You can’t watch me though, I told her,
then emerged from the room after
five minutes looking triumphant, pocketing
her money immediately.
She didn’t care she lost the bet. She was
proud her son was a prodigy,
and never figured it out herself. That all
I did was peel and re-arrange
stickers on the Rubik’s cube. Who am
I now? Just a couple of decades piled
upon a charlatan. Someone who withdraws
into himself for hours to peel away
anything that can be disguised as language.
Demonetisation or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Leader
The ATM queue outside my house stretches till the border.
You’re a patriot at either end, closer to bullets,
or the machine acknowledging your demons with receipts.
Everyday, you get to deposit 1/2 a nightmare, or a diary page.
The skydiver who drove me to work in his auto put his
herpes into a savings account. He gave up jumping from
planes after he saw the earth as our leader’s face. A kitten
on the umbrella of the lady standing in line before me mews
that I shouldn’t worry. Press the button next to Yes
to print 1001 questions you were always afraid to ask
the pedophile. Or press No, if that’s what your silence meant.
I kick the ATM. A soda tumbles out—let’s drink to the nation!
Ankur’s Coming Out
There wasn’t a proclamation, any act of bravado.
In that uninhibited moment, I simply asked and he didn’t
deny it. We were at another friends’ that night, on
the same mattress, surrounded by Kingfishers and socks;
exhausted by our pretensions at spoken French.
Later, it felt perfectly natural to have him press my neck,
call me baby. It was disappointing to learn he wasn’t
attracted to me. I equated it to not being attractive
to the opposite sex. Months later, I saw him in a cafe,
pansies, and he beckoned us over. My girlfriend
thought it was such a waste, that the hottest guys are often
gay. It felt okay to see her hug him so tight; it’d be okay
even if they had a night to themselves. At another party,
the prettiest girls claimed him, and elsewhere, his desire,
the Parisian baldy, bantered with his dusky seductress.
How now to describe that anguish when my father got off
the train at platforms to refill a water bottle;
because nobody then had yet learnt to sell water.
When everyone started buying it, I was older, unlike the time
my feet didn’t reach the compartment floor. I sat
by the window thinking the whistle will sound any second now,
he’ll never make it, till he’d materialise beside coolies
or a ticket collector and grin at me after
stubbing his cigarette. Now that I travel alone everywhere,
the loss of that uncertainty is just another adult fact.
But I always carry a bottle inside me. I keep
refilling it with memories from taps I often forget to close.
Skull with Phantom Cigarette
after Van Gogh’s “Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette”
The Phantom of Indrajal comics—
a teetotaler who’d never lit a fag, lived
in a skull cave, and was unaware that in his image,
a brand of peppermint cigarettes was once popular
amongst Indian kids, including a boy who’d grow up
to become a renowned oncologist.
This doctor, in his book, observes that his colleagues smoked
while researching the link between cancer and tobacco.
Years later, inside the Van Gogh Museum, that sad irony tugs
at him from a painting. How the Phantom,
—nemesis of pirates, guardian of the deep woods—
was relegated by commerce to a stick of peppermint.
“That’s a fair thought to lie between maids’ legs.” – Hamlet, William Shakespeare
While my parents had an issue with the printout of cunnilingus,
my friends did not. I found it selfish not to share that dot matrix
arousal. So it traveled to Sion, in a double decker bus, amid
a platinum rod and Calculus—this early bonanza of the internet—
and traveled back: wrinkled, torn where it counted the most.
The next time I opened my bag, it was gone. Replaced
by embarrassment, from their unanimous verdict on Japanese
porn. An enquiry into the soul, for what curiosity downloads.
Arjun Rajendran is a poet. His first book of poems is Snake Wine and his second, The Cosmonaut in Hergé’s Rocket, has just been published by Poetrywala.
“Demonetisation or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Leader” was first published on AntiSerious.
“Refilling” orginally appeared in The Sunflower Collective.