You call me monkey man, odiyan, shapeshifter
When I stalk the still night, deserted by shadows.
Everyone is imprisoned in their homes.
You take photographs. I let you
See me in my naked wisdom, I turn
Your myths around, the camera can see me too.
Your wide angle, your narrow perspective, the side glance
Doesn’t matter. What matters is matter, and how it thinks
How it changes shape, becomes ape.
How it walks on stilts, my legs lightning.
You measure me metric, call me eight feet, electric.
You chase, I follow you, in a karmic circle
Where yesterday is today but with another name.
I count stars on lazy nights, not with fingers but with toes
Bending inward, breaking the chasms of distance.
Yes, I change shape sometimes, when I feel like it.
In the rain everything will be blurred again.
Today’s light post, tomorrow’s shadow.
I am still alive, if that’s what you want to know.
Though living now is a different matter,
Filled with absence and uncertain wisdom.
I fly on my feet to remind you it can be done.
You are a little short of confidence, need a spring of hope
And though you are all inside, you must not forget who you are,
What you can be. As for me, I am who I am. Pure matter
That changes form. A spirit, free bird, Ariel, peeping tom,
I am not going to change, but into a bird, or who knows
The next wild thing that comes my way.
Woman of the High Plains
(Dorothea Lange, Woman of the High Plains, 1938)
In one photograph there is a woman
Scorched by sun.
Hand on forehead, another on neck.
She cannot resist a smile,
Where does it comes from?
Something the photographer just told her?
We won’t know. It changes things,
Turns her into an emblem,
Fortitude against the elements.
This is deep desert country. Texas, 1938.
She needs the work, has to keep at it.
Cannot give up. No not now.
Salt dripping the sack she wears.
The horizon beyond the toil. Earth and sky.
No war yet, but enough going on at home.
She stays unnamed. Perhaps the name is hidden in Lange’s notes.
Notes that say: ‘if you die, you are dead, that’s all’. Her words.
But she is alive, willing, a survivor.
There is still some time to go.
There will be work today, tomorrow.
We aren’t sure about the day after.
We don’t know what after that. Perhaps a house, in sunny country
Perhaps olives and vegetables. Perhaps the hint of a smile
Even as the day moves down west.
Twilight and then night. The photographer goes home,
Equipment packed into a box.
The photograph reaches the galleries, eighty years later.
We pause near the exit, return to her
From a million miles away
In another country, almost another world
A familiar worker down the road
A weary deserted path to nowhere. The sight of a day’s wages
The same sad hint of a smile.
Short Bio: Amlanjyoti Goswami’s poetry has been published in journals and anthologies around the world, including his recent collection River Wedding (Poetrywala) which has been widely reviewed. His poems have also appeared on street walls of Christchurch, exhibitions in Johannesburg, an e gallery in Brighton and buses in Philadelphia. He has read in various places, including in New York, Delhi and Boston. He grew up in Guwahati and lives in Delhi.