Author: Amlanjyoti Goswami (Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS))
Five poems that critique anthropocentrism and go beyond conventional binary tropes: ‘To Find a Feather’, ‘No Show’, Forecast’, ‘Trees’ and ‘More Scenery’.A Notes section outlines the poet’s wish to consider ‘a sensory project which breaks out of these [binary] distinctions’ and ‘moves into more relational spaces, not just as representational frameworks but as the very building blocks of reality’. Such an exploration ‘enables us to find things by looking for nothing in particular’ and in doing so, discover ‘a language universal enough to embrace the particular’.
Keywords: feather, posthuman, poetry, tsunami, forecast, birds
How to Cite: Goswami, A. (2021) “Five Poems”, Anthropocenes – Human, Inhuman, Posthuman. 2(1). doi: https://doi.org/10.16997/ahip.928
You need to go deep inside the forest. No park is enough. No refuse among rubbish will trace The remains of a cat hunt. No feather or hope there.
Dawn disappears, strewing brown leaf, waters gliding. Mud trails run bare. Dog poop, tobacco packet, cigarette butt, Fresh cow dung, morning jogger Early chirrup. But no feather.
You wonder if a leaf will do. How similar – each leaf, a feather – How they curl, fly and fall on your face, Green, brown and yellow. Were leaves birds once, is every bird a leaf?
You look among trees, behind shadows Where the spirits live Among marigolds and fresh breeze. Your hopes sink. Just five minutes to go.
You imagine your face, crestfallen, When you see her Downcast, no feather. Just then, on a lark, There it was, lying there.
On the mud trail for no reason But just so it would find you, this morning. Brown crested, fluffy, soft, Like a baby’s caress. Spine like leaf, only harder.
Found it, you exclaim. A treasure you were looking for, All your life. You return triumphant, smile on face. You need to keep it safe, on your palm, warm.
That does not say anything about The bird. Not mynah, not sparrow, Not crow or pigeon But something wild. Perhaps from far away Across salty seas, white mountains,
Who dropped anchor for a moment, Before flying on Leaving traces for you, and her. She does not know you, you do not meet her. Perhaps that only makes the story better.
It is true love, without companion. But that still does not explain Why you start Squawking, the moment you reach home and Display the feather to her.
How you grow wings suddenly. A million feathers And want to fly out of the window That is shut for winter. She steps back, but it is impossible to contain you.
You seem so eager – to somehow – fly. On your feet, your broken ankle Suddenly frees itself and grows claws. Your nose turns beak. Eyes, peer once – inside, then outside – for something,
Hard to tell what – Perhaps a twig, perhaps blue sky, Those first signs the world is slowly turning. You are after something else, something tangible, not food, Perhaps – a feather?
Birds need no permission to fly. Alert to all weather Their morning screech And caw is every day. A blessing and absolution.
Bird and fish were once one. One grew wings, the other fins. We just let go of our tails. Grew wings, four motor wheels. Desire to be bird and beast
Turned wish to be earth and sky. And we steamed our way through Rough patch, little isle, cosy nook. Became biped, a heart-lung machine Tied to worry, with no memory.
We now reign in a world of no tomorrow. Peacocks flutter when they see us, Dogs make way. The wilder beasts gave up long ago Betrayed by flint, stick and stone.
Calling it law of the jungle, Darwin, evolution, Our instinct now habit. These winged beings know better. Frogs who croak about The world’s upset stomach.
Vultures lurk top of the food chain, broken and plastic. We are now artificially intelligent For want of common wisdom And ask with unhurried attention If the flight is still on time.
When word of the tsunami came We reached the forest peak, and waited. Bear and deer, elephant and monkey Became one animal.
Waters of ocean rumbled From a distance Far from our common eye. But we could tell which way the wind blew.
Leaf rustled, just like every day. No sky darkened. But ears perked danger Noses sniffed trouble.
Old trees swayed – nothing new. But we knew, the storm would come from ocean floor Sweep beach, tree and stone. Climb top of building like a two-legged jogger.
They were all swept aside, roiled into the trouble. Danger did not come beating a tin drum. The beach-goers, Christmas holiday-seekers, Those in search of peace, the family with the last travel allowance.
They were all there. She came for them all, like a bounty hunter. No one knew what we knew And how those birds flew out of sight Before the first wave crashed on a serene shore.
See a tree For what it is – A lanky leg moving up Towards sky Arm branching sideways To catch the Sun.
Then ask, Questions – of breath Oxygen, And what trees can do For you.
Nothing but Land cleared up Shaped ideas of beauty For a few hundred years
Till the land turned Its gaze on us The trees began to speak Like before
And those huts in the distance Straw as Van Gogh Began to walk towards us Bellowing a strange howl
As the air too changed And the old pastels would no longer do It would be now two-way or nothing A strange reckoning
Our daily life, our museums Our view of what works That eureka moment, even that long lost Trace of a smile.
For years, traditional disciplinary thinking has been beset with binaries. These are the foundation stones, the building blocks, the DNA of thought. But if the mind’s canvas were to widen, allowed more thread for its weft and warp, the molecules of ‘thinking’ and ‘feeling’ may not be so distinct. Binary constructs limit–that is a truism–but epistemes outside dialectical dichotomy find themselves ‘othered’ before they can even begin. As such, Cartesian ontologies continue to predominate mainstream thinking just as such ‘thinking’ is unravelling at its seams.
It may be worthwhile to conceive a sensory project which breaks out of these distinctions of spirit or mind and matter, subject-object, nature-culture, human-nonhuman. It may then move into more relational spaces, not just as representational frameworks but as the very building blocks of reality. What is real, is a matter of perspective. ‘Real’ is not what is out there, but what happens while all this is going on. Where perspective alters and bends towards a plurality of diffractive understandings, it constitutes a fundamental shift in the very basis for conceiving reality. In this project, the threshold figure, the shaman, the liminal space, the outlier, the outsider, the prankster, the jack-in-the-box, the joker, the transient being who transforms itself from morning to night, becomes a prime character. Actor and agent are embedded within the space, and is constitutive of the space. The meaning of such space is constitutive of the actor as well as everything else that is happening inside. Fluidity is at its heart, where the fixity of the object dissolves into transience. Nothing stays the same. Heraclitus, but also Charon. This is also a crossing back and forth of thresholds, where the borders are never the same. Such shamanism is indigenous, redirecting energies inward, so the winds outside blow a little differently.
If ‘matter feels, converses, suffers, desires, yearns and remembers’, as Karen Barad (2012) remarks in a heroic attempt to bring, among other things, humanities and sciences together, then the current climate crisis, the global pandemic as well as the economic and political conditions of reality, are epistemological phenomena, and we are in a moment of epistemological crisis and awareness. The moral and ethical argument for solidarity must also acknowledge that there are multiple realities, and not just one way of seeing, since subject and object are constantly changing, eyeing one another, circling each other, in different contemporaneous temporalities. But are we listening? Do we do so with awareness of what we do not have?
The articulation of such phenomena, through the diffractions of language, must accommodate ways of seeing, hearing, feeling, sensing, experiencing and conversing that are outside the dominant circles of meaning. Poetry is always, first and foremost, about experience: it is subliminal only as far as matter is subliminal. It can reach realms not possible in theory. It is its own reward. Our realities, rendered too anthropocentric, find poetic truth strange. Poetry opens a window to other aspects of ourselves that are otherwise kept well hidden. These selves are too tactile and fluid for a straitjacketed entry and an all-too-narrow seat at the high table. To imagine a transhuman universe, where bird and fish were once one and personhood is not just about intellect, is to question some of the fundamentals of thinking. We may yet find room for some new exploration into uncharted terrain. This exploration, by its very nature, is diffractive, outside, defying labels. It enables us to find things by looking for nothing in particular. In that sense, my search is for a language universal enough to embrace the particular.
The poet would also like to acknowledge the influence of the work Cannibal Metaphysics by Eduardo Viveiros de Castro (Ed. and trans. by Peter Skafish, 2014) Minneapolis, MN: Univocal Publishing.
The author has no competing interests to declare.
Amlanjyoti Goswami’s recent collection of poems River Wedding (Poetrywala 2019) has been widely reviewed. His poetry has been published in journals and anthologies around the world and have also appeared on street walls in Christchurch, exhibitions in Johannesburg, an e-gallery in Brighton and buses in Philadelphia. A ‘Best of the Net’ nominee, he has read in various places, including New York, Delhi and Boston. He grew up in Guwahati, Assam, and lives in Delhi.
Barad, K. (2012). Matter Feels, Converses, Suffers, Desires, Yearns and Remembers: Interview with Karen Barad. In R. Dolphijn & I. van der Tuin (Eds.), New Materialism: Interviews & Cartographies. Ann Arbor, MI: Open Humanities Press/MPublishing. Available at: https://quod.lib.umich.edu/o/ohp/11515701.0001.001/1:4.3/--new-materialism-interviews-cartographies?rgn=div2;view=fulltext