Shekhar Aiyar was born in India and educated at Delhi, Oxford and Brown
Universities. His work has appeared in Atlanta Review, Able
Muse, The Formalist, The New Formalist,
Review, and several journals in England, Sri Lanka and Canada. His first
collection of poems, Continental Drift, was published by Writer’s
Workshop, Calcutta. He lives in Washington, DC.
Biography of a Sword
The scimitar behind the glass
lies naked on its velvet bed.
A placard estimates its mass,
but leaves the body count unsaid.
A general held it, then a king.
Impartially it did their will
with blade and pommel, lunge and swing.
Its legend waxed from kill to kill.
Promoted to a metaphor,
its aspect changed; the palmworn hilt
grew diamonds, and the scars it wore
surrendered to a coat of gilt.
And now it sleeps through whispered praise
and grave appraisals of its worth:
a ploughshare dreaming of the days
it signed its name in famished earth.
Published in Able Muse
Postcard from Bishkek
The sun is out. I stroll the streets to where
a carnival unfolds, not half a mile
from my hotel. There’s laughter in the air
and even Lenin’s statue wears a smile.
I tell myself that having you at hand
would add no new dimension to my hike.
The sky would gleam no bluer and the band
would not switch to an anthem that I like.
The roadside juggler—eager but untaught—
would not grow more proficient with his rings.
The arguments are sound, but I cannot
persuade myself of any of these things.
Published in Avatar Review
I look at her, she at the sea,
to where the waters break and hiss.
The mist dissolves, my memory
contains no hour to rival this.
On one broad flank the white cliffs rise,
old, gentle, with a fringe of green.
We too have grown; we don’t chastise,
or deal in things that might have been.
On phosphate, plankton, flint and peat,
the cataclysmic centuries
worked storm and torment, ice and heat,
to bring us vistas calm as these.
But our circuit, of our choice,
to such great matters does not range.
With steady eye and quiet voice
we speak of things that do not change.
Published in Able Muse
Night Train to Delhi
Pale stabs of light whirl swiftly by
and weave among the flashing trees.
The chugging motion underthigh
half lulls the nervous heart to ease.
The carts and trucks that nightly go
between two rising walls of scree,
the distant mountains, crouched and low,
are glimpsed but momentarily.
Sine-waving stars assume the speed
registered by my northbound train.
All other things contract, recede,
some laggard, some in frantic vein.
Each farm, each road, each ghost-white brook,
approaches, fills, then falls behind
the square of glass through which I look
as on the sleepless axles grind.
The moon—tree-splintered, weightless—seems
a mirror of my life to date,
the years behind a lunar dream,
untouchable the years in wait.
No change of mind, no newborn prayer
could stem this car’s velocity,
nor save me from dismounting where
with half my heart I wish to be.
Published in The Formalist
Sindbad of the seven voyages,
nemesis of boundaries,
tireless investigator of land and sea,
sickens, at last, of the world’s appalling width.
No longer proud of quick hand or cunning mind,
he slouches in the crow’s nest for nights on end,
ignoring the tides,
feeling the pull of a different moon.
At times he imagines a room in the sky:
four white walls and a canopied bed
on which a betel-chewing Caliph reposes
his ample folds of flesh, while at his feet
a honey-tongued girl peoples the air
with swords and carpets and voyagers.
And as the windows of my own apartment go dark
and a fresh fall of snow hushes the street’s din,
I close the book and dream
that on the thousand and first night he solves
the obstinate mystery of dimensions
and as the Caliph rubs his palms together,
swelling with magnanimity
and preparing to possess his slave
he scythes into the chamber on the back of a Roc,
beard bristling with authority,
wielding his knotted turban like a whip,
sending the monarch whimpering beneath the bed.
Cured at last of legend,
and past all wandering, he dismounts,
extends a hand to the tongue-tied goddess on the floor
and shyly asks Scheherazade her name.
Published in The Atlanta Review