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Translations from the Andromedan
Sloka Four

Prodigal Heart

Who, if you screamed bloody murder, would hear you
among the teeming hordes of Bharat? And even if a single one
suddenly pressed you to his heart, you would be
consumed by that shameless embrace: for sanity is
just the beginning of a torment you are not
quite unable to endure, yet keep it going
while it absurdly appears to protect you.

Every leper looks familiar.

Somewhere south of Hyderabad the furnace starts
You wander the flat suffocating plain, down
dust-choked trails lined with chestnut trees
infested by monkeys of menacing whim,
guardian trolls who pellet the itinerant sage,
rocks and boles
flung with rude eminence and
an uncanny sense of fun
Not a soul for hours, then a teetering oxcart
edges over the horizon and the frame of time
collapses the rocking of the bony haunches
churns up from the ground in rhythm slower and
denser than a dream heat-waves
beat down the buckling road and
show you what time finally is,
this mirage
where you sink

You there, knee-deep in amber heat
Southern latitudes where the mind
sweats like a wounded beast
Down down the parched continent in a daze
Day upon day the film shot in one unbroken pan
spooled in the long eye of memory and
mortal eyes
(jade-green with a band of Aegean blue)
store the light for some future harvest or
if you already knew you were from the future
how could you bear to be here, now?

Down down down the undulant ochre plain
spread to a tenuous rim, a palm-
flecked beach where the Indian Ocean
flattened to long throes of gunmetal blue
quakes and drones like a tamboura
Trivandrum, Kerala, the sky at sunrise
bleeds crimson from a razor cut
and splash of quivering fronds
makes gulls ascend and
pale silhouettes
dissolve in trepidating dawn

Around the tea-stand faces blue as ink
Bronzed palms offer four kinds of bananas for breakfast
Brihadaranyaka Upanishad in your lap and the tea
always too sweet

Then some rich Indians
hankering after the lost spoils of Baroda
feed you swordfish steak before they throw you out
Smoking hash and listening to the Liebestod
(first time ever) on the gramophone
enshrined in the old salon where granímarm
wrapped in a sari of saffron and mauve
was wont to take her evening raga

Smoking cheras against the dreading needle in the heart
And the Son of Man hath no way to light his head

Friday morning. Rose and shaved,
braced by the cold water.
Face, like the mirror,
borrowed from a stranger. And continued
shaving with the cold water,
wanting to stop,
wanting not to bother,
not to do what must be done,
now or later, not to do it
ever, but just to do
something else, or just to
stare. Not wanting to continue,
shaved, thinking "I should not have begun,
then I would not have to finish."

(Almost stopped right there, picturing
Midas and old Silenus, that encounter
impressed you so much in The Birth of Tragedy
Dorms muffled in December chill, the mall
empty and still under snowfall
neat as a hymn set out in long white linen

"The best for you is far beyond your reach -"
A malicious cackle, and Silenus
glancing down, disdains the burrs
stuck in his rump, then
picks out a couple and heaves a wistful sigh
"Never to have been born -
but the next best is to die soon.")

Not wanting to shave,
continued, not wanting to think
about it, but always wanting to
stop, do something else,
wanting something else to do,
wanting not to have these things to do,
things to think about, like shaving,
wanting not to have these things that
must be done, now or later,
wanting to forget, wanting
not to have these things to forget,
wanting to stop having to
forget, wanting to stop
wanting, wanting to

Now or later
Or do something other than die -
but what?

Donít ask the face that - anyway -
wonít answer, that other one
returning the gaze of a stranger
who will not approach or even
turn to look.
Why bother a stranger?
Provoked, he will perhaps
turn in anger and say, What
do you want? And who
needs a strangerís anger?

While these hands of the stranger
seem always in a gesture of
removal, putting something away or
waving at someone distant and moving
whose back is turned.
Hands cope with the razor, advance and
retreat like aloof
dumb animals
absorbed in a silent one-ring act,
confined to the mirror-round,
conducted by no one.

Silent, finished shaving,
the witness watches the hands
slap and retreat, barely
touching the razor-burned skin
as they rinse the borrowed face with
stone-cold water.

[Passage in progress: dialogue on reincarnation]

Two months into the south wandering without aim
No destination and no one to blame
but humanity
deserves some great correction

Thereís a new world somewhere
Thatís called the Promised Land

While across the harbor at Friendship
all the boats lie on separate moorings
First light the sun touches the dire ledges of downeast
Each one a neat wedge with aquiline prow
cleaves its proud and solitary gaze
toward the unseen trough of the sowíeast breeze
funneling down
Muscongus Bay
Each cabin
no more than a mendicantís hut
The sailless mast-pole with the halyard
tapping monotonous morse
across the mauve-grey waters
And each prow harrows
down in the prevailing wind that sets
all the boats on separate moorings
heading exactly in the same direction

But where do I lead and
who must be going here, so alone and
so absorbed in a native strangeness
bent on some great correction?

You spend the childís gaze in distant places
eyeing the stern pillar-cocks of stone horses
reared in archaic pride by temple-gates
deep in the dustbin of southern latitudes
Take a moonlight tour of monumental vulgarities
kitsch of the Hindu Dreaming

Turning up from Cape Cormorin
watch time in a slow warp
weave your mind
deeper and deeper into the labyrinth of its own invention
wander in rags
in silence exile cunning

Svetasvatara Upanishad:
The Eternal One
is found in the presence of
your own self.

But whoís there if no one seeks the seeker?

Thereís a new world somewhere
Thatís called the Promised Land
And Iíll be there someday
If you just hold my hand
I still need you here beside me
No matter what I do
ĎCause I know thereíll never be another you.

The Eternal One is found in the absence of
your own self

Wild elephants at Mahabalipurum
raise majestic hooves against the surf when
you linger over the soft facture of the bas-relief
caress the sandstone once sheered by a chisel
flat to palm, pinned tight under the thumb, then
softened by nine centuries of seawind
Scares you right to the bones when a wave
swoops up the elephants and pulls you under
Garish decor in Tamil Nadu
intact after nine hundred years and
humanity in stinking ruins

Languid and warped out of time
Dravidian days lifted on sultry wind and
sealed upon your eyes by dust-blown light
bereft of any glint of human mercy

Yet the first time you felt that
exact pain
once seen and never again
avert the gaze from the sin of touching
leperskin like charred paper
plastered on with pus
Pleading eyes well up
wet-rimmed from a
pool of shame
inescapable as your own name

You hate them all
You damn them with a God-like hatred

Madras, where the sun wounds the sand
Adyar spreads beneath a great banyan
and a few indolent babas
hang around for the tenth incarnation of Vishnu

Yes we have no avatars
We have no avatars today

Living with the outcast human scum, Untouchables
Distant relatives you never guessed you had
One big happy family and life ainít so bad
Take Spidey, the athlete with four useless limbs
(stunted in youth for the profit of begging)
who scurries for a rupee with insectual glee
when you duck out of the YMCA at dusk
feel a stump brushing your cuff and there he scuttles
working elbows and knees
pretty as you please
He grins like doom and splurs your name
like he knows you better than anyone on earth
so without turning you beat a retreat
off to a familiar desuetude, a crooked table
way back in the Sri Udipi Durbar Lunch Room

Chicken pilau chewed slow and easy in a suicidal gloom

Other times you feel gay and head uptown
At Buhariís the upper crust gorge on ice cream sundaes
Read Nietzsche with Queen Mary Tea at eventide
then slip outside to let the pitiable beauty
clutch beggar fingers at your heart once more
A setting sun unfurls a vast ball of gauze and
tamps down another sultry night on the unslakable wound
day has bled out of time
Curry burning nicely at your temples you
sink again into the aching dream
Steeply banked the river ditch outside Buhariís kitchen
smells consolingly like an open sewer
Lepers on the bridge for some reason
favor the exact middle and make you step around them
Mutilations at large seem to twitch and
beckon with a sensuous abandon
Body-parts strewn by some explosion that has left you
suddenly deaf, wondering if you really heard it
but strangely animated in this silence
do the same set of strings some deity is pulling
make your gestures grope and fail?

The beggars suspect you are alive, and
there is pity

raining in the eyes
but who is there to see ?

Spellbound in the ink-pooled eyes
must it be you they see, you
sane in a seamless skin
you again
their treasured burden?

[Passage in progress: despair, literal lives]

One prodigal heart to staunch all human pain
In votive anguish guard the flame-sown grain

Agnishvatta prays for thee

Aryan race flat on its face
Calcutta a festering sore on lips of the Ganges
cracked by a hundred smoking ghats
Kali mouth dripping vermilion paste and
daubed with chicken feathers
Sacred sewers of the East

Transcendental Lesson Number One:
Never Too Late To Disintegrate

Now behold ash-caked sanyassins with tigerish grins
hair plastered high with cow-dung
baked by the sun the color
of orange rind
streaked with dried blood
who greet you on the roads leading to Benares
seeming to know what youíre up to
Why does everyone seem to know what youíre up to?

Over the Hoogly Bridge you saw a long procession
Could not imagine life had undone so many
Here you are lost in teeming hordes

another raghead in ten-rupee sandals

Then wander down to the Kalighat
attracted by the sweet opiate of cremation fumes
laced with sandalwood
Pack a lunch of odd colorless grapes and
pita sandwich
slapped with Kashmiri honey
Half-burnt bodies
leave the scent of ghee and
steaming marrow piquant on the air
Takes a good hour or more for the head to burn and
maybe burst
but the relatives are gone by then
so attendants stamp out the blaze
conserving on firewood
Let the dogs come and finish lunch together
Anubis and you in Calcutta days

Death at off-season rates

We all be gone soon

Then North to Patna in a lightning storm
you took a rickshaw to an all-night
tea-stall under an amber awning
blasted to ragged ribbons by the rain
Crowned in a steaming cloud by the door
brims the crescent pan that caught the Milky Ocean
Shiva drank poison that turned his throat to blue
Buffalo milk hot and heavy with half an inch of lapping scum
thick and brown like custard it catches
slightly in the throat and the last gulp
still going down the clay cup you tossed against a wall
shatters with a thunderous sound
the instant a pearl flash shows the slivering rain
devour all the earthen shards at once
before they hit the ground

We all be going soon

So damn them all and damn the blood that sears your veins
and torques with rage the crystal blade
churning a wave of poisoning hurt
straight through the hollow of your heart
Neither cold nor hot the acid light
bores your eyes to jade and melts you
deeper into the pain-fraught haze that stirs a
memory or myth a halting sense you
cannot name
though it contains all mortal names

They are all implicated
All involved in your death, though
you alone
seem suited for it

You alone will mount the pyre

Agnishvatta, sweeten this pain

Now behold a porky pundit in saffron drag
sporting a ratty umbrella
blue-lipped pop-eyed and nobble-kneed
he so nattily displays the transcendental elegance of a turnip
So you stuff a wince and finally ask, "What
is this pain I feel?"
"Pane? But there kennot be having dee pane, Saíab.
Reality iz not reel, no matter what you feel, Saíab.
Iz merely dee Maya of Vishnoo, dee Dreamer who dreams you.
Iz mere illusion, Saíab. There kennot be Ďaving
enny pane in dee eternal dream of Vishnoo.í

You listen, going on nineteen
Dumbfounded with dismay
Mind like an arrow sunk in clay

"Get by on your looks, kid" Vishnu
later quipped

Well, now that you put it that way...

[Passage in progress]

Love: a lotus blooming in the darkest loam of death

If time dies in your heart
Live never to forget just how it did
All your life remember you found on your own
whatís ours alone
All ours

Mind at the end like a dazed bird
leaves your feet free to find their way
through the dusty customs shed and
down the pier where some grinning goon
who looks like a Mexican bandito
will stamp your passport with a triumphal sigh

Acting as usual like he knows all about you
He also is you, so he knows about you

Dirigo, lead on
leading no one

What is here is there, what is not here
is nowhere

[Passage in progress: earthview from M31]

At far periphery of India time
something called pain
seared you alive and
steadied a prodigious fire to simple flame

Your gaze
still holds its vigil for humanity in ruins
where smoke clouds the Anahata
fountain and blade
feel the birth pangs of a language
still too deep for words

Yet did not turn away but plunged
ever more deeply into human fate
your love ensealed the flame-edged anguish
so all that hatred could emerge
becoming blossom and fruit
Where else but in this generosity,
the will to free us all?

And even when your rage shall be released
not the expression of the pain felt
wave upon wave
never finding its center
but your music lent to the foundering lyrics of time
will have left its sweetness in the flame-sown grain

Died to purpose and shame
Died to all identity
All attachment
All names All places

And know itís impossible to be alone
ever again
but for the gaze of all those ink-stained faces

There is no path beyond so hold the gaze
humanity returns
Be flawless
for one moment is usually enough to outlast life
And not abandoned
not defiant against yourself
stay with us a while longer
All that is ours is yours

Live to withold us nothing that we may divine
all that we are
realized in who you are

Who suffered death to play its haunting pauses
in youth surrendered, one vagabond child
lost under ochre skies, abandoned with humanity
like acid in your eyes you braved a cruel new world
where angels sweeten fire in the heart
you, homeless, led us home

And no, will never be another you
who suffered to come back alive
and finding on your own whatís ours,
found what it takes
to withhold
to behold the Unreal
with real eyes

Material by John Lash and Lydia Dzumardjin: Copyright 2002 - 2018 by John L. Lash.