Kushal Poddar – Quarantine Diaries (Part One – The First 31 Days in Lockdown)

Day Thirty One

I am quarantined to this birth,
and my wife builds a Stonehenge
with the pieces of our hearts to summon
what the seekers find, albeit a bit late,
when fate becomes the subject of every chitchat.

Am I isolated to this birth? The silhouette
dances on the waves, only a few occasions
it can capture the physical resemblance
of the boat. I remember the boat. I cannot do so
without shivering at the thought of the fish I caught.
The silver sliver gasping. The calmness of quietus.

So far we can avoid the friends calling
from far and from their home lockdown.
So far we can feel the nearness of something
so physical and yet so vague that to define it
may erase it from the consciousness.

Happy birthday, my wife whispers. Our prayers
kneel midst the pillars of her fingers.

Day Thirty – Droplets

1

A single cough and its three thousand droplets
lit by sunset, in Chaplin slow motion fill the air.
Droplets were not this famous, used to ferry rain.
I drew happy face on the windshield running
away toward a memory forwarded.

2

This antigen triggers sleep
and then mutates into being
a dream I dread to dream.

Wake me up.

I fumble for the bedside lamp
cough, drink, spill in the bedlam.
I instruct my phone to

wake me up

in every five minutes when reverie
downs my reality checking.
Droplets, I see, on the windshield,

and I awake.

Once late to act, I hear the hospital
call to say they won’t treat us without
a no-illness certificate.

Wake me up.

Amidst those rain-emoticons drawn on
a glass is a face happy asleep.
It erases itself as it proceeds.

Day Twenty Nine – Abandoned

My friend, the one who goes to South
for his cancer treatment, sends a message –
Still alive, isolated.

They take him to an abandoned building.
They take fifty more. They feed them,
give them water to drink.

Last night a bus load of those who came
from another polity disappears from the campus.
Everything is hale, he writes.

Hale? Hell! (Lights blink in the train
every time it reaches a station subway,
and you chance to kick anyone standing near
in the brief darkness.
When the lights come there is no one
in the compartment. Not even you.
No train runs.
No station is open.)

I message my friend – everything is everything
as usual. My anger manages itself.
Sanity has a brush with death.
(In the dream train runs on autopilot.
I kick the shadow of mine until it bleeds to light.)

Day Twenty Eight – Death

We take a bite of the apple of discord –
‘How does death look like?’.

The dogs of the neighborhood chase
the black asphalt mottled with

the shadows those insects swarming
around the street lights cast from here to ubiquity.

I brought the news from the market –
‘They found a short-order cook hiding
his mortality inside a shuttered eatery
closed for business since the outbreak.
Death exposed him.’

                                         And silence.
We listen to the results of the dog-chase.

Shivering proves to be contagious.
“Pack your bag.” Someone instructs
someone in the TV. One cobweb as large
as this city waits for the sunshine to glimmer.

Day Twenty Seven – Silence

Although houseful of noise
keeps the hold of my brain
silence flies into my eyes
from the hushed outside
like a tiny grain
good for a hearty cry.
Silence flies into my eyes.

Following the solitary panicking
crawler on the brick and cement
toilet wall dizzies me, albeit it
seems a good way to spend the time.
Silence – I rub my eyes – remains
where it itches, makes vision red.

Although voices are locked inside
mind seems empty, no place to hide.
I rock the baby night.
It giggles dreaming light.
All jokes no one cracks,
silence flies out through my sighs.

Day Twenty Six – Glacial Songs

The humdrum of humble chores
hunted by us both
because the syllables,
stressed and unstressed, of gardening,
dusting, washing, doing the dishes
or fluffing those instruments of sleep
lullabies our nervous system.

“Which song did your great grandparents
sing during the old pestilence?”
You shake your head. The scattered music
migrated to the concentration camp of Lethe.

During shoveling snow that swirls
to sheath
the ground beneath for the first time since
the glacial maximum I discover
my grandmother’s canticle – half ember,
half skeletal, some canary’s bones
asleep in its circle.

Day Twenty Five – River

The mother of the year, a migrant, daily
wager, confined between two boundaries,
walks her five sons to the body of water –
so azure this day sky burrows behind
a cluster of summer clouds – and immerses
them one by one, presses each down with a song,
and then goes to the police station reporting
a murder by hunger. She seems as lucid
as those vernacular crows in my boudoir
or the hiss I hear every time I bend to sniff
the daffodils. Shutters down I open my cabinet.
The mothballs have turned into moths.
They startle me with their flight.

Day Twenty Four – Lights

Lights out, we see the neighbors’ roof –
a sharp clothing line runs down its midriff,
dipped in moon blood, droplets crawling.
We hear the dribbling monologue all night,

and this becomes normality like the crate
full of talking oranges arrived at the market.
Open one, see those apoplectic fibers undulate.
Still we devour the good part; those taste
salubrious. Grow, I whisper to the ones needing
nourishment. I stare at the clothing line.
Nothing and naïve during the daytime.

In mid of the year comes the new year.
The bazaars buzz with solitariness.
A masked and gloved crusader forbids me
to venture any farther. “Buy the oranges,” he says,
“and be joyous. Happy mid year new year.
Peace and light.”

Day Twenty Three, Virus, Hibiscus Etc.

Weakness wanders across the weeks,
months even, and nothingness finds
its cure in a hibiscus tree, the one mother
cared and reared to a sprawl that covers
my window so tiny so big near the edge
of my bed wet with sweat, moist with phlegm,
aflame during a fever, oceanic during a relapse.

If desire were a paperboat it would have ferried hope,
the tin soldier in love with a ballerina doll,
and wave by wave, ripple by ripple it would float
to the darkness and light that generates
when one embraces darkness unflinchingly.

I tear one flower before still hours afar from full bloom.
I, the frail one. I, the son of God. The absolute.
The nothing.

Day Twenty Two, Hibiscus, Virus Etc.

I hold the hibiscus
to my heaving and heavy chest, and hear the hiss,
see- not a medicine,
I hold on to a dream
that pays house visits so often
whenever distress becomes me; oh hibiscus, hiss, even a bite in
this penumbra seems
medicinal, every prick, every sting;
won’t you heal me for once
and all, all and again?
The awakening to a window
framing a plant offering
a hibiscus is morning where I live.
The suburban streets serpent
the empty sunshine and houses
full. Good Sunday, quarantine.

Day Twenty One – Hammock

Keanu Reeves, the Devil’s advocate, turns
toward my direction and dredges down New York,
forlorn all in a jiffy, and the scene makes me jittery
as if I hear the hiss. Is not this a scene from news?
Turn off the TV, read – “And normality
was precisely the most fearful part
of that infinite war.” Dern, Garcia! Run to the hammock.

Hammock. Hammock. Hammock.
The breeze blows hot.

The grass shapes the shifting light into a mind left
unattended and without a proper flesh.
Swing to the sleep. Sleep tickles my toes;
I murmur, “To grimace is a shame.” The days sway.
Lights bring the street dressed for whoring,
and yet in this great flu season no one desires those things,
or perhaps those who do hide their hardness inside
the tent of isolation. I dream the Devil; his capital D
calcines its form. Hammock. Hammock. Hammock
rocks the earth.

Day Twenty, Negative Positive

I walk to the sapling. Isolation’s root
has dredged to a point where depth profounds.
The act cools my skin, as if I keep my heart
on my arms just below my rolled up sleeves.
See, when you’re alive it is surreal
to surrender hope, and yet someone in
Chennai uses his towel to end his life.
Minutes later his bloodwork arrives positive.
I won’t talk about this with you, and you
pretend to remain impervious to news.

I baptize my panes with the towel I use,
hum a bath song, not the one you sing
owing to the otherness of our mothers,
throw it away, and all this while my wife
doesn’t interfere, points out I can do other chores
more pressing in the household. We don’t read
news to each other, rather hear it from the silence
that croons, cajoles, crawls and unclads its choler.

Often I saunter to the plant. So deep runs
its roots of isolation. It calms me down, you know.
It will grow up to be a tree tall enough
for hanging something.

Day Nineteen – Pull Out the Curtains

The curtains grey into pallor
the way curtains do to camouflage
their swings so that we fail
to know which ones are theirs
and which ones belong to our minds.

A sparrow places its watery dust self
on the outer frame of the window.
To kill a whisper we hear to some web show
uninterested in its flesh and spirit.

The noise doesn’t faze the passerine.
Doesn’t this frighten you too?

I download an ebook I cannot read.
Now a pebble, now a grain
for the bird my psyche becomes.
“Those curtains”, I say to no one specific,
“need to be pulled out and put in a pail
with water and a spoonful detergent
because I need to sit on the washroom cold
and weep out the grimes. I am a pebble. A grain.

Day Eighteen – Refuge

Everyone, when the time comes, desires
to return from someplace to somewhere,
and we stand caught in their exodus –
how to bear the guilt of having a house
handy nearby. Everyone, yes, even us,
has a spot to leave for a refuge in another.

Summer struck streets of ever drifting
schedules of deciduous trees, crows
no more afraid to build their nests or to guard,
we saunter during the lee hours in the lockdown,
and you say, “Lo, we have the lovers’ hands.”

I open my grip, stare at the lines, and thro’
the fingers, some calloused, giggles past
the gloaming wind. We turn back to see us
walking behind us, and another we running past,
their heads turned toward the origin.
Where do you go, my lovely? Everyone
has to reach there eventually. Everyone
but us, we imagine. Everyone even us.

Day Seventeen – Contemporary

Although my abhorrence for money
remains there when they slide economy
into the intensive care I pray with the queen
and the people alike. Get well, foe and friend,
get back to old battle and new cunning.

I witness the cold culling, and if you ask me
to be the eyewitness, I tend to decline.
On the other side of wherever you live I do.
My window opens although I look at my hands
working on a feigned normalcy. Sometimes
I ask my wife if the situation is stable or if
it flows underneath the devil-bridge.

Although I see the slow killing. I stay taciturn.
The eggs are soft boiled. The turn of the ration
has spun toward eggs, potatoes and porridge.
I ask my wife, “Stable? Devil-bridge?”

Day Sixteen – Ceasefire

Ceasefire, the prognosis says, means
the war continues. I bubble up midst
my dream-sweat-pool with my one foot still
inside the nightmare-field and as I lift it a little,
dream, I witness a skull half buried in ashes.

Dream. Dream. You shake the other half
to the wake of house, streets, bazaars,
bizarre emptiness and a blue jay somewhere.

I ask you if the dead ones have retraced
their tracks, and if not – why this be a reality.
I desire only your indulgence the way a boy
asks the questions to his mother knowing
the answers already, or the answers
he thinks as true (Then what is true except
another child’s version of the lie?).

Smile, you say, although there is shines
no tomorrow we have the untried medicines.
Ceasefire, virus. It means you shall never depart.

Day Fifteen – Sanctuary of Heresies

The forlorn purple tickles the feet of the fountain.
This, a park once, now my hermitage,
I escape to, hides itself from the passing sirens.
Lockdown peacekeepers pass. One. Two. A third.

I whisper to my dead kin, (Who? Not important.),
“After this plague we should convert malls
into sanctuary pockets. Those foxes I see
should have a place side by side, not roam in the streets.”

Foxes took my great uncle in his childhood,
and returned him. The mark around his neck
cured him and our clan. I recall this chronicle.
The sanctuary I can see, and the villages that
my city will be, and this tale of my nook
told to my child shall widen his eyes –
sirens calling us, lockdown, a man becoming grass,
watching the virus branching toward heartland,
a stork’s flight whitening the sky, if for a jiffy,
hiss, a snaking sound evening rendering
to the loss I feel and gain I count and to the peace that comes in the end.

Day Fourteen – Chain of non-events

one screaming cabal from
next to the nextdoor

sky mouths some reborn swifts
engaging those charred out owls

missed punctuations
stall at the crossroads

no traffic although plastics outrun
plastics

I churn out a few quarantine jokes
to pass time and to make you smile

we read about the dalgona coffee
unbrewed

Day Thirteen – A Saturday

The cloud skirls up to the unfinished seventeenth.
I hate the building boom. I miss it.

The phantom floor, a repose for a family of three
possibilities, not real you know, albeit they appease
you in this viral anxiety, teems with the chimerical
father-voice reading The Graveyard Book to
an aerial child in the fabulous wife’s womb.

The chime touches the turrets of worship.
I hate the building boom. Oh Elements, let it be complete,
let the family occupy the swirls of the mist.
I call Rob again, ask him about the shelves
of the farmer’s corner in his part of the world.
The wishes are green, he answers.

Day Twelve – Healing

Where the wound came remains
a trace of a smile in its dwarf state,
half finished, a wake for the pain,
gone but ever present.

I stare at it, and you catch me staring
at the smile. Whose smile is it? You ask.
Wound becomes a part of the life arrived
in boxes, and we join the puzzle paying
no heed to the instructions. I say so.

The street espies us, we mere distortion
framed in our window, and we think of the wound
all roads look like in solitude, or like a crooked smile
sun curving their faces into so that they
should shine regardless of their fate.

Day Eleven – Wind

My brother makes love to the wind
the way curtains do to the nilch
and undulates between two sides
of the window to the witness of the panes.
Witnessing has the crucifix of pain.

Pain acts best when you do not know
having it, nursing it in your belly,
instead knowing that you feel nothing,
thinking that you are the best witness
as a witness should not swell up with
the shadows of the events,
but, wham, you have the pain, and it acts
at its best from inside, and the curtains sway.

I ask M. J. why Rob has no footprint
across the world of internet,
and the answers relieve me, make me
ask the same to Julienne, Margherita, as if
if I ask not they will miss the Noah’s calling.
Oh Margherita. Someone says, she died.
This plague? No. Since two ago.
I know. We have been shifting in the waves.
Those curtains. Dern. I wish I could ask
my brother about lovemaking. Too late.

Day Ten – The Cast

Dream a Little – the veil of long lockdown
been lifted; the paradigm of plague been shifted;
the best of the fishing rods.

My father spruces up his castbaiting skills
in the verdant and still rill of water
near the talons of ghoul trees.
The big game squirms past the shade
where the stream wanes.

I bolt up to awakened state. This
is a no day. A good day to lift the quarantine.
News ghosts our drawing room. More’ve demised.
More bees render a buzz to the summer
than I ever remember.
Nothing remembers me. In this earth
I exist vanilla, the beginning.

Pariahs own their own changing territories.
One German minister has committed himself
to death – news says again and again.
I bury my eyes in the hunger for dreams.
Father’s fishing rod casts the hook.
Oblivion teems with its swishing sound.

Day Nine – Delirium

permanent ignorance is so much better than the quick of life
                                      (Toni Morrison,  God Help The Child)

The police thwarts the labourers bleeding two hundred
miles from the place they’ve left. The police knows he must
stop them from entering. Do they fathom wolves have
returned to reign the outskirts of the town they desire to go?
Others from the authority arrive. A child’s cry stalls the
humdrum of the process. Are they hungry? The police cooks
a watery gruel, manna, and as they eat they all cry as if
their child selves cocoon them into the warmth we recall from
those nine months in our mothers’ wombs. The firmament
is night. Night swoops over the strip now alight with red
with blue shifting, changing. The quick of lie takes over
the life. The children huddled together in quarantine become one,
singular cell before evolution began – it is penumbra,
blacker than darkness, wider than universe, and it has no
plan, future.

Day Eight – Migrants

I like the heat this summer brings.
It is vitamin-d warm.
It is burn-the-dead-free scorching.

I turn up the news until
its loudness drowns the meaning
and the message.

Trapezing along a naked blade
migrants appear at the town’s gate,
and there they evaporate.

Hush. One neighbor coughs.
Should we call the authority?
No electric rage runs within or outside.
The tall grass gleams clean.

A droplet of liquid light rolls
between two blades of green
as if in its translucence
some gypsy sees us from past.

Day Seven – Spawn

I stare at the shiver that the doe and its fawn
become where my neighborhood trail alters
into a cloud so white it may not even be there.
I stare at the nature healing back its itchy wound.

A woman on the same pavement mumbles,
“My mother she was who led me to my profession,
and now see, now that no one visits my pussy
I know not how to elongate my life.” The signal
turns red. No traffic, of course. Another day. Lockdown.

Day Six – Plague

The nineteen eighteen army man
comes in my gloaming’s requiem –
they threw him into the sea,
and he, demised in the Flu struck ship,
sunk into being infinite, ice, arctic, melted only recently to
release
a ruthless restlessness here and now.

This dream plagues my quarantine day.
They took his money, took his soul.
The spectre howls my nervous lanes, a ghoul.
Then you say, “No. This comes from the neighbor.
The couple of a pending murder remains
stuck together in the box of isolation.
A berserk act is bound to happen.”
We listen. The breaking porcelain yells
to the shattering glasses. We listen.
The grass outside grows to form the wind,
and wind herds the fire to the end of sun.
I hold your hand, forever young. The plaguing
emotion combs the hair strands on our arms.

I read some haiku, aloud. Perhaps the neighbors
can hear me in desolated images tiptoeing
through calmness and seasons. Then
I throw the book against the panes for
no reason at all. A crow tilts its solitaire.
“Remember me!” Whispers an apparition
from nineteen eighteen. Long gone. Here. Now.

Day Five – Death Prowls

“We need to stockpile air-freshners” I declare.
“Why?” Asks my wife. “Because,” I sigh,
“death prowls outside.”
“This means you have misplaced
your marbles once more.” She decides,
“This is no sci-fi.”

The grocer has shaved lately,
declines to value the old world credit system
he runs for his regulars, “Tomorrow sings
a song no one ever hears.”
One weary hearse rattles past the colonnade.

Later in the silence of dusk
I meet the youth who has
spent all his excitement because
no longer the factory works – no,
not even his mother can make him
toil for his puny enormous household.
We both lack any income. Savings
stream as if summer’s inhaled
all of the brook. I chronicle,
“US has declared a bounty on
Venezuelan president. Fifteen
millions bucks for a narco-terrorist.”
He rises, “Let’s rock.” “To collect the prize?”
“No.” He says, “to refuel my chillum.”
.

Day Four – Hair and Plague

I can see myself in John Lennon
hair,
moonbeams flow on the terraces of my shoulder.
Who, I say, who will venture to go to a barber,
into that intimacy, foam and lather?

I see my growing hair hiss to the one strolling
by me. His hair hiss them back. I observe
an abandoned truck rolling past the roadblock.
When they search for the drivers they will be surprised
to see their locks devouring them and puking them back.

Imagine not these. Imagine no heaven laughs at us.
No bird is dodo now. My mane sings, hiss not. La la la.
A few more days and brightness will cry – a neonate;
holding its warmth in our trembling arms,
will test our emotional strength. It will pull our hair;
the act will make us laugh, and perhaps our feigned moue
will mutate to a smile – longevous.

Day Three, You Know What

The tiny window of ours zeroing to nilch
broadcasts a fight for the province between the crows and the magpies.
The world is theirs.

The low cough wanes to appease my nerves,
and I use my tongue to explore you anew,
and then the tension for the ration hits us with a brick.

I loiter to observe the lockdown, phase one,
show the prescription for my wife as passport.
A perforated soccer ball, still in the sidewalk,
reminds me of a gravestone for people unnamed
and buried in a hurry as a group.

A workless road worker asks me if I know
a cheap diner open. I stare at him. An illusion
no doubt. The busloads of no ones disappear
to the end of nowhere.

Day Two, Lockdown

“Don’t wobble”, I tell my brain.
In the fog an army of dreams
camps and demises in a flu.

Metaphors apart sprawls
the meta-city becoming
not what it began but where it began.

If you ever visited a third world bazaar
you will feel what I do
standings in someone else’s night,

and breeze needs my hair
to flesh out its yarn;
hope needs some flesh to forge itself;

I stand there – a tourist-whisperer
guiding you who have never arrived
through Ali’s mutton shop, Raghu’s fish,

the bad jokes our vegetable seller cracks
(I wonder why I never asked his name)
and through the pigeons waiting to be fed.

Nothingness plagues the piazza.
I message you – be the essential!
hope requires flesh to forge itself.

Day One, Lockdown

Blame my neighbor’s titillating apparition
who has drained her stock of Botox
by the first day of isolation – I feel
the hairs of my nape whisper, and at first
I know not how to recognise her,
then words form a sighing communication.

The first of the days of isolation. A gust of larks
and common pigeons sweeps the lane in-between.
She talks from her porch and I from mine.

There seems nothing else to talk about but
this, nowhere to go but here,
no man exists save those we see.
For one who takes pride in tales of her
exotic traveling she hides her thoroughfares well.
From an unseen corner howls of the pariahs say –
Truth passes the place. Then silence.

Later I call Donna, “How are the things over there?”
Noise of sneezing and coughing answers.
“How are you?” Yet my mouth utters, “All
will shine back to summer high.”
Droplets of hope traverse the length of ether.

Kushal Poddar @Kushalpoe is a writer and visual artist and is the author of ‘The Circus Came To My Island’, ‘A Place For Your Ghost Animals, Understanding The Neighborhood’, ‘Scratches Within’, ‘Kleptomaniac’s Book of Unoriginal Poems’, ‘Eternity Restoration Project- Selected and New Poems’ and now ‘Herding My Thoughts To The Slaughterhouse-A Prequel’ (Alien Buddha Press). Author Page – amazon.com/author/kushalpoddar_thepoet

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