Nedra Rodriguez to Carolyn

Greetings to Carolyn from the planet Nedra,

I'd say star, but I wouldn't want folk to asume I think the solar system revolves around me ( by the way I have this theory...)

Anyway, I've been thinking it would be interesting getting to know you as you and I once agreed, without using Peter as translator. This is not to say that my wanting to relate to you has nothing to do with him. Peter did - as Peter does - advertise you quite a bit, and I was intrigued. I am not by nature one who trusts the instincts of others, un/fortunately, which meant I wasn't intrigued enough. I have however, been reading chunks of your diary and that propels me along this uncomfortable path. I was told it would be the most effective way of getting to know you, and that made sense to me - I think it is the best way in which you could be advertised ( if the same term is elastic enough ). The most effective and immediate way to know me is through my work, so I'm inviting you to take a look at it if you're interested and then perhaps we could attempt some direct exchange of ideas.

As far as your diary is concerned, I have found it both intense and challenging, and would like to enter into discussion with you on at least some of the issues you raise. Please let me know if this is something you would be interested in, though I don't think I need warn you that I am neither disciplined nor conventionally trained.

I waver between the starchy formal and the startlingly informal, so...

Basic summary:

I'D LIKE TO GET TO KNOW YOU A LITTLE

Nedra


UNRAVELLED

The foot of the tower was acrawl with police, reporters, people miscellaneous. No two faces in the crowd were alike, but they all held the same immobile expression as they stared upward at the concrete spurt now brocaded with girders. Their mouths hung open in cretinous wonder, eyes transfixed as if on a monstrance . Then, a hush descended on them.

The Oriental rug that was the genuine showpiece of the living room lay spread out before her feet , a land just waiting to be discovered. It was a deep emerald green, that caught the gaze and held it. It was the kind of green that would be hypnotic if encountered in the eyes of a human being. Rita's eyes were a similar shade of green - close but not quite. When Rita's eyes first beheld the rug, they opened wider in astonishment, and then veiled themselves as though against a cunning adversary. She had discovered its secret. The rug had woven into it a chaotic design of clinging ivy around its border. The main body was diamond -checkered with rings at every intersection, and in the centre of the rug was an orb of unfolding ivy. It had been woven for Rita's mother by a friend of the family - an old Turkish gentleman who worked as a diplomat and wove rugs in a workshop behind his house, in his spare time. " This," he said brimming over with showmanship as he unrolled it "is a magic carpet. Full of secrets from the mysterious East."

Rita, who was young and not an avid reader, did not know what the `mysterious east' was, but she did know the rug or carpet was full of secrets. She didn't need some weird looking old guy to tell her that much. She knew because the first night it spent at her house, she lay beside it, staring at it, trying to imprint its convoluted designs on her brain. Gradually, she began to dread the thing. The twists and turns of the ivy became more and more menacing and the checks resembled nothing so much as a cage. She wondered if there were creatures trapped in the greenness that screamed silently for release. Perhaps they could only be heard at night. Perhaps if she put her ear close to the rug she would hear their piteous moans of ever - wakefulness. She wondered if she dared..... No...no, she didn't dare! They might reach out through the cage and snatch off her ears!

The next day she stayed out of the living room, and planned to continue the boycott indefinitely. If she didn't have parents, or if she'd had the sort of parents one could walk up to and say: " Mommy, Daddy, do be a pair of dears and get rid of that awful rug won't you? I'm afraid the thing gives me the most horrible nightmares, it'll have to go darlings," then she might have managed to carry out her plan one way or the other. As things were, she was fine until they had visitors. Then she was forced to sit in the living room, where her eyes were invariably drawn to the monstrosity that both hypnotized and beckoned. What was worse, in between : ". . . of course if she had taken my advice she might have even made some money off the damned thing, but you know Viv .." she heard: "Rita dear, could you pass your aunt some of those biscuits?" This, of course, meant that she had to get up and walk across the rug to where her aunt, or whomever the visitor du jour happened to be, was seated. She'd stand up, plate in hand and try to cross the treacherous land.

- Okay Rita, there's a good girl, don't look down and you'll be fine.
- what am i thinking ? If i don't look down i'll fall through the grill or i'll slip on the vines and i'll fall and fall forever, but not forever,, because whatever is trapped in the cage will get me the green and slimy things
- you don't see them
- they're there
- you don't hear them
- they're there i tell you
- you'll be fine
- i'll fall
- just don't
- fall
- look down
- fall, fall, fall....

`I could fall right through,' Rita thought to herself as she looked down at the space between the subway car and the platform. She waited for the train to leave - she was going back home after a long day's work, she could afford to miss this one. On the platform she felt as though she were stranded on an overpopulated islet, the subway tracks twin seas on either side. The northbound and the southbound trains left at the same time, creating a whoosh of air-currents that nearly knocked her over. The air that rushed along with the train, pushed on entering the tunnel and pulled when leaving it. Both movements seemed to Rita to be designed to drag her into the cavity where the dreaded third rail slept. ` Which one is the third rail, anyway?' she wondered. `If I did fall in, which one would I have to avoid?' As things were, the swirl of air-currents created by the trains departing simultaneously in opposite directions made her head spin so much she doubted she could tell left from right. What was worse, she sometimes saw little creatures scurrying about in the crevices. The light that made its way onto the tracks, as the train departed, illuminated little rats; but she was certain that the creatures she saw were not rats. They - the creatures, she believed - hid themselves when the train began to evacuate the surface of what seemed like an abyss, sealing off the entrance, until the next train arrived and some unsuspecting passenger happened to slip. Rita wondered what would happen if one of the trains left a little too soon, if she could stand to be proven right . Six minutes and thirty seconds later, the next train arrived. This time, she was so close to the door that she was shoved in by a mass of jostling people, and their individual unpleasant smells. Her feet moved almost without command from her mind, and she shivered.

- Rita, honey don't look down and you'll get over it
- yeah, right!
- there isn't much of a drop anyhow
- if the drop don't kill you the landing will
- besides the space is so small you couldn't possibly fall through
- great, i'll get my foot stuck in it and let the train drag me along to the next stop
- you'll be fine
- i'll be dead by the time they disentangle me
- just take
- i'll fall
- one step
- those things will get me
- at
- so scared
- a
- fall
- time
- fall.....

`There's no reason I should fall,' Rita said to herself as she surveyed the new office rug. "Summer-sky blue and gun-metal gray, " they had said, and so it was. The design on it was a rather unusual type of checks varying in shape and size. Looking down at it, she had first believed that the inside of the checks seemed to stretch out to infinity. Remembering the advice of her therapist, she decided she would begin facing her fears the minute they surfaced. Being afraid of heights was more of a disadvantage than she had ever realized. First, there had been that rug in her parent's home, then it had been the subway. Instead of attempting to conquer her irrationality by sending her to a child psychiatrist, Rita's parents had simply put her fainting spells down to her high-strung nature. `This was very insensitive of them, and it's not my fault,' she chanted to herself. When she moved out, she made sure that her apartment had monochromatic wall to wall carpeting. She chose `whisper of coral' - pink to a complete philistine. As for the subway problem, that had solved itself when she got her promotion and could afford the Mazda Miata she'd always wanted. "Don't you realize Ms. Purcell, you've evaded the issue one way or the other? In order to be rid of your fear, you must deal with it at it's root, and do this permanently. Of course there's no rush that you have to accomplish everything at once, neither is there the assurance that you will do this permanently, but a little patience, self-acceptance.."

A little patience, a little `getting in touch with the inner child,' and quite a few `one step at a time' programs later, here she was. The office was being renovated and she was tormenting herself over somebody's taste in carpeting. Every day at the office was a chore, avoiding the cracks in the linoleum and the empty spaces in the rugs. Her co-workers thought she was odd, she saw the way they looked at her when she panicked over a new workspace. "No more of that!" she said to herself. " No more fear of falling, no more fainting, no more running away. I'm going to do this a step at a time, and dammit, I'm going to do this now!" At first she played it safe. She only stepped on the gray part, which felt hard and almost metallic under her feet. The blue was the problem, stretching out as it did forever. "That's just my imagination, I'm making this up because I'm afraid to look down. Now, I'm going to stay on the gray part and look down slowly."

This she did, feeling the soles of her feet tingle in anticipation of freefall. She looked down and saw the blue swim before her eyes and become replaced by a confusion of other colours. "This really is my imagination," she told herself. "No-one would make such an ugly carpet, leave alone decorate an office with it." As the colours settled into some semblance of stasis, she looked down, and recognized the creatures that had lurked in her parents' rug. "You don't exist!" she screamed at them, and saw them gesture threateningly at her. "You're a figment of my imagination, and an ugly figment too, and I'm going to step on you." At this, they seemed genuinely alarmed, and waved at her, almost pleading with her not to. This she took as a good sign. "Wonderful role reversal," she said to herself. "The monsters of my childhood are afraid of me, because I can now destroy them!"

- one little step at a time
- i'm not so sure..
- yes you are!
- what if i really do
- you won't fall
- those things down there
- they don't exist
- i'm afraid
- one little step
- if the fall
- at
- doesn't kill you
- a
- the landing will
She stepped into the square that had once been blue.
- I'm going to fall
- no you're not
- i'm falling
- no
- falling
- no
- fall...
- yes
-..ing
She felt rug turn to air turn to rug beneath her, and one of the hideous things reached out and touched her arm. What might have been a scream, made its way out of her throat a death rattle.

The firemen managed to cordon off the crowd to let the doctor through. The doctor examined her carefully, and gave the expected verdict. The firemen had managed to catch her. The crowd - eager for sordid tales about a young woman's possible motives for suicide - hung around, hoping she would recover. When the doctor pronounced her dead, someone in the now dispersing crowd muttered sardonically: " Well, if the fall don't kill you, the landing sure will." He was immediately admonished for his lack of sensitivity. He shrugged it off. What was it to him if some chick decided to kill herself? He didn't know her.

- this is what it feels like
- huh ?
- to have the rug
- rug
- pulled
- ?
- from under your feet


Icarus

Up there,
the wind caressed his face
differently somehow
Fingertips transformed to wing,

eyes dazzled, blinded by the sun - as
the heavens tugged at
tender, youthful flesh

They say he plunged to his death
of course -
but first he soared


The Quintessential Poet

His life condensed into six lines - short
and in small print in the table of
Contents
the poet plays hide-and-seek-me-in-my-work

{ six lines don't tell me if
you're black or white
what motivates inspires you
what keeps you awake at night.
If you dream - what you dream of
if you're `straight' or `gay'
if the ghosts in your poetry
haunt you in the light of day }

I have sought him
the quintessential poet - in biographies,
in jaundiced critiques
in vellum teeming with consumption; and
it occurs to me that
a true chameleon could stay camouflaged
by redundant phrases
indefinitely.

( doomed to anti-climax)
I find him at last
diminished - by a caesura
his humanity eclipsed by his
Creation.

For Byron, whom I was in love with for five years before discovering he'd been dead for a while


Exhale

He walks through the drizzle

Unaware of me,
I stand here sheltered
Aware of nothing but he
I have lost all will,
All desire to do ought, but -
Stand breathlessly still
Enamoured of this passing form
Words have lost meaning
Speech cannot exist,
Breath serves no purpose
Must life insist?
Still, silent I stand
'Til the moment - and he - has passed
Beauty now vanished
Breath returns at last


Scarecrows: a man reaps what he sows

Surveying the desolation of a once-fruitful field
Huddling together in unashamed humanity,
Fearing the contagion of subjective mortality,
Now devoid of arms, devoid of shield,
The scarecrows linger.

Their empty eyes say the harvest is done,
Their frail bodies a mass of tattered rags,
Flapping shreds of canvas and battered flags
They turn hollow faces to the setting sun
Incapable of expression.

In a monotonous dread eternally caught,

A life of self-terror well near over,
- For where crows dare not swoop
Human vultures hover -
Their scarecrow-minds uplifted by the thought
Of an end to end all ends.

This is why the world ends
not with a bang, but a whimper.


River

Coconut trees fringe the riverbank
their leaves swaying in resplendent imitation
of the crows flying overhead
there is a kingfisher perched on a mango tree
further back, singing and chattering to
a woodpecker who ignoring him
continues to pound his beak on a tree-trunk
in senseless monotony.
Here on the riverbank
the sand graduates from muddy
streaked with thorium deposits
to a dry silvery fineness.
The slightly muddy area is dotted
here and there with miniature
burrows: the river-crabs swamped
by sand and water sometimes make
burrows for safety, sharing space with
an earthworm or two.

There is a girl on the bank in a
printed cotton frock, and she
crouches to look closely at the holes -
an exiting crab stares back at her
evaluating her potential as an enemy,
and simultaneously dancing with
frenetic indecisiveness.
Finally, with an expression as close
to contempt as a crab can muster,
it turns its back on her
returning to its home.
At first the girl in the cotton dress
stares after her friend
then she sits on the sand and then
with the movements of one waking
from a deep sleep to enter into
a deeper one, she lies on her side
on the sand, her ear pressed to the ground.
She listens to wisdom manifest in the voice
of the river as it whispers of
peace in sorrow, harmony in joy and perpetual motion.
Breathing in contentment she murmurs:
this earth belongs to me, to my experience.
The rushing of the river reminds her that she can
claim only as far as she is claimed -
You too are mine, it gently seems to say
you are only one expression of I
and in physical essence, in spirit and
in heritage we are irrevocably bound.
Breathing quietly, she scoops up handfuls
of mud and smears it on her face,
forehead, nose, cheeks then neck, breast and arms,
her shoulders and belly
legs too, blackened with mud.
Behind, there are trees, coconut and mango
an army of crows turn and soar in midair.
Here is the sand brown, black and silver
here is the girl in a muddy, printed cotton frock
and here is the river that murmurs and rushes
flowing with tales to a distant sea -
the monsoon has come and gone.


?

bomb explodes
somewhere in the distance
like a single cannon fired
and a hundred people cease to exist
no more for them the laughing-talking-
eating-belching-farting-fornicating
vulgar bliss that is life
only sleep
In her room a girl
wonders
if - there is a moment of epiphany
     between the boom! body hurtling
     and the shock ( oh dear god ! ) falling
if - the mind can tear itself away from
    searing flesh and regret to
    suddenly grasp at harmony
if - it is a sin to be glad ( so sweetly glad )
     that the bomb sounds so far away
    and sanctuary can be sought 
    in
    a 

   pillow

Word Salad

A B
celery blue-cheese dressing
carrots bugs bunny
lettuce church
church you know, let us pray...
cabbage garbage
parsley chopped up, man
beet blood
onions tears
shrimp I'm tall enough!
chicken look, I ain't afraid of nothing!
cucumber I know what you're trying to do
I'm not gay, alright?

tomatoes bullet holes
potatoes eyes, eyes everywhere!

I wan't to buy some veggies, but
I'm afraid my grocer
Is an enemy spy.


My Father's House

The earth is fertile,
The grass grow green - in
My father's house so damp, so still.
Nourished by his body,
Watered by my tears,
Now they bend and sway to every breeze's will.

Frenetic in life,

Restless in memory,
My father haunts my life-acts and dreams.
In the quiet darkness
Of my father's house
His body bleeds life in supple green streams


St. Anne's Fair, Wattala, Shri Lanka

The fair belongs to a world
of wondrous enchantment
and magic carpets
Tents made of canvas
tarpaulin and `gunny bags'
are lit by kerosene lamps and sometimes candles
Vendors set up tables
on which hand-made miracles
blink and gleam in the dim light
Bracelets of many hues
arrayed in a myriad of subdued rainbows
flecked here and there with gold
Roll upon roll of cloth
in bohemian dissaray - so that
only the discerning eye of
a husband -
could pick out a pretty sari
for his wife
a mother -
might spy some durable cloth
for her child's playclothes

Next door, the earthenware pots
smell of paddy-fields and riverbanks
there are miniature pots for children
culinary expertise ready-made and bestowed
The sweet vendors' boxes brim with
`kaluthothol', `thalaguli', `pinaattu', cashews
and pumpkin preserves coated with sugar
the appetite craves and is cloyed
in dizzying simultaneity
Outside, sugarcanes lean against the fences
like so many arms snatching at stars
Children run through the fair grounds
greedy to drink it all in
and return to begin again,
as parents and vendors smile tolerantly
People bargain and quarrel here,
lovers meet secretly and laugh at their troubles here
To remember all these, is to
remember the perfection of childhood
to reinvent for a folded moment
the smell of earth, grass and people.
It was the smell of our lives and our deeds -
our makings and our sharings
so that years after, though the
memory of those faces is vague
and those names long, long forgotten
we remember ourselves as a people
earthy, dissolute, industrious
with our nobilities and our frailties
granted simple immortality


?

" These damned Ceylonese, a few fruit trees in their gardens and they wouldn't bother earning a living, the lazy bastards." So the Englishman said as he sipped blood-stained tea from a clean white porcelain teacup

?

Awakening from a dream where melancholy
transmutes to indifference
where the passions of waking hours dull
themselves to whispered reminder
Midnight dangles from the single vibrant
yearning note of an oboe
and primitive drums turn to thudding
leaden heart
Awakening to a night of such perfect silence
that dread sprouts vines to choke a
struggling heart and still the
voice that would otherwise slash blades
through the night in fear
that emptiness is all there is
in this place of
awakenings



Waterfall

Rivulets of water are irresistibly drawn
to explode in cascading white froth
at a distance
impossibly fragile - an illusion belied
by monotonous, rhythmic pounding
water on stone
continuous drumming that forms a
wall of deafening sound

Behind the curtain of water
is a cavern
the earth here rich and damp
the rocks covered with moss
that smooth away sharp corners
into cool loving hands
cool and damp
even the air - so damp
you could put your tongue out and taste it
smell the wetness of soil and
the sour pungency of growing, decaying herbs

Into the water,
shocked at first
by the cold
the violent drumming
an initial stinging of skin
replaced by the thrill of
rushing blood
resounding the waterfall

The senses
scream
in
silence


Interrogation

Rope burned wrists and
cigarette-burned thighs
He would answer questions
if he could only remember
if his senses would function
more than
one
at a time

Cicadas sing in the trees
I hate

that rap on the windows
you

- like the STF at midnight -
I hate

whenever the wind blows
me

Cigarette smoke emanates from
the burns

the silhouette - it chainsmokes
appear

555's and puts out the butts
first

on his legs and chest and
as welts

the smoke emerges sometimes as rings
then as

and sometimes as slow-curling
bubbles

wisps that create a haze that
black-edged

dims the lightbulb that is
his body

too bright and makes him
a

sweat so much he tastes the
self-consuming

salt of it mixed with blood - but
torch

blood tastes metallic, the haem in
haemoglobin like his biology
teacher used to say but they don't
want to know about Mrs. Sathasivam
they want to know about Prof. Mariadasan
the Thamul lit. teacher at the university


What else?
He

Who?
can't

What?
remember

When?
it's really

Where?
no

How many?
use

How much?
asking

Why
cigarette

am I an unwilling
burn

hero? my flesh is weak
x+1

He would if he could hate
If I had the strength

the silhouettes, the anonymous
I

men in fatigues who despise him
would hate

as much as he despises himself
If I could


                          remember


                          I would


                          tell 


?

The child who is not mine
was born... well what does it
matter when? she was born
in the same hospital I was born in
delivered by the same gynaecologist
choked, gasped, gurgled, spat and screamed
in the same operating theatre

She was born in the afternoon
while I was away at school
and when I saw her I wept:

I was no longer an only daughter
she was so small and pink and wrinkled
she needed me - human spool
( If I touched her I could feel the warmth
of the chrysalis from which I'd crawled out once )
mostly because she had claimed me
and I would be hers and not she mine

When I held out my hands
the women in crisp-starched white
shook their heads

I wonder if they were afraid she might taste
the tears that dropped on her face
and screaming crawl back to
that safe warm place where
life does not taste salt-bitter-sweet


Inbuilt mechanism

The forget-me-not native to Shri Lanka
is a plant with pink flowers like
pom-poms and even-pinnate leaves that
seem to shrivel and fade when touched.

Standing at a bus-stop
in my favourite dress
- navy blue with minute white
dots like a constellation of stars -
and my first dress shoes
standing tall every inch of thirteen
and chattering with my friend
when someone grabbed my ass

Is there a delicate way of putting it?

A groping hand cupped my buttock and squeezed
fingers coming dangerously close to an organ
whose sole purpose I believed at the time,
was urination

My body - unused to such familiarity - froze

When I turned I saw three boys
in white school uniforms
- they must have been 16 or 17 -
none of them looked back, acknowledged the act

My friend saw nothing, or if she did
said nothing

I went home and scrubbed myself clean
'til I raised welts on my flesh
I put away the dress - come to think of it
I never wore it again

I changed my style in clothes
jeans and big shirts, very big
to hide the shameful body
and then, well, I got fat.

I-have-not-forgot


Purukshottama

You ask me about your father,
and what can I say to you?
Ours was an arranged marriage
I knew nothing of men 'til I knew him
And having known him wished to know no other
He would bring me strands of jasmine
Four feet long and place them in my hair
Place the pottu on my forehead
And kiss my closed eyes
Some quiet evenings,
When the grasshopper and cicada
Sang in unison,

He would talk to me of his dreams
I would sit at his feet
An enraptured student
Feeding greedily
On every precious word
Equally precious were the words
He would whisper to me
When the heady fragrance of jasmine and araliya
Heightened the pleasure of our union
Afterward he would lay his head on my breast
As I told him my stories and dreams
And he would call me " little heart" his goddess,
Mother, sister, daughter, wife - all things
A woman could be to a man,
And I would weep for joy in his love.

But, I wasn't enough,
When the soldiers stormed our village
My arms offered no consolation
When our women were raped,
My voice could not drown out
The distant guns as our men were
Shot as suspected terrorists
My stories could not help him sleep
When the pounding of blood deafened his ears
When the thundering cries against injustice
Tore at his soul
How could I hold him back?
He prayed for peace and fought for his mother
Now he is returned to his mother's womb
Then they have the audacity
To pay me compensation
As though this house
And these paltry rupees
Could compensate
For the days I spend talking to myself,
And the nights I spend in frustrated longing.

Now you, my son, say you must take
Your father's place in battle,
Though you hardly knew him
You say I am not patriotic,
That I have no pride in my husband's name
My husband was more than a name to me
He was god, father, brother, husband and son
And I loved him,
And I lost him
And I remember him
When I hear the cicadas, and not his voice,
When I smell jasmines and not the fragrance of his body
I am selfish yes! and weak - unlike him
For he had a great heart
He could love all mankind
I have only a " little heart"
I could only love one man.


?

He attempts to grasp
my mind in virtually real hands
and with the precision
of a mathematician
jumble it into
a configuration
that would please him

                          - as though my mind were a rubik cube 
                                 of limited possibilities -

evading him I unravel
and ravel my mind
like a spool of ribbon
spreading out a wealth of
information
and quickly retrieving
when I realise
he is blind


Fairytale Ending

" Love is all that matters," he said and I
disbelieved my own eyes
as he opened out his hand
to show me

my childhood
- a strangled bird