sold by and to strangers, he’ll wash
her feet with history lessons revised, updated,
and perfume them with childhood memories.
They will leave the boat behind creaking against
the shore, escaping from time that had stood still
inside a bubble of old world glory and charm
in a cursed pendulum of theories and rhetoric.
And they’ll bathe the map with saltwater, dissolving
borders, territories, and private properties, each
of their varied conceptions of space and location,
of erasing civilizations and erecting condominiums,
of paving paradise and putting up parking lots.
A raft, they’ll make and shift out of the beached
fragments of a nation’s great american dreams,
a republic breaking down against expectations,
and embark again this time towards the roots
of her name and the traditions attached to it.
And again, they will find themselves in this sea
of ferry tales and half-truths, songs they serenade
themselves with, treading along life’s undercurrents,
being son and daughter of sailor and mermaid,
one day hoping to dock at the end of his father’s
thousand miles and by the foot of that man
who sold her mother the ticket to this land.
There is a Poem Somewhere in Bangalore
There is a poem somewhere
in between your receding hairline
and the perfunctory proceedings
of nerve impulses and hormonal
transmissions, pressure waves
and electromagnetic fields within
that vast canvass that bridges
the heart and brain, the breadth
of your breathing and restraint.
Amid intervals of muezzin’s hymns
from neighboring mosques,
mosquitoes humming, hemming
the fringes of another day bygone,
against the ruckus of rickshaws,
the tryst of crickets, the rickety
legs of children creaking inside
factories of fabric, fabricated songs,
stories of first-world glories.
There is a poem somewhere
and then there’s the traffic.
You see everyone has to be
somewhere. Everyone is in
a hurry, but no one ever
seems to arrive on time.
And it’s always due to traffic.
You see everyone has the right
to honk, cut, overtake, overspeed.
It has become a ritual, a rite
of passage, a norm, a human need.
No one seems to budge, no one
is allowed to gain an inch.
But it’s better to be all stuck
in the same predicament
than for someone to gain an inch.
Perhaps the only way to move on
is to stand still, stay put.
Don’t worry the world
wouldn’t stop revolving.
Kaveri will continue to not flow.
Where you are right now is
where you’re supposed to be.
It has been said.
There’s a reason for that. And perhaps,
there is a poem there somewhere.
If you let an imaginary moment run
circles around your brain long enough,
soon it would form part of your long-term
memory and later you’d no longer be able
to say whether it really happened or not.
Mine is going out of the São Paulo
airport and hearing Bossa Nova
being played in the air on cue.
And with my humble hips, I’d try
to walk like that girl from Ipanema
in my havaianas and beach shorts.
I wonder how old would she be by now.
I’ve never been to Brasil,
but you could never imagine
how I’ve missed it already.
Their kind of Português,
especially that of certain areas.
I miss how my t’s and d’s and eus
echo the sound of waves kissing
the tips of toes, how the ãos and ems
mimic the rhythm of lovemaking
and the noise of a grumpy motorcycle
not wanting to kick start, again
the t’s and d’s and eus that call
to mind the subtle sizzle of meat
slapped against the grill, the swish
of leftover caipirinha surfing
inside a glass wanting for more.
While I love rolling my r’s,
I don’t mind giving them up
For a guttural gush of air:
uma espécie de ressurreição.
And then, there’s samba, yes.
That wonderful soundtrack
that accompanies a dance move
that requires one to step on
a cockroach and to smash it.
Step, smash, step, smash.
But nothing is as vivid,
as palpable as one’s yearning
to possess and tame the idea
of saudade: a mild and wild
concoction of longing, agony,
melancholy and heartache.
One is bound to ask how
can a word be so greedy
and grieving, generous
and gentle at the same time.
Oh, Brasil! If you were wine
I’d swim in your eyes of many shades,
tread on your multi-colored skin.
I’ll get drunk in your essence
if only to, time and again, indulge
in this nostalgic hangover
of beaches, blues and bliss.
This work was first published as part of the Sage ~ December 2017 Issue, of the Coldnoon journal.