The worse for wear

Bangalore, Jan 2022 

Ashfaq Saraf

today takes only so much from yesterday
as may serve to make life bearable
nothing ever is as it was before, things change –
age, morph, decay so that
one sees in the mirror, sees their own face
and exclaims with relief at the awareness: I did love

is it even possible to commiserate with secret
misery of loss-bearing couriers
when the world keeps yielding to harshness
meted out to those who dare question the sway
life holds over ones not yet dead

one is in the fray only so long as it can be said: it is not
too late to discover new loves, too
late to seek new skin, too late to smell the musk
between new lovers’ thighs
too late to dreamily lay awake in unlit bedrooms

it certainly was not the city I
was coming back to, neither to a face, nor
seasons, the air; no, I was
returning to the four walls from between where no
further escape would be possible, I was
giving myself up, the soldiers of ruin
were exhausted by the chase, so I said: now

it’s always the curious that end on the side
of the fence where the blossom
from overhanging branches accumulates
after falling into open drains

but there are those who say we were born
this way; to them: no – we were
brought here, dragged down the stony
stairway of reluctance, paraded
naked in front of the garrulous crowd, thereon
whisked away in silence

we were brought here from purgatories where
no one sleeps, from orphanages where food is scarce
and love is bartered for the weight of a morsel
we are brought here
from sewers where disease refuses to play second fiddle
from backwaters where only the dead escape drowning
from dark alleyways where silences guide the footslogger
from graveyards where life lives only as unspeaking memory

we were brought here, paraded naked

the adjectives of belonging
fell short of describing our predicament, we
were brough here from everywhere that is nowhere
of the known world

we continued in the hope they’d come looking for us
the summer and the winter our only milestones now
in the hope they’d come looking for us
we travelled such ignominious distances that turning back
became an abomination – condemning our feet
to a lifetime of walking,
station after station all we ever were arriving at
was the immense nothingness of nowhere.

for all that slipped past us we are more worn out
for all the faces we said goodbyes to we are more unrecognisable
for all the stops we granted our journey our bodies the worse for wear

were there others before us who fought and lost
who took the train-wreck to solitude and were waylaid right
outside the town borders – grievously injured for the simple
reason it happened so quickly?

there is some relief to be had from arriving among the first
so early as would make the gatekeepers wake
even before the muezzin of everyday resignation declares: enter

waking up thus the gatekeepers see our faces in shadows
expressionless, moving to the rhythm
of night’s still wobbly feet – they see us walking
on tiptoe for the simple reason we arrived so early

one supposes coming here was meant to affect a disappearance
we were meant to pursue the spectre of invitation
right down to the darkest step in the basement
undaunted by the terrifying precipice
we were meant to see the backside of shadows

but there is little relief to be had from touching the shadows
and so little comfort from pursuing a disappearance.

Ashfaq Saraf writes from Varmull, Kashmir.

Leave a Comment