The 23 Poems Challenge- Poem #1

In the wee hours of 15th November this year, I would have breathed in this world for 23 years. And while the laugh lines around my mouth and the occasional appearance of grey strands do support the very fact, my soul is still puerile. I feel younger than I have before, and I do not mean this in a I-have-discovered-the-cure-to-ageism-kind-of-way, but that the more I see the world, the more I feel that I know nothing and have done nothing worth priding over. There really are miles to go before I breathe, let alone sleep.

I don’t know why but I’ve always found something magical about the number 23. (Maybe because it was Nathan Scott’s jersey number?) So to imbibe this feeling of equal amounts of dread and quintessential enthusiasm, I have decided to read 23 poems before I turn 23 and write about each and every one of them here. A fair warning to all ye who enter, what I write here will be based purely on how I see the world, and not how the world sees the world. I can guarantee there will be plenty who would disagree with my perception, but I in all honesty couldn’t care less how politically incorrect I am. Even the poets of the poems themselves can rise from their graves and chastise me, but I will not accept that my analysis is wrong because that is the very reason I am in utter incandescent love with poetry: the beauty of the words lies totally in the eyes and minds of the beholder.

Poem number 1

How could I even think of poetry without thinking about the man who made me fall in love with words. His words. So, I have decided to begin this sojourn with my beloved poet and my spirit guide incarnate, Pablo Neruda‘s poem I Like For You To Be Still.

The Poem:

I like for you to be still
It is as though you are absent
And you hear me from far away
And my voice does not touch you
It seems as though your eyes had flown away
And it seems that a kiss had sealed your mouth
As all things are filled with my soul
You emerge from the things
Filled with my soul
You are like my soul
A butterfly of dream
And you are like the word: Melancholy

I like for you to be still
And you seem far away
It sounds as though you are lamenting
A butterfly cooing like a dove
And you hear me from far away
And my voice does not reach you
Let me come to be still in your silence
And let me talk to you with your silence
That is bright as a lamp
Simple, as a ring
You are like the night
With its stillness and constellations
Your silence is that of a star
As remote and candid

I like for you to be still
It is as though you are absent
Distant and full of sorrow
So you would’ve died
One word then, One smile is enough
And I’m happy;
Happy that it’s not true

My Thoughts:

I’m reading this poem from Pablo Neruda’s book, which is one of my most treasured possessions. The book ‘Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair’ is a beacon in the darkness of my life and it has got me through some rough times. Only the caressed pages of this book know my deepest sorrows and the taste of my tears.

For me, this poem encompasses the sorrow and pain that is felt when the love of your life is going through storm and thunder and all you can do is sit and watch. Pablo, rather than jumping into the fray and interfering in her life, wants to imbibe the peacefulness of her silence. He sees beauty in her struggle and respects her decision to deal with the demons of her life on her own. He respects her independence and accepts this dark shade of her character, which is exactly what I believe love is: it is embracing the bad and the ugly, and not just the pretty hills, the blue skies and the pastures shinning green in the never ending sunshine. The sunshine will end someday and night will fall; it is what you do during the darkness that determines the strength of any relationship, whether romantic or platonic.

To paraphrase Neruda, he rather feeling deserted likes it when the woman he loves is silent and far off because she is dealing with the troubles of her life. Rather being a damsel in distress and wanting Pablo to save her, she is the sort of person to prefers to suffer in silence. He understands her and he understands and accepts this, although it breaks his heart to see her suffer alone. He feels as if his words cannot reach her soul because her eyes seem lost and she is utterly silent and distant.

Neruda feels that if his soul was filled into cups and saucers and the world itself, she will emerge from all those things because she is his soul. He channelizes the beauty of her silence and turns it into a metaphor: she is as silent and beautiful as a butterfly in a dream. I think he refers to a dream because her silence and suffering is temporary and, with time, will be long forgotten. He thinks she is like the word melancholy, sad and beautiful and peaceful all at the same time. (This is how I feel when I think of the word ‘Melancholy’)

What moves my soul is Neruda asking to be silent with her, to be a partner in her suffering rather than plunging into her battle or leaving her in this dark time. He values her bravery so much that he compares her to the stillness of the stars in the darkness. He calls her candid, because rather than pretending that everything is alright with her, she is showing her true self to him. From experience, most people leave when you bare your soul and show your true self to them but Neruda glorifies her struggle. She is a mess and he embraces and accepts that mess.

She grows so silent and distant at one point that Neruda feels that he has lost her forever. Maybe she has left him. Her aloofness and distance makes him feel that she does not exist in this world anymore. But she does come back to him, maybe just by saying a word or smiling at him and all is right in his world again.

This is exactly the kind of love I pray to find, because I identify with the woman Neruda is in love with. I’ve become so used to fighting my battles on my own, mostly without allies, that being a lone warrior is all I know. I would feel cramped and suffocated if someone tried to interfere in my life and my problems. I detest being the damsel in distress. But having someone to stand with you rather than fight for you is the most beautiful expression of love and this poem melts my heart. It takes bravery to deal with the mess of another human soul and Neruda captures that beautifully. To be comfortable in each other’s silence is a sign of true love and that is what I hope for someday.

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Twenty Again

For a twenty something puerile wander-lusting simpleton at the precipice of her life juvenile, the theme behind this story would not mean much in theory. But life is never theoretical. The reason I’m well acquainted with this fact is that I’ve mapped out the safest routes in my life on paper, leaned on the safest people to trust theoretically and followed theoretically approved philosophies. But at the end of every turn and every relationship, I’ve found the unexpected; the good and bad in equal have been my comrades.

In other words, to hell with theory. Life is life, unpredictably dark and stormy and blue and tranquil.

I can’t really explain why I relate so much to this Korean drama I’m obsessed with at the moment. It is after all the story of a woman who had to sacrifice her life to raise a child and to be a wife to an ungrateful husband after being bound in wedlock to him due to an unplanned pregnancy. It is a story of a weak soul who was so blinded by love and her commitment to maternal duties that she dropped out of high school, moved to a foreign country, nursed a child at 19 and gave up on her dream of becoming a dancer. (I do not call her weak because she let her maternal instincts sideline her career, but because she endured the taunts of a husband who treated her like garbage. Even after he wanted to divorce her, she was as blind to his flaws as ever.)

But this really isn’t all that this show, that has become a guilty pleasure of mine (for I spent about 3 hours binge watching the last few episodes instead of starting work on a college paper that is due in two days), is about. It’s about this woman going back to college to fulfill her long lost aspirations despite everything in her life standing in her way. The final push that makes this 38 year old join university as a freshman is the sudden discovery that she has only 6 months to live with the onset of pancreatic cancer. So to summarize the very complicated plot (and trust me, I am not doing the last 6 episodes of the show justice), a woman dying of cancer who is in the middle of a divorce joins the university her son has joined and her soon to be ex husband (who has been having an affair with the university’s director’s daughter for the last three years) has been deputed to  and meets (again) the boy who was in (unrequited) love with her in high school.

twenty

The thing I love about Korean Dramas is their ability to encompass within them a plot so deep that I forget my own identity while being lost in it. This show is no different. The boy who loved her in high school, who was left broken when she dropped out and followed a husband he didn’t know of is now the man who vows to give her the life she deserves. His initial anger dissipates as the episodes pass and we realize he is as much in love with this broken woman as he was with the feisty girl who stood up to bullies and befriended underdogs. But rather, it is she who brings out the best in him, while fighting the world and finding the way back to her old self.

But the show is not as dark and mellow as I have made it sound. It is, in fact, comic to the core. It is hilarious to see the web of fated and ill-fated connections and how the different plots of the tale, of the past and the present, all knit a superbly crafted drama.

The thing I love most about this show is the growth of the characters. The woman Ha No Ra and the high school hottie Cha Hyun-Suk (Yes, I am in love with him *dreamy sigh*) change and meander and fall and get up and find a way to one another (though most of that is yet to be seen). I love the way he looks at her when she isn’t looking, the way he is always there making sure that she is happy and that she gets the life he thinks she deserves, now that he knows she is about to die. His soul aches that his soul mate lead a life of misery and is now at the end of her worldly journey. It really makes you think about the things we put off until tomorrow and the words we wait to say until what we think is the right time.

I also love the way Ha No Ra tries to fit into the college crowd, even though it is an entirely different generation. She does find a way to make them realize just how talented she is and it makes my heart melt that she is finally on her way to the greatness she was born with. I also love the university curriculum, culture and campus. It makes me want to quit my life and move to South Korea.

And besides all the deep metamorphic thoughts about living life well and embracing your fears, there are quips like these that make me fall off my bed after I die laughing.

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An Open Letter to Starbucks

Dear Commercial Giant Starbucks

You are criticized for your over-priced strangely addictive coffee and one of my cousins is among those who ardently loathe you and all that you stand for. You are considered responsible for the homicide of adorable quaint little indie cafes who cannot compete with you. You are often mocked and taunted, and let’s not forget your ‘race together’ campaign. But you, dear multi million corporation, are the one who saved me.

I owe you one of the best summers of my life, Starbucks. I was all alone in a foreign country- tired, hot, thirsty, almost broke, sans wifi with a bladder on the verge of bursting, and you saved me, although you made me even more broke while doing that. And right now I terribly miss you and all of it. If I could relive my summer all over again, I wouldn’t change a single thing. Except pack more clean underwear probably.

My summer has been one of lone adventures in an unknown land with only my wits and GPS to guide me about. And every time my feet would scream at me to stop my explorations in wonderland, I would look you up right away and there you would be, literally right around every corner I ever was. Tucked away from the bustle. Sweet. Majestic. Green, with the scent of coffee and free wifi wafting about you.

Don’t get too full of yourself though. What automatically made me search for you all those times wasn’t love or lust. It was familiarity. No matter what borough I would find you in, you would be the same. You would woo me the same way. I knew all those times that I couldn’t make a fool of myself in your Company. Pun totally intended. I, soon enough, became well acquainted with exactly how you would use me and how I was going to use you. No surprises. Like a cliched damsel running into the arms of her ex every night she got lonely. And I ran to you all those times. I’m not too proud of all the money you made me spend on you but I swear to God, you were worth it every time. Especially the Chai Tea Lattes. Oh, the Chai Tea Lattes. And me, sprinkling Vanilla and Nutmeg and more Vanilla. And Cinnamon. And more Vanilla. I could never get enough of that Vanilla. I could never get enough of you.

Some nights you made me feel cheap. The times I tried to conserve my dwindling cash, you tricked me with the fancy descriptions under your fancier coffee names and that damned Red Velvet Cupcake you displayed right where I stood waiting in the line for the bathroom. Some nights you cuddled me with your warmth while I read one of my favourite books when it poured outside. I would never forget those rainy nights. Some nights, the nights we were apart as we are now, you made me insanely crave you.

Chai. Tea. Latte. And Vanilla.