Monday, May 16, 2016



It’s been awhile but now I’m writing
Once again in metered verse.
And some of those to whom I’m sending
This will smile or laugh—or curse.

And since I’ve blanked out my emotions,
I consider now my choices:
How to give a form substantial
To the whispers of my voices.


Should I only draw my pictures—
Not with crayons, but with words—
Painting sunsets, valleys, mountains,
Fields and skies with flying birds?
Or should I chant in rhythms ancient,
Sounding vowels in my words,
Seeking rhymes and rising, falling—
Trilling like the singing birds?

Or should I write of what I’ve eaten—
Rice and cabbage, lentils, curds—
Writing also of digestion
And of what I’ve left as turds?

Perhaps it’s time that mathematics
Filled my verse with roots and surds— *
Or perhaps, I should write dirges
For Armenians, Turks and Kurds…


Should I fill my lines with nonsense,
Wasting my and readers’ time—
Though they offer still amusement,
Spoken out aloud with rhyme?
Or should I write of what I’m thinking,
How I view this sorry world?
Will you enter in the prisons,
In the hells in which we’re hurled?

Or should I write of feelings pleasant,
Sing of happiness and love,
Or raise my head towards the heavens,
Howling at the moon above?
Who can answer whence or whither,
Give us half a reason why
Each of us is born to dither
Just a while—and then to die?

I’ll be gone and then my verses
Will be lost, as all things are.
Why then should I write of living—
Joy and sorrow, peace and war?

Who will read these verses, written
In my notebooks in the night?
Who will bother still to mouth them,
Holding scribblings to the light?

Mine are verses born of grieving—
More of black and gray than white—
Yet there’s gold and silver in them—
Sparkles, hidden, of delight.
So I write, as if by random
Breezes blown, till gone from sight—
Like a little sailboat, bobbing
Through the heaving swells of night.

Should I end this poem neatly—
Tie the ends and pull them tight,
Or should I leave them hanging loosely,
Wondering why I chose to write?


There!  It’s done, for better or—
As often far more likely—worse:
I’d felt the mists and rising vapors—
Asking for my rhyming verse.

Whence, these beings of the ether,
Seeking, each, their human voice?
Why is it—that we are bidden,
Yet appear to still have choice?

2016 May 13th Fri
Brooklyn, New York
(first two stanzas, central single stanza and
last two stanzas added 2016 May 16th, Mon)


 * Listed here are the uses of the words:
    (a) “surd” in mathematics and phonetics;
    (b) “root” in mathematics and linguistics.


Leila Sen said...

By Jove! I do declare, indeed,
Such lofty verse doth now impede
All opine that I held of yore
That academics are a bore!

Arjun Janah said...

Thanks, Leila! Loved your lines!

A Frightful Bore

I studied once of physics, maths,
Until my head was addled.
And then, with students good and bad,
For thirty years was saddled.

The more, in classes, I was forced
To hurry mouth and tush,
The more, it seemed, when out of them,
I'd beat around the bush.

In classes, I was forced to be
As brief and to the point,
As, out of them, I meandered free
And often far from point.

For since I'd mostly read in books,
When other kids were playing,
I'd never learned the arts of speech--
Of listening more than saying.

And since I rarely spoke, my kin
And friends had much contentment.
But when I started speaking, then
I did arouse resentment.

I spouted forth in torrents in
My captive hearers' ears.
Their eyes would glaze, or even start
To overflow with tears.

And so, I was a frightful bore,
From whom the sane would flee.
And so I'm still, when chance provides
A chance for lectures free.

But then, by chance, I found that rhyme
And rhythm--sometimes stories--
Would let me say, through verses, things
That anger Whigs and Tories.

But while they would have punched my face
If I had spoken so,
In verses, I could speak at will--
And then speak even more.

For while a person might say this
Or that, and then be done.
I'll say, "It's this, but also that."--
Which really isn't fun.

And so I write these endless things,
Which often too can bore.
On each resolve on saying less,
I end up writing more!

But reading in your "Canticles", *
I see that there are parts
Of writing that I've still to learn,
Before this breath departs.

And so perhaps I too will learn
To be, in words, concise.
And on that note, I'll end this piece,
And eat my fish with rice.

For now I'm told it's time to dine--
Not sit and type all night.
And so I thank you for your verse
And bid you now goodnight!

Canticles--A Collection of Poetry,
Leila Dutt Sen, Notion Press, Chennai, 2016

Arjun Janah said...

Thanks, Leila, for your e-mailed comment (which I am reproducing below):

Ah, cousin mine of rampant wit
And talent for a rhyme,
Your repartee, I will admit,
Is poetry sublime!

--Leila Sen

I only wish I could write like you. I am enjoying reading your little book of poems:

I am looking forward to reading that other, bigger book, written in prose, based on your parents' lives and all that happened in the last century, that you have been working on for so long.