Monday, May 27, 2013

The Mother Tongue

The Mother Tongue

How strong that love that dwells within our hearts
And may be hidden long and then revealed,
The love we have for tongue of infancy,
In which we heard our mother's lullabies.

However much we may have practice in
A language learned when early childhood passed,
No other speech is understood as deep
And clear as that, in which we learned to speak.

We may not have the words that learning lends,
The words of books or those of speech urbane,
Or phrases that are fit for specialties,
But all that's human's served by mother's speech.

The mother may be she, who gave us birth,
Or he or she who tended us at first,
The one to whom we bonded, as a child,
The one who tried to slake our primal thirst.

And there are words forgotten, rhythms deep,
That surface unexpectedly in speech.
The tongues we speak are subtle, rich like wine.
The primal one remains our gift divine.

It may be language written, glorified,
Or tongue without a script – or dialect.
It gives us comfort when we hear or speak –
And is the hardest one, in which to lie.

2013 May 26th, Sun.



I dreamed that I had woken and the wars had finally ended.
I dreamed that people reasoned and they knew they did not know.
I dreamed that that those who're humble had a voice that could be heard.
I dreamed that myths were seen as myths and facts were verified.

And in my dream, I went to sleep the sleep of peace, content,
For little did I know that I, to my own self, had lied.

I woke and saw that people, though they seemed to be awake,
Had put to sleep their conscience and, while praising liberty,
Did everything they could to please and strengthen hierarchy.
And so were soldiers sent to war and others to the schools.

And so it was, that though awake, I wished that I could sleep,
For cleverness was ruling and had rendered us as fools.

2013 May 26th, Sun.


Sunday, May 26, 2013

Trees–Part II–Remembering

Trees – Part II

And those who've lived, like I, who write this verse,
In climes where palm-trees sway and thrash in storms,
Remember, dimly, as the years take tolls,
The varied forms of trees in tropic lands.

Some leaves would brown and fall in seasons dry.
Then rains would come and paint in lushest greens.
Year 'round, the tal and coconut would soar.
And in cyclones, they'd bend and brush the roofs.

And in the fields, where peasants toiled in sun,
The millet, rice and maize would take their turns.
And yellow blooms of mustard, in that sun,
Amidst the greens, would burn like fairy-flames...


I still can see, with remnant inner eye:
The harvest golds that stretched to meet the sky;
Banana trees, whose leaves we ate upon;
And fragrant flesh, exposed, of seeds of palm.

I climb again upon the mango tree,
And scale the guava, in search of fruit,
But am entranced by scents of leaves that still
Appear to linger, after all these years...

How succulent, the jack-fruit, yet how hard
It was to hack, while balanced on its tree.
The heavy, prickly fruit would fall, at last,
To crash upon the mossy ground below.


The custard-apple and the tamarind
I still can taste – and others fading slow –
The berries crunchy, sour and sweet, the sap
Of canes whose fibers tested children's teeth...

How varied are the greens of tropic lands,
How many things we ate that came from plants,
How many spices, with their wondrous scents,
In curries and in moles of the world...

How far I am from what I left behind,
And yet these traces still remain in mind.
And here, I see these living trees and know
That life is one – so distance is no more.

2013 May 18th Sat. & 19th Sun.


In Brooklyn, it is afternoon. The rain,
In showers light, is darkening the ground.
The skies above are layered, gray on gray,
With streamers drifting down from darkest clouds.

The sun's position can be guessed at times,
As lighter shades appear, for just a while,
And then are hidden, as the strata slide.
There's wind on high – and spawn on city streets.

And in this twilight, in the midst of day,
The rippled green is glowing, as at dusk.
The leafy heads are tousled, branches sway.
If trees were horses, they would run away.

The street lights, hanging skewed above the streets,
Turn yellow, red – and then are green again,
As they are rocked, like babies cradled high,
By titans' breath, as lords of air collide.

For Brooklyn now is witnessing the end
Of battles that had leveled town of  Moore, \1
When a whirling jinn descended on that town, \2
As one had done, a dozen years before. \3

And who unleashed these demons of the skies?
The primal one in us has answer swift –
It was the goddess of the Earth and sky.
What need is there for more of how and why?

How many aspects does the goddess have?
The arm that wields the ax can rock the child.
Behold her in her wrath, with burning eyes –
And hear her breathing now, in Brooklyn's skies.

And yet, the other voices in our mind
Remind us there is cause and there's effect.
And though effect, in turn, engenders cause,
They need no gods or goddesses on high.

2013 May 25th, Sat.
Brooklyn, New York

1. the tornado in Moore, Oklahoma, 2013 May
2. image of the 2013 tornado
3. Wikipedia article on the Bridge Creek - Moore tornado of 1999

The Leaf

The Leaf

There are some things we do that we regret –
And sadly lack the power to reverse.
But then, perhaps, we learn a lesson and
May even scribe, in penitence, a verse...

While walking underneath a spreading tree,
I paused to reach and pluck a nubile leaf,
So I could hold it close, to better see,
With 'glasses off to aid my aging eyes.

How delicate the veins within that leaf,
How freely flowing, yet how orderly...
How waxed and green, the side that faced the sun,
How diffident and pale, the side beneath...

A “heart-shaped” leaf this was, with mid-rib strong –
And veins like branches angling left and right.
A pointed tip and scalloped edge it had,
This little leaf that was my universe...

If I had crushed that leaf, I would have known
The scent released as life departed it,
With all the wonders of its chemistry
Reduced to that, which simian nostrils sensed.

But I desisted, having just before
Committed torture on a feathered sprig
Of evergreen that I had plucked and crushed,
Inhaling odors redolent of pines.

How far advanced from us, in many ways,
Are plants – along the roads we did not take...
We've more in common with the slugs and mites
And those that crawl until they spin and fly.

How much contrition, for my acts, I felt!
And yet, I'd lunched on animals and plants...
So life, that's grown to feed on life, may yet
Be awed at seeing wondrous mirrored self...

Should I discard that leaf – or let it dry,
While pressed within an aging book of mine,
Itself from limbs of plants composed – and hope
That someone sees – and feels what I have felt?

I beg forgiveness from you, little leaf.
I know your sisters will bud forth, in spring,
When I've departed.  You're the sacrifice
This beast has taken, for his little while.

But as you wither, starved of water, sun,
Can you forgive the one who rudely plucked?
If you could find philosophy, you'd think,
“At least I touched his heart and sensed him smile.”

I shall not 'prison you within a book.
I'll leave you be to die, while breathing free.
So also, when my time has come to leave,
I hope I'm left, so I can cease to be.

2013 May 25th, Sat.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Trees--Part I--Deciduous Trees in Spring

Trees – Part I

(Deciduous Trees in Spring)

How varied are the leaves of roadside trees
That grace this city that is hard and bleak,
Lending softness, soothing urban eyes,
Recalling sylvan past to memory...

Their sizes range from tiniest to large,
Their shapes, from feathery to boldly splayed,
With concave polygons and fractal forms –
And quite distinct from conifer and grass.

For planted here are mostly “broad-leaved” trees,
Whose unprotected leaves, in wintry climes,
Are shed in fall and then return in spring –
With hues, in seasons both, inspiring rhymes.

And now, the shades of green are darkening,
With some still light, as was the tender growth.
And yellow flames are seen in canopies
And shades of red in maples and in plums.

How wondrous are the colors of a spring
That deepen as the summer sun arcs high
And ripen into riot of the fall –
That's swept away as winter's broom clears all.

And here, amidst the ever-changing forms
Of trees deciduous, conifers maintain
A somber dignity, as adults may
As all around them children run and play.

How many kinds of life can coexist –
And even trees are manifold in form.
And yet, the madnesses we suffer from
Insist that all, to single mode, conform.

So I, who daily walk upon the streets –
And when returning home have time to see,
May owe my remnant sanity to these,
The motley trees, content to simply be.

By humans chosen, planted in their rows,
Unbalanced, stunted by our savage saws,
They still regain their balance and their grace – 
And though they're hemmed, grow wild and beautiful.

2013 May 18th Sat.(1st 6 stanzas) & 23rd Thu. (last 3)
Brooklyn, New York

Arjun Janah < >

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Prophet

The Prophet

I slept and thought I heard a prophet say,
“Awake, with joy, to greet the newborn day!
The sun is risen and the night is fled.
So hope will rise for us, who've been misled.

“We're born and learn that we are here to race,
And every year, we run at an even faster pace,
Until we can't – and then it's time to die.
And even then, we still believe the lie.

“Take courage, men and women, young and old,
Pursue the truth and speak with heart that's bold.
No worth is added by the lie of fear.
Be free and act – to save what's truly dear.

“Observe how panic, wrought by fear and greed,
Obscures what we and others truly need.
Compulsive action leads us all to hell.
Go slow, to clearly see – and so be well.”

I heard her speak, with others gathered 'round.
I saw them smile and heard a joyful sound,
As men and women paused from race they'd run,
To greet with joy the red and rising sun.

And in my sleep I smiled and tried to sing,
As fear gave way to joy and hope took wing.
And so that night my dreadful demons fled,
I slept in peace, to wait that sky of red.

I woke and found the night was still and dark –
No sign of light or sound of morning lark.
And yet, I still could hear that prophet's voice –
“Awake, oh serfs – and in the light rejoice!”

2013 May 16th, Thu.

The Sickness Sweet

The Sickness Sweet

How many are the ways that we have found
To turn from truth that is discomfiting.
How few are they, who do not shy away –
Who walk upon that path that others scorn.

To bear contempt and persevere in pain,
To seek for no reward except for that
Which conscience grants – and yet to be denied
That peace within – is what awaits those few.

And yet, without them, what is left for us?
Can falsehoods, heaped on lies, reveal the truth?
It's only when we dare to question all,
That we've been sold, that bitter truth is sensed.

However bitter though that taste may be,
It's medicine to cure the sickness sweet,
The ailment that beclouds our sight and leads
To cruelties that multiply, unseen.

So we bemuse ourselves with this and that
Or twist and turn in struggle to survive –
And have no time to ask – or are content
To leave unasked – those questions that perturb.

How many are the ways that we have found
To color, filter, smudge – and so deceive.
And there are some, for whom the brazen lie
Comes swiftly to the shameless mind and tongue.

Arjun Janah < >
2013 May 16th, Thu.

Sunday, May 12, 2013


I heard the evening moan in deep delight,
As the sun went down and the day gave way to night.
And later, I could hear her beating heart
That raced as she succumbed to her lover's art.

Pregnant, with the sightless seed that grows,
Nurturing that child within her dark,
I heard the evening, turned to night, that keened
As the shining moon arose and sailed, serene.

And through the night, I woke and slept again,
Until the light of dawn gave birth to day.
So Winter's passed un-mourned – and lusting Spring
Has wooed and won the Earth in the month of May.

And as the sun mounts up and sends his shafts
To pierce the Earth that's moist from the evening's rain,
The root will delve, the stem will seek the sun,
As the sighted child is born from lust and pain.
2013 May 11th Sat and 12th Sun, 
Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, New York
(some definite articles added 2016-05-21)
1st stanza and 1st 2 lines of 2nd stanza

  – May 11th, Sat. evening, walking east along 67th Street
  – and then south-east down New Utrecht Avenue, beneath the elevated D line
2nd stanza (last 2 lines) & 3rd stanza 

  – Sat. night, at the asphalt playground by the 71st Street station
4th stanza 

  – May 12th Sun, early afternoon, at home

Blessing II

Blessing II

It's May and it has rained – and Brooklyn's green.
I'm walking now, with grasses growing lush
On either side of walkway – and with trees
That stretch and soar and arch in foliage.

How tender is the green – of grass and trees,
With leaves fresh-washed by storm that thundered by.
As evening comes, the air is still, the streets
Are silent, till a car comes swooshing by.

How rarely, in the hustle of the city –
That Mammon's workers built, in which we live
And work at speed to feed His appetites –
How rarely are we blessed with moment's peace?

And so I'm filled with gratitude for this,
This grace that gives me pause to breathe at ease...
How many more have sensed this evening's calm,
And so give thanks for blessing of release?

2013 May 11th, Sat., Brooklyn, New York
– at  the park I just found between 66th & 67th Streets
and between 8th Avenue & Fort Hamilton Parkway.


This park is part of a long, narrow stretch of green, cut
through by some of the Avenues that run roughly north-
south. The stretch starts between 4th and 5th Avenues and
runs south-eastwards to F. H. Pkwy. I believe this strip is
called Leif Ericson Park, at least at the northwestern end.
I lived right by that end for a year, at 66th Street and 4th
Avenue, when I first started working and living in Brooklyn
in 1987. It has taken me 26 years to discover the south-eastern

Leif Ericson (Leiv Eriksson) was the leader of a Norse
expedition to North America. He allegedly landed on this
continent many hundreds of years before the Italian Christoforo
Colombo, financed by the Spanish Queen, reached the islands
of the Caribbean, with his crew of southern Europeans and possibly

The area where Leif Ericson's statue now stands – and where his
park commences -- was once populated by Scandinavian and Dutch
immigrants, some of whose descendants are still to be found in the
area known as Bay Ridge at Brooklyn's southwestern tip.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013



This evening, it was warmer as I walked
On homeward path at end of working day,
With sky alight as hour was nearing seven –
And sunlight slanting still to light my way.

The sun and warmth had beckoned forth the green,
With fig-tree sprouting leaves and little figs –
And rosebush reaching skyward, with its leaves
And buds of red upthrust, awaiting gigs.

And soon indeed the roses too will bloom,
As tulips do – and bluebells did before.
And women then will shed their winter garb,
For sun to bless their thirsting legs and more.

How pleasant is the coming of the spring,
In lands that bore, with patience, winter's breath.
The sap is running in deciduous trees –
And men rejoice, as lissome May is met.

2013 May 7th eve. & May 8th, 2:51 am
Brooklyn, New York


Tuesday, May 7, 2013



I pray that I'll be saved from wearing suit and tie,
As I have been for all these many years.
Before I have to wear them, let me die --
And laugh that I've been spared, as dying nears.

As penguins, do the crowds of men appear,
With suits of black (plus bow-ties or cravats)
And shirts of white.  As Croats used to wear,
So now do all – except, perhaps, for hats.

And see the women, baring far too much,
While teetering on shoes inflicting pain.
At least the men are spared from wearing such!
In this, they win – quite clearly, once again!

What use, I wonder, is the collared shirt,
Or brassiere – for those less “well endowed”?
And why have women left the flowing skirt
For trousers tight?  Should I be asking loud?

2013 May 7th, Tue., 5:06 am
Brooklyn, New York

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Spring Again

Spring Again

In Brooklyn now the tulips bloom
And blossoms grace the roadside trees.
And some of these are naked still,
With others dressed in freshest green.

Amidst the hustle of the dollar
And through the glasses of a scholar,
Blinking in the sunlight, he
Observes again the Spring serene.

An afternoon of grace is found,
While business bustles all around,
As rhythms, slow, of yearly seasons,
Are sensed – that counter frantic beat.

So in Manhattan, trees in flower,
Amidst the traffic and the grime,
Are calling out, to passersby,
To slow or stop – and be complete.

And in the Bronx and verdant Queens,
In Staten Island, by the sea,
In Newark and in Hoboken,
The sun is slanting on the green.

By the ocean, shining bright,
The gulls are sailing in the sun.
The winter's gone and summer nears,
In this, the season in-between.

2013 May 4th Sat.

Friday, May 3, 2013



We each remember well the final words
Between us and the ones, whom we had loved.
And when we pass the spot, where we had last
A chance to speak to them or hear them speak –
Or otherwise recall that tender past,
Then some of us may wish that we had paid
Attention more – or uttered kinder words.

Alas!  The ones departed won't return.
There isn't any way to rectify
The things we said or did – or to complete
Whatever still was left to do or say.
And so we sigh and ponder this defeat,
As all that's left of those, whom we had loved,
Are memories – and ashes in an urn.

So many things, on which we daily err,
That seem to matter not –  but then the day
Arrives, when seeming trifles may decide
Between a life that stays or vanishes.
Our errors small, we fix – but that divide,
By which we stand, so broad and deep and dark,
Cannot be bridged – except by Lucifer.

And so we're left with infinite regret,
The only consolation being this –
We're powerless and tiny, like the dust,
By tempest lifted, blown and scattered far –
And all our thought and labor, love and lust
Appear as pointless as this universe
That spins in grandeur – till its end is met.

Arjun Janah < >
2013 May 2nd, Thu., 8:15 pm.
Brooklyn, New York