Author Archives: Pavithra K. Mehta

Agapanthus

I never notice agapanthus before she blooms. This lack of awareness allows for yearly ambush. A blue bombardment, like so many miniature firecracker displays in freeze frame, they seize the sidewalks, fully formed– their delicate globes fashioned from white or  lavender bluebell blossoms, balancing perfectly on very tall stems. Agapanthus rises above it all, as sublime beings do, transcending a close-to-the-ground commotion, a happy hubbub of green leaves. The perfect spheres of their heads seem poised to take leave of their lithe bodies, as if at any moment they might elegantly decapitate themselves, lift off lightly, a synchronized indigo flock of crystal balls. 

Ethereal guardians of summer gardens, parks and parking lots. Undiscriminating. I’ve even known them to stand gorgeously outside the dry cleaners, lending an air of nobility and charm to an otherwise nondescript neighborhood. Agapanthus from agape. The flower of love. 

The ancient Greeks knew there are at least as many kinds of love as there are directions on the Earth. There is eros for instance, love that flies on a trickster deity’s arrow tip, generating all manner of mischief and delight. And there is philia, love like a hearthfire that draws minds close around the warming glow of friendship. But agape is love that drops your jaw, makes you stand agaping. 

Agape is love without reservation. Monsoon love, juggernaut love, love that cannot be staunched like a wound or undone like a hairdo. Love that cannot be pulled like a plug, diverted like traffic, dammed like a river because its beginningless quality is suffused without end in everything. Agape is the Infinite’s love for the finite — and vice versa. 

Does the symmetry of that astound you? Then we are a pair. Our unsuspected birthright– to stand on this small ledge of life and love on equal footing with Eternity. Why were we not properly informed? And who will answer for the sins of omission?

But wait– Look! Summer’s chariot hurtles across the sky. Purple bobble headed flowers recite old poems with perfect enunciation in scriptless tongues. The seasons are a floral tradition, an oral tradition, perennial and precise. They whisper in our ears a thousand times a thousand times a day withholding nothing.

But am I paying attention? —

Are you?

Agapanthus

Agapanthus, Botanical illustration by Mally Francis


The Framed Infinite

I believe windows are celebrated in direct proportion to the degree one is conscious of circumscription. For those who live a seemingly free range existence, oblivious of external limits, the window’s presence and function is assumed. Simultaneously looked through– and overlooked. Unregistered as the pattern of curtains in a neighbor’s home, or the direction of the thieving wind that rifles casually through the hillside untouchable by man made laws. 

Windows exist to be looked through yes, but they are not meant to be overlooked. Being transparent is not the same thing as being insignificant. In this way windows are related to the invisible. 

Put another way: if you do not have a meaningful relationship with windows, then it is possible, that you have some difficulty perceiving grace.

For those whose days are contained, and conscious, the window is as impossible to overlook as a peacock or a comet. It is a portal, a bridge, an altar and avenue whose significance is vital and imperative to life. 

A window is the infinite, framed in a rectangle of glass, granting depth, mystery and the possibility of exploration to actors who play daily in very small, forgotten theaters. 

Patients in hospital beds understand the silent sustenance of windows. So do prisoners. And largely housebound creatures with vast interior lives — like dogs, cats, very young humans, very old ones–and Emily Dickinson. 

It must be mentioned here that for optimal results windows must not be overzealously substituted for walls. A residence where all walls double as windows soon grows tedious and disconcerting. A reverse prison. Celebrities and goldfish understand this better than most. 

It is sometimes necessary to explain to denizens of the modern world, that television is not the same thing as a window. Neither is the internet. They bear certain overt similarities yes — but overt similarity is a very low bar for most things. A table and a panther are similar in that they both have four legs. But you cannot interchange them without attracting notice and untoward consequences.

If you find it absolutely necessary to draw comparisons, then a window is more like a book or a boat than a television or a computer screen. Should the occasion demand it you may swap one for the other without hesitation or catastrophic result.


How Do You Live In Your Days?

Do you live in your days like a forgotten ticket stub in someone’s jacket? As if the show were behind you? As if you went out one evening to watch your life, and decided halfway through that it wasn’t worth the price of admission.

Other things more interesting stole your attention, even though we’ve been told and told that all that glitters is not gold, we are so easily seduced by sparkle and the kind of food that fills our mouths but not our stomachs and never our souls.

How we gorge on the insubstantial, and substitute the vibrant, risky, full-bodied occupation of life with a weak-kneed, lukewarm stupor.

Do you live in your days like an unmarked bottle in the back of the fridge? A bottle that has been there so long that no one remembers what’s in it. Do you live in your days like a lone sock in the drawer whose match disappeared in the wash weeks or years ago.

Think. Think hard. What shape are you holding and in what container are you held? Those are not questions to be asked or answered lightly.

Live like the roar in the cave of the lion’s throat. Live like the mustard seed that is dropped into hot oil — ready to explode its flavor into everything. Like the wick in a candle. Flickering. Fierce. Alive.


Coin Toss

A full moon flips

Into night sky

Quickly now!

Heads or Tails?

What will you call? —

Earth in the balance.


Protocol

She enters the room slow marching, in the manner of a bride down the aisle– carrying not a frilly bouquet– but a tray bearing six individual steel tumblers of steaming coffee. Her eyes are downcast, giving viewers an impression of timidity or coyness or both. In reality she is neither. She is just a woman trying very hard not to spill coffee. As she walks, unbeknownst to her audience she is maneuvering the tray through a series of skilled and imperceptible movements to ensure that these cups, (which her mother with misplaced enthusiasm has filled to the very brim) do not runneth over. As protocol dictates she approaches the oldest man in the room, her grandfather, and extends the tray. As protocol dictates he waves her towards the oldest male guest, her prospective father-in-law. As protocol dictates he waves her in the direction of the host, her father, who waves her back. All this hand-waving is accompanied by a specific brand of head-shaking intended to imply gracious deference. A visitor from a distant land might understandably, if incorrectly, conclude from the proceedings that the order in which these half-dozen tumblers of coffee are dispensed is a profoundly significant matter, one with serious implications for national security or global warming. Meanwhile the tray is growing unbearably heavy and our slow marching prospective bride is sorely tempted to drop the whole thing on the floor and head for the nearest nunnery.


Senti Mental

As a teenager I was once informed, and not unkindly, by a cousin whose earthly years tallied in the low single digits, that I was “a senti mental.” He split this four syllable word into two words of two syllables each, and pronounced each syllable as distinctly as only a born and bred South Indian can. Senn-ttii Menn-ttall. Taking into consideration his pronunciation, enunciation, and the general context of the conversation, I believe he believed the word (or in his usage, words) referred to less than sound faculties of mind. I recall the combination of confidence and concerned affection in his voice. It touched and amused me then as the memory still does now. I do not think it was an entirely misplaced diagnosis.

With that preamble, from sometime after the turn of the millennium — a decidedly Senti Mental somewhat poem.

and this time
i know
will fade–like the memory of winter
(like the clichéd memory of winter)
when Spring is come.

and when you are arrived
(like that soulsweetseason)
with leaftipped promises
of blossoms and bliss
with brightlipped promises
of–

i shall recall with the
faint bewilderment
of the backward glance

days that were
longand

difficultand

dark

but–

i will not
be able

to summon
this current sensation

this current
current of
sensation–

of
being
cold

coldcoldcold

(and old)

of being
not so much

alone

as–

(only.)

everything that now insists
on its separate

sadness–

the dawn ritual
of heartache-
regular
rehearsed.
a line-perfect

pang.

faking-a-waking.

the swiftsighs swallowed
like small stones
filling nothing
(and lots of it)

smiles tossed like wistful garlands
wreathing the happiness other people
have found

in

eachother

everything now
poignantprofound
everything
par-t-ic-u-lar-ly

painful

shall fall silent and

as

easytoforget

as

asoftlysleeping

scar

that I shall wonder at when
I push back the sleeve of
this time and see it

there–

witness to a wounding
i will barely recall
(if at all) —

so close

soclosesoclosesoclose
will i be

someday

to the sun of your

love

(the sweetsumofyour

love)

there will be
nothing remaining of

this time

to hold onto.

an icicle- sharpointedestined
to melt into the memory of
something-
sharpointedestined
to melt into the memory of–

so close

soclosesoclose
will i be

someday

to the sun of your
love

(the sweetsumofyour
love)

that this time
i know
will fade-

like the memory of winter
(the clichéd memory of winter)
when Spring is come.

and when you are arrived
(like that soulsweet season)
with leaftipped promises
of blossoms and bliss
with brightlipped promises
of—

there will be nothing left
of this time to
hold onto

(save only

…this.)


Fortuities

Necessity knows no magic formulae-they are all left to chance. If a love is to be unforgettable, fortuities must immediately start fluttering down to it like birds to Francis of Assisi’s shoulders. — Milan Kundera

There are days when I look out the window without meaning to, as if my glance had been commanded by a consciousness beyond that typically called my own. And I catch, not the sight but, the sense of a bird. The briefest of blurs, a velocity of being, accompanied by a communication whose unmistakable imperative is simply: LOOK. 

I have an unaccountable conviction in these moments, unlikely as it seems to my rational mind, that I am being summoned to witness something. Someone. But I cannot will my way into such witnessing. I can only intend and then forget. So that the surface of my mind moves unselfconsciously, while the depths have been readied.

Sometimes it takes a couple of days. I feel a quiet, almost imperceptible surge, but my gaze is belated, catches its breath not on bird but on space freshly emptied of bird. Even these misses have their magic. And then comes the barefoot discovery– always barefoot– for there is never time for mind to pull on shoes, slip into slippers. 

The first time I–felt– more than saw, the somersaulting shadow of wings, and was pulled to the window by the gravitational field of an invisible presence. Three perhaps four times this happened, over one afternoon and into the next. Then there he was. A young hawk perched on the wire closest to our home and lowest. An unusual bird placed in unusually close range. Those colors, those curves and angles enclosed in and enclosing such wild grace. A sense of young majesty, a presence aware of being within the radius of another’s awareness. 

A little over a year earlier a turkey vulture had alighted, on the wire opposite our living room window. A hulking black-shouldered, red-headed bird gazing deliberately into the heart of our home, while my mother served hot dosas to a guest. No this had not happened before, and has never happened since. And yes there is a story, but for another time perhaps.

And then last week, while making breakfast (oatmeal), I turned (or was turned,) abruptly from hot stove toward kitchen window and caught a fluttering handkerchief. Small, black and flying, falling, dancing. I recognize, without knowing how, the movements of familiar birds. I do not dissect the invisible warp and weft of their intricate weaving. I could not describe it to you even if I care to, but am glad for the quiet backdrop of their daily and dynamic craft. This pattern even peripherally caught, was unfamiliar. Less subtle, more demanding of audience. Snared I walked to the window searching for the bird behind the show. At first nothing but empty driveway and branches and sky– and then he materialized. 

An immediately likable bird of an immediately likable size. Charcoal-smudged body with a roguish, tousled head and such an unafraid, arrested quickness in his being. A purposeful sense of pause. “You’ve been seen,” I told him silently. Perhaps he was unconvinced, or perhaps he was simply being sociable. Either way when I stepped outside several minutes later, he flew past me and perching on nearby branch proceeded to sing a single note. So sweetly, single-mindedly, so persistently that I could not help but think he was telling me something. I noted then, his white breast, how it peaked crisply between his dark lapel feathers. How oddly formal he appeared, how like a bird in a tuxedo. A dapper bird who had remembered to dress for the occasion–but had forgotten to comb his hair. And all the while he sang his tail pumped, keeping time. He watched and sang as I watered the plants. Unfazed by my size, my species, my lack of song. I watched him watching me and wondered where he had come from, where he was going. Wondered who and what he was.

A search for mettlesome black bird with white breast brought him up immediately on my screen. A flycatcher — a Black Phoebe. A songbird, I am informed, that does well around humans and is known to sit on low perches in backyards and keep up a running series of chirps while scanning the horizon for edible insects. The most wonderful thing I learned about this bird is that the male of the species will show his mate possible nest sites by hovering in front of them for approximately ten seconds awaiting her ay or nay. She will make the final decision on where they nest. An arrangement that strikes me as eminently sensible on all fronts.

All morning I cannot shake the sense of his presence. Finally I take out my brushes, a paint set and begin. In London and New York passersby can get their portraits painted in a matter of minutes by gifted street artists. In the backyard of our little home, certain feathered individuals, unconcerned with quality or self-image can get theirs painted by a rapturous amateur, for a song. 

***

It does not have a name, and I do not know nearly enough give it one. The birds are privy to it though. This impulse that leaps my gaze to the window, this force that draws being forth and tangles my fibers with the pulsating beauty of this world, destabilizing strictly human concerns, re-centering perception.

***

“Hope” is the thing with feathers, said Dickinson, and perched it in the soul—where it–

“sings the tune without the words–

And never stops–at all–”

If I had to wager a guess I’d say she was privy to it too.

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