“Manohar Shetty’s poems are pure delight, so much so that, because you want the pleasure to last, you read them slowly, one at a time, taking a mental walk after each. A spare richness marked his poems from the start and, over the decades, this hasn’t changed. What has changed is that the poems are even more burnished than before. They glow, and continue to do so long after the page has been turned, the book returned to the shelf. For those who still remember typewriters, how many would have made the connection between its keys and the ‘seats in an / Empty stadium’? Or seeing a honeybee been reminded of ‘a billiard-ball / Ricocheting aimlessly’? Occasionally, the glow of Shetty’s poems comes from an unflinching acceptance of the changes wrought by the passage of time, as when in ‘Termite’ he opens the closet and sees in the mirror both the ‘lofty / Temples’ and ‘rakish cleft’ he recognizes as his but also the ‘Tunnels of mud’ made by termites: ‘That’s you now: must, / Dryrot and sawdust.’ This is poetry so naturally memorable that you don’t need to consciously memorize it.”
— Arvind Krishna Mehrotra
Reflections of a Cartographer
Through the thick magnifying glass—
Veins in my honed eye
Streams of red—the contour
Lines are taut webs, gradients
Coalesce from blue to green,
To the burnt sienna of dry blood,
To spurs concaved and drowned,
To bludgeoned, pocked scarps,
To another fresh mound
On the ground and a single flower.
Each year the lens thickens,
The fragments fragmenting, bloodier-edged.
Frontiers push, relent and ignite
In pogroms of programmed fire.
It’s boom days as much for me
As for the mercenary, the guineapig
Pushbutton weaponry, arrayed magazines,
Rapt monitors—all systems interlocking—
It’s boom days for the General who decreed:
‘Moonless nights are best for bombing’.
Through the magnifying glass
My compass points stab the earth
Of this map I’ve traced and retraced.
All territories are shaped like shrapnel
As nations rewrite themselves
With torn nerve-ends.
Some day the meridians will totter
To permanent moonless night, the stench
Of tigerpiss gas the hemispheres.
Hissed out by a salivating tongue,
I’m the nagging, unfinished whole.
A hint, a slack jaw, eyes rankling,
I’m the whisper growing harsher
With each passing ear; twisted
Around to suit my sly plotters,
I’m the invisible flame setting
Fire to dome, minaret, spire.
I’m fuel stored for the retreating
Mob, my bait greed, hatred and rage.
Only a few see through me
As rootless seed, poisonous weed.
But scotch me and another
Is born, a handmaiden made
Hungrier, more bitter, eyes
Streaked with smoke and fire
Anxiety becomes me. Not you.
I’m only dust evolved into beauty
By undying agony, a tiny wart
Scratched and scoured into art.
Once you were close to royalty
And I lent out freely. Now I’m both
Your fresh start and worry beads.
How will you part from me?
I come from a gritty sea.
But you have not felt the terrors
Of my gnawing hurt as I ground my
Self out of my shell to satisfy
Your demanding eye.
Now your dreams lie unravelled
Like a string of my other selves rolling
Away across the marble floor,
And your distraught form beating
The floor, as all about you they
Remove your life, even my ring
Of sparkling friends.
I’m all that’s left, gleaming
Steadily at you, and this bare,
Single room that the mocking
Swine have spared. You clench
Your small fist around me.
My grit breathes into your skin.
You will never let me go, and I will
Consume your pain as I did my own.
I don’t remember the broken glass,
The slice of lemon lucid as a new moon,
Your frozen eye, and blood
In the iced tea as your
Translucent knuckles tightened on a
Fragment of glass.
I don’t remember that at all.
A few things he’ll leave behind
To no one in particular:
A gold necklace from his mother
Melted into a wedding ring;
Two first editions with broken
Spines that may fetch
A small fortune, but too late
To pay the bills; a box
Of expired pills; a gold-nibbed
Fountain pen he refused
To write with; an Olivetti,
Its keys the seats
Of an empty stadium;
And clothes worn thin—he
Loved the comfort of old
Things: old letters, stopped clocks,
The patina in sideboards,
Fading photographs and paintings;
And, last, musty notebooks
And diaries empty of
Mythical poems and important