Venice Canto (IV)

Hoshang Merchant

from Pound Pastiches

I write this in pencil Tentatively
For I write of great civilisations
I write as if I know nothing…So came I to Venezia
And I sat on the steps of the Doge’s palace                                   and wept
Because everything cost too much that year                    (what with the Sirocco)
And my sister, all light
Sister of the light touch
and the lighted eyes
took me by the hand from the American Express to          the glassblowers (bypassing the Mosaics)
where silica (sand) is blown light into glass
(And we picked the same vase for each other          —because we were one at root             though separated by our singular destinies)
And onward to Ravenna
Where Estée’s steed still stands
From where sweet Dante descended into Hell:
The same Dante who first got Hell’s map from an Arab:          Al’Maari’s Risaala al Gofraan
And the letter from hell was all Al-gebra to me
Until gentle Jan Kemp of Christchurch, NZ calculated the degrees
— ‘Why, Dante emerged from Hell out on my own homestead
So the world was always really one
Until the shitass bombers and farting lawgivers                    ripped it apart for oil                    found in the earth’s bowels
Diogenes in his tub was no different
from the anthropophagi Alexander found
who sheltered themselves from the sun with a raised root
And the beautiful free-standing Apollo of Anaximander
was evolved, rotated and revolved
from the grim high-backed chaired pharaohs of grim Luxor
And Venus herself was Black
As indeed was Mother Eve
Until she bleached out at Paphos          while emerging out the sea
—the light!      the light!          or, while being ejected from Paradise
(The light here / is not of the atmosphere                               but of the mind)
— Why do I not get tired of writing this?          Or, is anyone really listening? —
The Vikings and Crusaders          were both seafarers
They were conquerors
Who suffered sea-change
into something rich and strange
So that the cupolas of Venice          began suspiciously to look like the domes of Constantinople          Meat seasoned with cardamoms          Sultan-hating plotters seasoned in coffeehouses                                soon ended in the clinker
But let me not tinker with history
Now, in Genoa   Massimo   kiss-of-the wolf
Heroic soul, translator of Beowulf
takes me by my hand    Teaches me simply:
Hoshang! Don’t you see
Genoa faces west (to its peril)          All Venice faced east…

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Rupa and Co. published Hoshang Merchant’s book of poems Flower to Flame in 1992 in the New Poetry in India series. Yaraana: Gay Writing from India (Penguin, 1999), Forbidden Sex/Texts: New India’s Gay Poets (Routledge, 2009), Indian Homosexuality (Allied, 2010) and The Man Who Would Be Queen: Autobiographical Fiction (Penguin, 2012) are among his notable works. Presently, Merchant teaches Poetry and Surrealism at the University of Hyderabad. Secret Writings of Hoshang Merchant (Oxford University Press, 2016) is his most recent work.

Almost Island

Winter 2017

Delhi, India

Editor: Sharmistha Mohanty
Co-Editor: Vivek Narayanan

Almost Island is a space for literature that threatens, confronts, or bypasses the marketplace. Founded by prose writer Sharmistha Mohanty, the space began with this online journal, then expanded to an international writers dialogue, held every year in New Delhi. It hopes to extend and widen this space even further in the near future, in new ways. Almost Island believes that geography lends a direction to writing, without limiting it. India is where it is based, and it is committed to the multiple inheritances alive here, and equally seeks that which is vital in literature anywhere in the world.

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