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Hosue-of-a-thousand-doorsHouse of a Thousand Doors (1988)

Poems from House of a Thousand Doors

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House of a Thousand Doors
Her Garden
Sidi Syed’s Architecture

House of a Thousand Doors

This house has a thousand doors
the sills are cut in bronze
three feet high
to keep out snakes,
toads, water rats
that shimmer in the bald reeds
at twilight
as the sun burns down to the Kerala coast.

The roof is tiled in red
pitched with a silver lightning rod
a prow, set out from land’s end
bound nowhere.
In dreams
waves lilt, a silken fan
in grandmother’s hands
shell colored, utterly bare as the light takes her.

She kneels at each
of the thousand doors in turn
paying her dues.
Her debt is endless.
I hear the flute played in darkness,
a bride’s music.
A poor forked thing
I watch her kneel in all my lifetime
imploring the household gods
who will not let her in.

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Her Garden

The mountains crackle
they are full of flint,
the cicada bristles
it does not sing
in grandmother’s garden
as mulberry trees
gnarled like her hands
start their long slide
seawards.

I imagine her sitting
under the mulberry leaves,
hot fruit splashed
to her eyes,
a blindness cleaned

in that solitary house
when trees clamber
out of bark
and swim
to a rock that is black
and bare
and like nothing
else in this homeland.

I like to think
she died in the day
her face set heavenward,
exacting little attention
from the sun —
once risen it sets
in finicky chaos
in a sky so flat and blue
that light mirrors itself
as if on water, soundlessly.
So losing body
she crept into her own soul
and she slept.

As young goats leap over cracks
in the garden walls,
as the cicada shunts sparks
from its wings
I remember her.
She died so long
before my birth
that we are one, entirely
as a sky
disowned by sun and star,
a bleakness beneath my dreams
a rare fragrance
as of dry mulberry
pierced by this monsoon wind.

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Sidi Syed’s Architecture

I sometimes wonder what he was like,
Sidi Syed, a small man
come all the way from Abyssinia,
his skin the color of earth
before waters broke loose
from the Sabermati river.
It was Ahmed’s city then, in the year 1500.

Loitering by the river
he watched infants with blackened eyes
swinging in their cradles,
mothers with chapped hands, laundering.
He saw skins of cattle and deer
laid out to dry
on the sharp rocks,

heard voices in them calling him,
crying out as if home
were nothing
but this terrible hunger
loosed between twin earths,
one underfoot by the river  bed,
the other borne in the heart’s hole.

Sometimes at night
did fear catch hold,
a shadow dragging
its own robes;
water trapped
in its own unutterable weight?

Well before his death
a great man now, reimbursed
for service of the Shah,
he picked a mastercutter.

From crags of marble
he watched it grow,
on driest land, no tract of water near,
the threshold lightly raised
to slipping lines,
a corset to the hips of finest stone
arched to a tympanum so rare
it fled from nature.

Was it for him
this starry palm
with vine on vine still tumbling,
a tumult of delight
struck from a stonecutter’s hands –

fit elaboration
of a man unhoused,
yet architect of himself,
his genius still smouldering?

The mosque was hollow though
like a sungod’s tomb.
It tracked his hunter
the madness of stretched skin
still so close
on those noisy river banks.

House of a Thousand Doors | 1988 | Poetry, Works & Collaborations
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