Poems | Ranjit Hoskote

Photo : Lee La

Francesco Griffo, inventor of italics

Follow his shaking, roasted hand: he sets chisel against wooden edge,
points burin at plate, strikes lead against wedge, lays kern against grain,
and so through the night rams out the ringing cavalcade of words.
The ink rains down in neat lines, an orchard’s planted on the sheet:
psalms, verses, prayers grow; he prunes them all with wayward grace.
As the page burns bright, the typesetter’s eyes grow rimmed with red
from staring at tight, infinitely small and mocking margins.
His reined lust explodes in hot metal, then fine brocade:
most mornings, he ends up drunk in a canal,
bruised from a brawl. One day he will swing
from a hangman’s rope, singing to the last:

Yes, in three languages Yes, I announce, I declare, I proclaim it:
I was manic enough last night to smash through all the typefaces,
to drug every font, and now in my own sharply cut sans-serif,
I’ve slugged this by dimming candlelight for today’s edition,
this crazed compositor’s invocation
to a dawn that will break over Venice without his help:
Where I’m going, there’s blazing horror and no gentle restoration,
pitch the only ink, flame the only imprint
and icy darkness my Lord High Censor.
Find harbours, all you galleys that sail out
of my mind’s bedevilled press!

The Atlas of Lost Beliefs

Without waking up, turn to page thirty-seven
in the Atlas of Lost Beliefs
and surround yourself

with apsaras, kinnaras, gandharvas, maenads,
satyrs, sorcerers, bonobos, organ grinders,
stargazers, gunsmiths, long-distance runners,
gravediggers, calligraphers, solitary reapers,
beenkars, troubadours, rababias, ronin,
nagas, pearl divers, Vandals, Goths,
mummers, snipers, collectors of moths,
hobos, dharma bums, bauls, drifters,
djinns, mahjubs, marabouts, qalandars,
griots, mad hatters, speakers in tongues,
trippers, star angels, batmen, punks,
eggheads, buffoons, lay preachers, agitators,
friends of the court, friars minorite, agents provocateurs,
bird-spangled shamans, fainting oracles, screeching owls,
wise men of Gotham, and women who run with wolves

all blessed by the blue hand of a reckless dancer
who spares a thought or two for the world but no more
as she poses, heels in the air, Cossack-kicking on a crumbling reef.

Rain Dance

The dancer wilts,
her early lessons in balance

The first rains lift her spirits.
Only much later, as she hears
the reassuring peal of thunder

and the sky empties out
cloud by cloud,
will it come to her:

lightning travels faster.
The news comes late,
the damage already done.

Bactrian Drachma
for Shailendra Bhandare

On one side, a face that’s been kissed, spat on, spun in bright air:
                    tyrant mining dry valleys
                              far from Homer’s wine-dark sea.
                              On the other,
                    rimmed by a halo of worn ass-lip script:
a cave-born echo, never heard the same twice, never fully deciphered.

A Constantly Unfinished Instrument
for Brian Eno

Begin with the creeper.
Follow its rustle
as it uncurls across brick, bark and thorn.

Go out in all weathers, craft a score
from the grunts and growls
that escape the world-beast in its sleep.

Stay the course until you’ve caught
the quick, true surge of the ocean
that’s felt the fire harpoon pierce its hide:

until you’ve heard the ocean flail, lash and roar
through the creeper,
heard it again, and heard it right.

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