Indian-born Usha Kishore is a British poet and translator, resident on the Isle of Man. She is internationally published and has been anthologised by Macmillan, Hodder Wayland, Oxford University Press and Harper Collins India. Usha’s poetry is featured in both British school and Indian undergraduate syllabi. Her third and latest poetry collection, Immigrant, was published in 2018. Usha is currently undertaking a PhD in Postcolonial Poetry with Edinburgh Napier University.
You are the enterprising seafarer,
in search of adventure.
I am the wild orient, waiting
to be discovered.
You cast your imperial net.
I welcome you like a God.
You trade. You invade.
You conquer. You divide.
I bleed in saffron and green. I sing
patriotic songs in mumbo-jumbo.
You exorcise my pagan spirit
with cross and book.
You teach me your language.
I curse in your language.
I unite. I shout slogans.
I subvert. I burn you down.
Your guns thunder down.
I die. But I rise again.
You imprison me. You call me
traitor, in the name of the Crown.
I engage in non-violence. I desire truth.
I non-co-operate. I fast unto death.
My swelling masses flood you out.
Your sun is set. You saw me in two.
Yet, I rise again. I build nations.
You seek new horizons.
We pretend to ignore each other.
But we need each other.
I dream of the western skies.
You dream of a new empire.
I come. I see. I conquer.
I teach you your language.
Together, we journey through Prospero-land.
My pagan spirit resurrects in mumbo-jumbo.
I people your island with little Calibans.
You hurl abuse. You discriminate.
I resist. You make new laws.
I teach you my language.
You mumble my name
in your colonial tongue.
The red of the morning contouring itself
on the black of the night, a chiaroscuro dawn,
baring her vermillion bosom to the rising sun.
A night flight between two continents, turning
into light somewhere over brooding desert skies,
where the drifting mind soars on falcon wings.
You have dreamt between distracted archipelagos,
floundering coral reefs and lost peninsulas, hitching
dragon rides in a world of camels and elephants.
You have mapped cultural spaces with crepuscular icons
of demons and demiurges churning immortal serpents
in the misty oceans of the milky way. You have lived
in fear of Jupiter’s thunderbolt and Indra’s vajra, gathering
gemstone legends from the lands you traversed in search
of a dark eternity. You have inherited the scent of jasmine
flowers, the loss of womanhood hanging on pomegranate
trees and the fate of the ever-wandering khanabadosh.
Lounging on the peacock throne of in-between space,
you sip cloudy twilight from a tall glass and fathom
the sensuous curve of the sky as it meets the sea.
Blinded by the light of the rising sun, you lose time
in a kaleidoscope of bewildered geographies, each
glass bead, flowering as second, minute and hour.
Now, it is landing time – you stretch, fold away
the blanket of sleep, apply your kajal and lip gloss
and tune into the dulcet tones of a language that melts
into turquoise sea and emerald palm fronds.
Indra: Indian equivalent to Jupiter
Vajra: Sanskrit for 'thunderbolt'
Khanabadosh: Urdu for 'gypsy'
Snow dyes the mind, freezing the myth
of time. Passing clouds wax astral batiks
into the fabric of still air, mandalas
and yantras for wandering souls.
Thought translates into blue eternity,
veiling the kneeling earth in immortal hue.
In the paling distance, on a mist-clad
rock dome, jewelled in glacial ice,
a celestial being, wearing the crescent moon
on his forehead, contemplates the world.
Day and night merge into cosmic dreams
as winds gasp between sound and silence.
Rainbow flags flutter in tranquil prayer
and a twilight mantra rises on wings of fire,
as the mind lake meditates on an absent sky.
Manasarovar: translated from Sanskrit as Mind Lake,
is a freshwater lake on the Trans-Himalayan Tibetan plateau.
Resting on the foot of Mount Kailas (Gang Rinpoche), the lake
is associated with Indo-Tibetan myths and religious beliefs.
Yantras/mandalas: symbols/diagrams used in Hindu
and Buddhist religious art.
All poems: Immigrant (Eyewear Publishing)