Student Loan

It was an automated response
It confirmed receipt of payment
And showed me a new balance
Not much different from the old.

The response stated quite clearly
Its “no reply” nature. It promised
A swift bounce back, a notification
That an attempt to communicate
With the sender would result in
Undeliverable bits and bytes.

Longitudinal research on my life
Will show an undiminished loan,
Borrowed fifteen years ago and
Still as fresh and as youthful as
The day it was born. It is in fact
A burgeoning beauty,
With no concept of age or death
Or diminished stature.

It feeds, it grows and it feeds
Some more. It has reached
Immortality. I am certain it
Will outlive me.

So I fired up a response
To the no-reply address. This
Wrath needs to be bounced
Off the walls of my padded cell.
I am straitjacketed and shackled
But I can still scream “usury”,
And have it fall back on my
Crumbling self.

Did I Leave Footprints?

There was a credenza
In a corner of the room.

I paid it no mind

Perhaps it served
Some obscure purpose.
I had rested
A coffee mug on it once.

We gave it away last spring
Dragged it to the curb
On recycling day
And left it there.

There’s a square depression
In the shag of the carpet
Where the credenza once was.

The original hue
of the carpet was
a much brighter beige, it seems.

I walked out the double doors
Of the Port Authority Bus Terminal
This morning and squinted up at
The New York Times Building.

Did this still feel like it once had?
Like home?

I walked east, then south
Balancing a purse, a tote and
a steaming cup of coffee.

I noted the woman dressed in
The all familiar black who had gold
colored shoes on with red laces.

I was indeed here even if my gait
was wobbly. estranged.

I even recognized
The bagel and coffee vendor,
He was at the same spot
on my old beat.

He did not remember me.

Back at home much later
I see the lighter colored
rectangular track where
the credenza once was.

These footprints were permanent.

Earler in the day,
The guy at our meeting,
The disembodied
Speaker phone voice,
Whose face I’ve never seen
Swore he had met me
And had known my name
For “hundreds of years”
He insisted, “who hadn’t?”

Makes me wonder
If there was a marked,
permanently etched,
Indentation
Where I once was.

Automata

About automata I obsess,
Although this I do confess,

I knew nothing about them,
until Scorsese’s enchanting go,
at Brian Selznick’s Hugo.

Hugo sought a heart shaped
key, to let his automaton,
be that which he was meant to be.
I sought beauty and artistry
and an afternoon tinged
with a hint of mystery.

Scorsese, blessed by Mesmer,
cast a spell, and delivered,
as he carved out voids,
and filled them with dreams,
and an arc of resolution,
tailored and trimmed,
for our consumption.

This fiction spun alive
every dust-ridden archive,
and museum basement,
revealing abandoned and
creaky inanimates – worn,
broken, yet concealing,
logic and precision.

Our own Morris Museum,
set up displays when they
obtained some and news
reports showed wide-eyed
kids, each one a forty eight
inch bundle of wonder, awe
and fascination.

Their robot puppies didn’t
do the trick, their walking,
talking and peeing dolls
fell woefully short, against
a smiling figure that could
enchant while writing,
sketching or playing ball.

Renaissance creations
from Parisian courts,
with elegant vetements
and a hint of a soul –
What made them tug
at heartstrings, like no
robots ever could?

****

I find automatons fascinating.  There is poetry around them, they are ancient attempts at the secrets of the soul.  I find our obsession with creation, especially when we make successive, iterative, evolving attempts at assembling something that can be like us without emerging from a womb.

I was building on a conversation with my daughter, often my muse, and I mentioned to her that perhaps we come close but never simulate humanity in its entirety because we never program irrationality or impulse or impetuousness or the times when we do something that defies all expectations and all paths that would be considered logical, meaningful or rational, in other words the eternal Spock vs Kirk debate.

Can one work irrationality into the complex internal mechanisms of an ancient automaton or a futuristic android? Who knows! But for now my daughter concurred that we made more irrational decisions than rational ones as humans.

Illustration: Anoushka Thakur

Signed the papers

I signed the papers
I said I had no questions
When they wanted a reaction

Perhaps a reaction
Is more of a band-aid
for them, even if it comes
gift-wrapped as a kind and gentle
opportunity for me to let loose.

But no, I am not Florence
and I offer no comforts.

Something animates my steps
these days.  I stand tall.
I am starched stiff.
I am a body in motion
Yet to register
the external force.

So I walk tall
Not meeting an averted gaze
and claiming with pride
the space that’s already

sterile.

Travel Snapshot: Tent City

She stood there watching, intent,
for hours, or so it seemed,
on a high rise balcony,
sipping the golden nectar of a
fruit from this land.

The sun beat down
and a child’s skin glistened
brown – the lather slithering
down – under mugs full of water,
extracted from a tiny
plastic bucket by his mom.

Her father soon joined her
for the engrossing balcony view,
and innocent, questioning eyes.

“Where do they live Dad?
The bathing child and his mom?”
For there wasn’t a ‘home’ in sight.

He pointed to the patch
of filthy plastic blue
sheltering a four-post home,
and a few others scattered
in the distance.

He christened it “Tent City”.

The cows on the road
didn’t shock or surprise,
the stray dogs were friends,
and a walk to the beach –
just a time to meet Sana –
a Tent City friend
now clutching a Barbie prize.

Pragya

Harvest Moon

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On Wednesday night
when it’s your turn
to take the garbage out
and you saunter to the curb
with your head hung low
and arms weighed down,
something whispers,
calls out your name,
and peeking through the lattice
of a maple
readying for fall,
from between two homes
silhouetted across
Winding Hill Drive,
it greets you.
It’s made an appearance
just for you,
tonight.

Descended
from the heavens,
for a tête-à-tête
with you!

Your bags
are suddenly weightless,
a glow travels down,
from your head
to your toes,
this harvest moon,
you’re blessed.

Pacific Northwest on My Mind – Sestina

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Up empty streets lined with alpine greens,
Heading for a log home in the mountains
of the west, that would be ideal, I feel.
The neighbors would be more than a handshake
away and the green grocer, at the bottom
of the hill, next to the lone gas station.

Once a month I’d drive down to this station
To feed the car and get bread, milk and greens
and show Mae Jean the face that hit rock bottom
once, in a quest to climb every mountain.
Things would be simpler. My steely handshake,
a trifle overdone, I sense Mae Jean would feel.

Yes, Mae Jean would heal these wounds, I feel.
I’d walk the line like my radio station’s
Oft-played Cash song and would finally shake
these blues, leave them scattered amidst the greens
that take my breath away. In these mountains
her love would pull me up from the bottom

to live! For once you hit rock bottom
and can’t dream or love or laugh or feel
That’s when you leave, and head for the mountains.
Confusion, long lines at bus stations,
complete exhaustion, pallor – sickly green,
inconsequential specks I must shake

loose for Mae Jean. I’d relax the handshake,
grab a fishing rod, reel in some bottom
feeders*, while she prepares the salad greens.
Then choose a vintage wine, one we can feel
going down smooth. She’d wait at the gas station
bags in hand, for a night in the mountains,

with an easterner in awe of mountains,
who extends a most uncertain handshake
as he unlearns, unwinds at this station
unfamiliar, scraping the bottom
of his waders in the meadow’s lush greens.
Revived, resplendent, just how life should feel!

I dream of mountains, curled at the bottom,
Crumpled, shaken and dejected I feel,
longing for Mae Jean and those verdant greens.

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