Palais in California

It must be said that I haven’t written a poem in more than 25 years. Although I am often told that since I live and breathe translation, I am also a poet. I am unable to accept this–thinking myself a cannibal, devouring another poet to make myself whole. Yet, I am always the first to stand up for translation as creative art, fiercely advocating for it as something more than derivative and copy.

I suppose then, that it make sense that this first poem is its own thing of another thing. I’ve long wanted to create a series of poems in English using the Aintinai (Five Landscapes) taxonomy of Tamil classical poetry. Here is experiment 1, inspired by the landscape of my beloved Tamil Akam, and my experience of dislocation as an immigrant.

Journeys in Tamil Nadu: 1
Tinai: Palai (Wasteland)

In the poems of old, heroes
dared the wasteland
to find in the far off distance
a shining city on a hill. Not much
longer, girlfriend, he would lie
to his lover wilting like a hibiscus
plucked from its stalk.
I think of poems
as the car whizzes past
the white hot wilderness
steam rising off the asphalt.
I think of stories made of poems
when I see the odd hut, the lonely
woman, a barking dog, a sad thirsty cow
I imagine her mourning
a daughter a son lost
into the wilderness,
little stick figures, mirages
in the shimmering tropical sun
darting, searching through this harsh
beautiful world for that shining city
on the hill.