Wednesday, January 25, 2012

I have been thinking about you. I know

that you are not. But, you see, if he has

gone anywhere, I must think it is you

he has gone to.

I ask, therefore, that you meet him, give him

a cup of tea, and take him for a walk

through your best sunshine and high lands. Let him

tell you, for he loves to make friends and talk

to them, let him tell you, as you walk,

about the time he heard my mother shout

from outside their tent and jumped out

into the cold grass and colder wind and

stood there freezing, seeing Pahelgaon breaking

into gold, but shivering

for quite another reason.

Or he may tell you of the time we went

for a stroll that morning in Puri by

the silver coast of the silver sea in

the silver light of the young sun.

I took my camera, which was really

his camera, and he took

his younger daughter’s seashore-warm hand. I watched

as the two set out hand in hand and matched

the rhythm of the sea wave for footstep

to footstep for wave and edged closer

and closer to the water until the

sea felt that enough

was enough

and came up in one delicious surge and

licked them wet and salt and

as the water ran from them they glittered

as silver as the morning

they stood in.

Or he may tell you of things I cannot

imagine and only he and you know

of. He would tell you them as he would wend

time telling old tales to an old friend.

Walk with him. There is rhythm and spring and

stories in his step. You will see. Only

walk with him.

Dying was new to him, and he was not at

all sure how and not at all sure when and how

to go about it.

Not sure, even at the last, that he even

wanted to go about it.

You will tell me (will you tell me? are you

listening?) that such a thing cannot be,

and I am wrong, because it cannot be.

But I always think of him as a young

father. Like I grew up, and he did not.

Like he is always the man who swung

me on his shoulders or hung

me off his arms or walked with me

and walked with me

as one day when I was eight I stubbornly

tried to follow one of the oldest rivers

of the land to its youngest moment

as it fell away from a glacier

and became water.

But back in the day, when he really

was a young father, and I really

thought you were, he used to sing a

song all the time.

There is joy going through the world.

It overflows the earth all

day and all

night and passes into the sky. The sun and

the moon drink of it.

Why do you sit, then, lost in yourself?

Open your eyes and your heart and

look around you to see

how small our griefs can be.

Only fill up your life with love.

There is joy going through the world.

Only fill up your life with love.

A writer of great loneliness but greater

love and music wrote this song many years

ago. It was good poetry, but that

poet, and he was of the best,

had done better. I did not see

why this should be

the song my father should keep singing

again and again, as if the words had

magic for him—or did he make magic

of the words? My mother explained, suddenly

setting aside her long work day

and falling into the woman who had

fallen in love with him

and married him

against all advice and interdiction

from family and friends, that he loved

this song best. Then, as if to explain,

she simply said again,

he loved this song best. There is joy rushing

through the world, he went, and I went along

with him, for how could I doubt the sense when

he picked up the words and the tune and the

joy in his voice and just as if to make

his point at the end of the refrain,

picked up me and whirled me round and flew me

down and pecked me on the cheek, bristly moustache

and all. I tried to wipe the itch from the

bristle off. At which he went for a peck at

my other cheek. I gathered my crayons

together and got up and fled. There were

other songs too, many others, but this

one very often. I heard it when he

was in the same room as I was, when he

was in the next room,

and soon,

when he was nowhere close by at all.

His mother visited him the day after

we came home and the day before he died.

Back in the day, when he had no children

and his parents had four, and all of them

growing up in one small room stuck suddenly

in the middle of a crumbling building

in Calcutta stuck in the middle of

the century and they, his parents, did

not know how they would feed four mouths, he used

to sit, I am told, on a swinging door

and while his day away watching the big

world going about its work and his known,

smaller world coming in and going out

through his perch of doorway. Until

the boys from across

the street called, and he gathered

up his shirt and was gone. The

game lasted hours and hours and

he came home with the evening and with a

hunger that would not keep in his little frame.

His mother visited him the day after

we came home and the day before he died,

and the two were the same day.

Stairs are difficult for her now, and anyway

I had thought that this, of all things, she did

not have to see. She had the stories, and

I thought they were enough, the stories, and

we would live with them. Stories of nineteen

forty-seven and three years after and

the forty days and forty nights before

they came to the city in their old land

but new country. Of him at her

breast through days of homelessness but also

discovery in the unfamiliar,


city they would make their own.

His mother visited him the day after

we came home and the day before he died.

She climbed the stairs, slowly, the stairs that he

had built and up which we had last night

carried him up, because he could not walk

anymore, she climbed the stairs, and came to

sit by him on the bed.

She stroked his head

and stroked his head

and prayed.

She hadn’t anything to say that I

heard. Just the name she has for you, over

and over

and over.

I looked

at her as she looked

at him for a long time. He used to call

me mother, do you know? Is that not a

strange thing for fathers

to do—call their daughters


I am no mother yet, though I had wanted

badly to give him what life I could, and

have him live, I am no mother yet.

On this day, I was looking at one. She,

my father’s mother,

the mother to his infancy and boyhood

and youth and fatherhood,

my father’s mother

found somewhere in the vast oblivion

that pressed upon the world and nearly stopped

my breath right there, something to say blessings

with. Called you by the name she has for you,

and gave back her son. I looked at her, not

believing a word of it, and all the

words she said was your name, and I did not

believe a word of it. But if you had

heard her (did you? for she was speaking to

you, you know?) you would have known what she was

giving, giving

up, giving


I know you think you know,

and that you know

there is little to our poor round world anyway.

But she made him just as you did, and she

called your name and blessed him and gave him back

to you. So, you see,

I have been thinking about you. I know

that you are not. But if he has gone

anywhere, I must think it is you

he has gone to.

Listen to him. He is always making

plans. And he speaks with love and yearning

even when you think he must be past

it all. Listen to him.

When they still thought they could do something

about it, and we still thought I could do

something about it, and I still thought I

could go back to thinking you were, they

gave him medicines

and advice and more medicines

and he still raved far into the night, and

would not sleep. I tried to tell you how he

could not sleep. Until one day they said they

had no more help for him. They kept the straps

and the medicines but took away the hope

and left him to go ungently into

the good night, for what else could they do,

with his raving.

But come the night, when the doctors

were gone and the nurses were gone

and the medicines were gone

and only the restraints


and I did,

we talked

and he told me of all the travels he

had planned and would surely go. Not long, now.

I listened. Sometimes, when I wept, and he

knew I was there, he reached for my hands and

took them in his

and said that all would be well,

and I must not cry

and he would tell me why

for did I not want to listen about

this place he had heard of (from a friend, he

said), and where we would surely go. Not long,

now. I listened, my head in my hands

in his hands.

Surely, I thought, in a journey that would

never happen, anything was allowed?

And I said yes to everything. Green fields

in a huge bowl between white mountains

against blue skies. Deep light. A river. Not

yet seen, but heard. A river. A long walk

broken by a sleep on a rock

warmed with the sun’s day. Endless day. Wheeling

stars. More day. My mother feeling

his hand. Grassflowers. The scent of pine.

A flatbread just removed from the iron

grill and so hot

that the butter does not

stay on it but runs and soils our clothes so

that we must eat it quickly. Woodsmoke. Sun

light on red rhododendrons. Hot, sweet milk

tea. My mother, in a blue dress, ahead.

At the end of a long walk’s day, a bed.

He was caught between the above and the

below, he said, and felt terribly

responsible for it all. If he took

his mind away from it, even for an

instant, the sky would part from the earth and

did I really wish for such a thing to

happen, and would I please therefore not


I said yes to everything. Soft sunlight

on his bare arm. Sunlight on his closed eyes.

Waking up. Leaving. Leaving again.

My sister and I setting out. She in

red, in blue, I. Setting out so he could

follow and know the trail from our footsteps.

Fireside. A dark gray (or was it green?)

jacket. Cold water, as much water as

he wanted to drink. A terrible thirst

made sweet by the sweetness of the water

that quenched it. The silence of grass growing.

Night. A moon and a wait. The rest of lying

down encircled in a pair of arms. I

said yes to everything. although he

was desperately listening,

and no longer listening,

for an answer.

He asked for water. I gave it to him.

He emptied the glass and looked into it,

turned it around and turned

it upside down. Looked

deep into it. He could not make it

out, he said. They had told him that it he

drank it all, it would fill up again. He

could not make it out, he said, that

the glass was empty. Only one way to

fill the glass up, he said. To drink it all.

Did I know why the glass was empty?

I said yes to everything.

He talked about the sound of the sea.

Back in the day, when he really was a

young father, and I really thought you were,

his work took him to a young town

where the land cliffed over the

green waters. He had a house, and around

the house a garden and in the garden

a neem tree. We climbed it, we

swung off it, we slept on its branches, and

we ate, with absurd delight, its

bitter leaves. He cooked for us, and kept home

for the months we would spend with him. In

the months we did not, he wrote us letters

of the sea,

and of the neem tree,

and of the shadow it cast dappling the

sunshine in his room. He would lie in bed,

he said, and the tree would make dreams for him,

because it made play of the light, and broke

it into green and dark and the sea made

the sea-sound at his window. What was a

sea-sound, I asked, in the painful slowness

of my young writing, and the terrible

stretch of the time it took for my letter

to reach him. I started to check for his

letter the day after I posted mine.

And many years later, as it seemed to

me, there was an envelope, and I knew

just from looking at it that it had the

sea-sound in it. It was, he said, the sound

of someone calling that you wanted to

meet, and were dreaming about,

and in the dream, too,

they were calling you.

That was the sea-sound. And it only worked

when the sun and the tree played in the wind

rising from the sea.

I said yes to everything.

Listen to him. There is always yearning

in what he says. Listen to him.

Who knows but you may discover some

magic in the world you made, after all.

His mother visited him the day after

we came home and the day before he died,

and the two were the same day.

The day ended. As one day it had as we drove

beside the river and over the bridge

across the river that had flowed thousands

of miles over the land and was now near

the sea. Back in the day, when he really

was a young father, and I really thought

you were, we made a young pilgrimage, the

four of us, to the huge snowbound mouth of

this river. My sister barely three. And

I young enough that I thought I should walk

forever as long as the river

grew younger

beside me and at night dissolved into

a thousand thousand stars supporting the

mountains around. At night, when the walk

caught up with us, and the cold of the high

places, he sat us down and to make sure

we ate well before the next day’s walk, broke

into stories. Did I think it was a

river and mountains I was among, then?

How if he told me it was a great god

with great unkempt hair with the crescent of

the moon stuck in it, and the river a

flow of mazy wandering from out his

locks into the great land the great god stood

upon? How if he said the river

was a mother who looked after a

thousand thousand lives every day on that

great land? How if he told me that at this

moment, there was the river almost a

mile wide where it was getting ready to

meet the sea, and along the banks, all the

way of her journey, there were those who drank

of her, prayed to her, grew their grain with her,

and at the last, brought to her their dearly

beloveds so she would take them with her

to the sea? I didn’t hear any more, for

the smoke of the campfire grew curling to

touch the stars that held the mountains and I

remember only that he held me warm

(though did he really, do you know? for I

think I saw him then holding my bundle

of sister. And I think I remember

both him and my mother walking out to

the river’s dark noisome shore and entering

my eyes as they came silhouetted by

its dark light silken glow), that he held me

until the last light left the sky and the

day ended entirely on stars. And the

day ended many years later as we

drove beside the river and over the

bridge across the river that had flowed

thousands of miles over the land and was

now near the sea, and we talked in the car

about the other day that had ended

under the stars. The day ended now as

one day it had as we drove beside the

river talking about the day we had

ended on the stars.

Hold him as his dearest friend did, at the

last. We kissed him goodnight, this time the

bristle of his cheek on my lips. I kissed

him goodnight, knowing that I kissed him towards

quite another night than opened for us

under the dark green warm summer sky in

the land where our river met the sea, we

kissed him goodnight. But she went to sleep

beside him on his bed, which was also

her bed. Held his hand, held him, although he

may already have been past all holding.

Then, as she slept,

he went to sleep at last. Which woke

her up. Even you can guess the rest. But,

as I was saying, hold him. Hold him and

tell him how all our anger, anxiety,

urgency, and to everyone their own

anger, anxiety, urgency, became

an absurd love that we could finally

do nothing about. That we can do

nothing about. Tell him something that you

don’t really need to tell him, because he

knows and is very smug about already,

but tell him anyway because it will

make him smile.

Tell him he is all ours.

Take me, for instance. One half his, and since

my mother had a friend she loved that she gave

everything to, another half also

his. His to make, love, let go, and love still.

When he slept at last, he was full of

farawayness and a terrible

repose. He slept like a man who falls

asleep after making love and knows

that when he wakes up he will see his

lovemade beside him. And he did, for she

was holding him when he woke up for you.

Hold him like his friend did. When he could still

ask for things, like that glass of water,

he had asked to be held.

Hold him. And he may hold you too. And you

will see what warmth he brings to it. Who knows

but you will find out

what warmth is about

a pair of arms.

Sit down and talk to him. Perhaps over

a sunset, with the clouds beneath you in

the day’s last gold. He never tired, you see,

of the beauty of your world. And almost

against my better judgment, because he

gave me no choice when he gave me his eyes,

I too am still taken in.

Sit down and talk to him. He will have such

things to tell you. Sit down and talk to him.