Shelves

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I was in my native Sri Lanka a few weeks ago. Across a stretch of humid, languid days at my mother's house in Colombo, I turned my attention to these bookshelves. Much of it well preserved but in disarray since my father's passing over ten years ago.  Now poignantly reflective of the chaos of the time. In one sense, it is a shadow of a much larger library. An entire room that inspired awe across my childhood but splintered upon my grandfather's passing and the subsequent (stereotypical) drama of selling his house. The proverbial and literal dust having settled, these are storied reminders of him and his love of books. 

In another sense, it is a tapestry that is home to three generations. As I took care to empty the shelves and dust each book, I was often arrested by the unexpected treasures they'd yield . Many of the books across these shelves are far older than I am, some close upon a century. Old stamps, penned observations and (now iconic) newspaper cuttings among the unexpected treasures between their pages. Some penned by my grandfather in high school. Upon the shelves are the works of Aristotle, Chaucer, Milton, Shakespeare, Pope, Hemingway, numerous biographies, decades of National Geographics and books on Buddhism, to name but a few.
I spent hours cleaning and of course, pouring through their contents before I organised them back on to the shelves. Yet beyond the breadth and age of these books, what struck me was that the library has, by virtue of circumstance, expanded to house the books of three men that barely spoke to each other. My father had a poor relationship with my grandfather (his father-in-law), never feeling approved of, their few interactions were frigid and painful to bear witness to. This was punctuated by physical distance given that he worked overseas. Fortress-like with his emotions, my father and I had a largely transactional relationship, centered on functional pragmatism. My sister would likely attest to this as well. As for me and my grandfather, most of our time together was after my grandmother's passing. Undiagnosed, his ensuring struggle with depression was a gulf beyond my abilities as a young teenager. I was wrapped in my own angst.

Pouring through these books, I was as struck by how much these books revealed about us as it did the conversations we ought to have but never had. My father's cryptic notes on Krishnamurti's philosophical views or outlining the  spectre of neoliberalism with my grandfather (formerly an IMF economist) being but a few of the charged conversations I'd have liked to have had. More importantly, there was so much of our emotional landscapes that romaed across these pages but remained private isles, beyond the realm of cartography. 

Yet somehow, like cool embers after a raging fire, we find a certain peace across these shelves. Even if only through the opaque lens of the living, our interests, our conflicts, our wanderings, and our yearnings settle into comfortable grooves. All preserved by the woman who binds us together, my mother, who loved us all, even when we could afford little of it to ourselves. Here in this house, she wages daily battles against tropical humidity, ravenous insects and the encroaching dust to save these books and an array of paintings, trinkets and furniture. Not out of greed or reluctant obligation, but as part of  fulfilling her part in an elaborate  web of meaning.

Forget

Late night collisions with apparitions,

like fevered winters precipitate,

the sweat and the heartache,

Everything I've wanted to forget.

My father's struggle in dreams I render,

A faceless man broken asunder,

in the depths of his bleak ocean,

Our arms stretched at the periphery,

devotion unheard our eyes dimmed.

The bonds we form seem destined to

bring us hope then tear it down,

For I let them in and let them win

those weary games we played,

Everyone I've wanted to forget.

First love a twin shadow silhouette,

A moon blessed escape from solitude,

After daybreak reveals the precipice,

I don't want to believe or be in love.

After yearsI've come to see,

My timid surrender to memory,

Painting with that palette so bleak,

a vision of life so full of strife.

For to forget,

is to feign indifference

to the lessons of experience,

To submit oblivious of irony,

to a life of mere remembrance.

To let go

is to see what was

as the whispering winds that

brought me to this shore.

 

The Road

As we drove through that ochre dust
Reverberations of an old life
Howled through the marrow
of my bones.


Those bare footed escapades
through the unforgiving savannah,
Tethered only to a yearning
to follow each honest impulse,
From heart to limb.


We lost no sleep
to the howls of beasts,
We were the eyes of the night
and knew that the roads were
trails of where we'd been,
Not paths for where we'd go.

Halcyon

An ancient drum beat heart,tuned to mother's rhythm, Our sound travels through this sea's caress in waves, Soft against new skin.

Ripples of wonder in dark sanctuary, Of my lot in the world outside, Between love and indifference, till flesh and time collide.

A return to forgetfulness, a new seed of the universe, Yearning to be expressed, felt, heard and caressed.

Mother... Father.... Oh the dreams I've searched for your hands.

Through the Lighthouse

Like the songs of shells in the ocean, The past feels like an inconceivable dream, Breathing beneath this lighthouse as its eyes permeate the night.
Lost in the shadow of a family tree, I was but a struggling amnesiac. Till I felt the weight of my bones and learnt the art of breathing, through the length of arid days. Till I learnt to be of service and soothe the pain of vanity.
Now through these stone walls and this sword of light, Free of the borders of skin, A stranger no more, I am found upon those waves... that carry the lost home.

Brothers

Brother...My eyes swim in a retreating light, between the shadows of our twin plight. Our hearts gripped by winter's collar, Furious and blind, bleeding summer.

I ache for a return to those times, When as brothers we'd trace those hills and rooftops, unknowing of this end.

For were our lives not writ with the ignorant ink of men? Wrapped in traps of intellect, Wearing muted masks to cast illusions of strength that fool none.

Hostage to our tragedies, Only to find fleeting solace, at the bottom of a bottle, estranged from feeling.

Yet even as we raised our walls and our voices, We were loved... By the casualties of our silence, Beyond our deepest afflictions.

May we be candles to our children...