Another darkness

Issue 3/1994 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry

Poems from Kali (Schildts, 1993)

‘Kali is the Liberator. Kali gives protection to those who know her. Kali is the Terrific One, the Destroyer of Time. As the Dark Shakti of Shiva, Kali is Space, Air, Fire, Water and Earth. Kali performs all the physical needs of Shiva. She is the Possessor of the Sixty-four Arts and increases the Joy of the Lord of Creation. Kali is the Pure Transcendental Shakti. Kali is the Night of Darkness.’

Kalika Purana


you show me a distant world
where all the beautiful is mine
you show yourself to me, naked, and whisper:

not the poppy
that murders the heroin addict,

not love
not my dark sister,
that will be the death of your love


you place my right hand
on your left breast, and ask
if now, too, at this moment,
the history of mankind
is only a monomaniac chronicle
swelling with madness and brutalities


you relate
that people sometimes
are afflicted by visions
their children will one day make come true


you warn me, whisper
that people constantly
murder love
with a single why,
and themselves
by setting ultimatums,

and you whisper
that every shrine of pilgrimage
exists in you


and I close my eyes,
and you in my arms, I close you,
and you open, open my questions,
and you open wound after wound,

and you say that the fever that is going to come…
and I cannot hear what you are saying,
and you say that the dark mother…
and I can hear your heart beating,

and your fingernails, your fingernails writing
that love, that love is


and you are still Durga,
you are a golden raga
rising out of blood red silk,
in a naked room, in a room
without windows, flashing with blue lightning,

and I do not know when I stopped weeping, and I do not know when I perceived
that I had given myself up to another darkness


			mother, you 
		    who rightly punish
	those who pay tribute to you – because they worship you

		       as the infinite mother you are,

	and you do not want tributes, you want nothing,
you are the ruttish heat of the crematorial groves and it is life that wants 
	you to dance Kaliyuga out of time,

		for infinity's breathing and also for me

	who am compelled to draw near to you, Kali, Mahakali,

and you are the Mother, the Mother in Atman and beyond Atman, you are 
	the surviving, the posthumous, the only and the eternal,
				and like a sister
		of Mary or I do not know whom or what, but perhaps 
	you resemble Innanna and also Astarte of Aram-narahim,

		and punish me – I love you


Three days after I wrote the poem that ends with the line:

and punish me – I love you

I found myself in the intensive care ward of the Assembly of God Hospital, while Calcutta saw in Durga Puja – the annual festival in honour of Durga – and was also preparing Kali Puja, the festival that, during days of chaos, amidst explosions and overpowering sights and sounds, marks the end of the monsoon.

I lay strapped to a bed, pinned to tubes.

The diagnosis malaria, cerebral malaria. Black malaria.

And the hallucinations and the shivers and the fever came to a climax, in bouts, in spasms and in something that felt as though someone had thrust a high voltage electric cable into my brain, into the whole of me.

I thought I was going to die.

‘Now, mister, we have done everything we can. Do you believe in God? Even if you don’t, you better pray.’

Even without the doctor’s exhortation I prayed, or I know that I at least hissed names, countless names, in between long harangues of curses and a panic-stricken repetition of promises, and all of it wrapped in a single no-no-no… Until everything, over and over again, disappeared.

Each time I regained consciousness I promised, I promised Kali, Durga, Shiva, God, Atman, the Mother beyond Atman, life, life and death, all things and all creatures, dear, dear and holy among other things that, if I were to survive, I would never, never again play with the instinct for words.

I survived.

When I was let out of hospital I went to St Paul’s Cathedral, where I offered up inarticulate gratitude, to Kali in Christ. And in that strange light that filtered in through the coloured mosaics of the windows, I practised silence, for a long time.

Until someone prayed within me, for those whose suffering is thousandfold.

When I stepped out of the cathedral it was almost as though I was ashamed, in the presence of the streets.

And I will carry them all my life, shut up inside me. The plasma parasites. The risk of a relapse, and the terrors. And anything may break out. And especially poetry.

And I know that I cannot live without breaking the promise.

Death is, but life is even more.

Calcutta showed it.

And Kali showed me my own death. And perhaps, perhaps I wrote myself to it, wrote myself to its brink. And to the terrors.

I don’t know. Terrors do not always originate in superstition. But they yield, for the most part, to poetry.

Kaliyuga – the prevailing age, that of disaster, the last of the four cyclically recurring ages.

Translated by David McDuff


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