“Astronomer”- A poem by A.K.Ramanujan

Sky-man in a manhole
with astronomy for dream,
astrology for nightmare;

fat man full of proverbs,
the language of lean years,
living in square after

almanac square
prefiguring the day
of windfall and landslide

through a calculus
of good hours,
clutching at the tear

in his birthday shirt
as at a hole
in his mildewed horoscope,

squinting at the parallax
of black planets,
his Tiger, his Hare

moving in Sanskrit zodiacs,
forever troubled
by the fractions, the kidneys

in his Tamil flesh,
his body the Great Bear
dipping for the honey,

the woman-smell
in the small curly hair
down there.

 
A. K. Ramanujan
Love A.K.’s short poems like this. A thumb nail sketch of an astronomer-astrologist , a Tamilian home-grown scholar who dabbles in the twin subjects of astrology and astronomy. Not that the subjects are inter-related but in our culture the man who fixes the auspicious time for your son’s marriage or your grandson’s school entry is also an astronomer of sorts, who claims knowledge of the skies. A sky man in a manhole. He knows the Great Bear constellation ,with a great bear of a body with a hunger for the female flesh, the woman smell down under.

Great bear dipping for the honey

A lovely image.Bears are known for their love of honey. This bear dips for the honey in the small curly hair down there.Exquisite .Mark the physical act of “dipping” in the woman smell down there.

The bear image extends from the Great Bear of the stars from the high sky (Sky Man) to the man in his hole , with astronomy for dream, astrology for nightmare. The sensual imagery used here contrasts with the airy words of the man who speaks authoritatively from the astral charts (squares of zodiacs) precisely pinpointing the influence of the stars on our lives.But he is a poor man who has astronomy for a living ,trying to grapple with the holes in his own shirt. For ever troubled by the fractions, he deals only in whole numbers and has a language of the “lean years”.

When called upon to point the stars has to squint at the black stars in a parallax , at his Tiger and his Hare because their position appears different each time. He combines the knowledge of astronomy fitfully with astrology to make his living. His constellations are always in a state of flux based upon the squares of his almanac ,which themselves reflect the changing views of the sky.

The sky man is essentially an earthy soul who dips just like the Great Bear for its honey down there.

“On the death of a poem” -by A.K.Ramanujan

Images consult
one
another,
a conscience-
stricken
jury,
and come
slowly
to a sentence.

http://www.geocities.com/varnamala/ramanujan.html

I love the economy of words and the playful pun on the word “sentence” .The poetic process ,if one may call it that,is such that the poem dies still-born at times leaving the poet disgruntled .Some times the sentence may come out after all which will produce a semblance of a poem .At other times the verse describing the process is itself a lovely poem as this one is.

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“STILL LIFE” by A.K.Ramanujan

When she left me
after lunch,I read
for a while.
But I suddenly wanted
to look again
and I saw the half-eaten
sandwich,
bread,
lettuce and salami,
all carrying the shape
of her bite.

“Still Life” is a simple poem written in a somewhat minimalistic style.The theme is neither the woman the poet has had lunch with nor love for her but the absence of the woman which lingers on after she leaves, in the form of her bite of the half-eaten sandwich.The situation is presented to you with no frills .Nor have any imagery been employed unless one tries to extrapolate the half-eaten sandwich to mean something deeper, in which case the beauty of the capture of the woman’s absence is lost.I would prefer to let the sandwich remain a sandwich.

“The elements of composition” by A.K.Ramanujan

Composed as I am, like others,
of elements on certain well-known lists,
father’s seed and mother’s egg

gathering earth, air, fire, mostly
water, into a mulberry mass,
moulding calcium,

carbon, even gold, magnesium and such,
into a chattering self tangled
in love and work,

scary dreams, capable of eyes that can see,
only by moving constantly,
the constancy of things

like Stonehenge or cherry trees;

add uncle’s eleven fingers
making shadow-plays of rajas
and cats, hissing,

becoming fingers again, the look
of panic on sister’s face
an hour before

her wedding, a dated newspaper map,
of a place one has never seen, maybe
no longer there

after the riots, downtown Nairobi,
that a friend carried in his passport
as others would

a woman’s picture in their wallets;

add the lepers of Madurai,
male, female, married,
with children,

lion faces, crabs for claws,
clotted on their shadows
under the stone-eyed

goddesses of dance, mere pillars,
moving as nothing on earth
can move —

I pass through them
as they pass through me
taking and leaving

affections, seeds, skeletons,

millennia of fossil records
of insects that do not last
a day,

body-prints of mayflies,
a legend half-heard
in a train

of the half-man searching
for an ever-fleeing
other half

through Muharram tigers,
hyacinths in crocodile waters,
and the sweet

twisted lives of epileptic saints,

and even as I add
I lose, decompose,
into my elements

into other names and forms,
past, and passing, tenses
without time,

caterpillar on a leaf, eating,
being eaten.

I like this poem a lot. Composed as I am like others of elements on certain well known lists is a pretty way of beginning the poem. The poem is about the elements of composition and talks about the Hindu ideas of the five elements (pancha bhuta),the earth, the fire , the wind, the water and the sky ,which is one such list , the other list being the 100-odd elements that the chemistry books talk about. The poem begins with talking about composition and ends with decomposition (the caterpillars, eating and being eaten) .All the elements like gold, magnesium, calcium etc. are gathered into a chattering self, tangled in love and work.

“Capable of eyes that can see,
only by moving constantly,
the constancy of things”

A beautiful thought. The eyes can see, only by moving them constantly, the constancy of things, like the Stonehenge or the cherry tree. The physical eyes can see the beauty of nature or a great work of art only by moving them constantly. One should watch things which are in a continuous state of flux over a period of time to grasp the inherent beauty of nature and a great work of art.


”add uncle’s eleven fingers
making shadow-plays of rajas
and cats, hissing,

becoming fingers again”

A lovely reminiscence of the poet about his uncle’s dexterity in shadow-play using his eleven fingers to create fascinating images of kings ,cats etc and sounds like hissing and the transformation of the shadows to fingers again !

His sister’s fear of an impending tragedy just before her wedding :

“ the look
of panic on sister’s face
an hour before

her wedding, a dated newspaper map,
of a place one has never seen, maybe
no longer there”

The horrific existence of the mutilated lepers of Madurai against the exquisitely ornate stone sculptures of goddesses of dance in the majestic Meenakshi temple:

“add the lepers of Madurai,
male, female, married,
with children,

lion faces, crabs for claws,
clotted on their shadows
under the stone-eyed

goddesses of dance, mere pillars,
moving as nothing on earth
can move —“

All these are the very elements of which he and they are composed . They pass through him as he passes through them :

“I pass through them
as they pass through me
taking and leaving

affections, seeds, skeletons,

millennia of fossil records
of insects that do not last
a day,

body-prints of mayflies,
a legend half-heard
in a train”

The whole poem is about what we are composed of , the different forms in which the elements combine , the impact of time on the composition ,the process of the decomposition (the Madurai lepers) and finally death and destruction (eating and being eaten).

A fascinating poem.