September 2018 Poetry Feature: CP Surendran

Poems from Available Light: New and Selected Poems


the cover of CP Surendran's "Available Light"

In advance of the U.S. publication of AVAILABLE LIGHT: New and Selected Poems (forthcoming from MadHat Press), we welcome CP Surendran to The Common.

CP Surendran’s latest—and fifth volume of poems—is Available Light, a collection of 360 poems written over 25 years. Available Light includes selections from Surendran’s previous volumes as well as over 100 new poems. The book has been widely seen as one of the best volumes of poetry to come out of India in recent times.

CP’s poetry has been anthologized in India and abroad, and his previous collections include Portraits of the Space We Occupy (HarperCollins), Canaries on the Moon (Yeti), Posthumous Poems (Penguin Viking), and Gemini II (Penguin Viking). His books of fiction include Hadal, Lost and Found, and An Iron Harvest.

CP is a former editor-in-chief of DNA, a mass circulating newspaper based in Mumbai; prior to that he was a senior editor with The Times of India. He is a columnist for Indian and international papers like The Hindu, The Hindusthan Times, Outlook, Khaleej Times, and Gulf News. He is the Director of the annual Mathrubhumi International Festival of Letters (MBIFL), held in Trivandrum, Kerala. Mathrubhumi is one of the largest media groups in India. CP Surendran lives in Delhi.


A Note to the Self from Tranquebar

In a village by the noon, the sun rises in every room.
A shade of doubt, and I get the door. Vanakkam.
My father, brought to light by the sea. A petal I kept
To mark the pages of my life turns dark as the rum
Ove Gjedde took back to his silver mines in Kongsberg.
I try hard to add to the zero of my life without a sound.
In Tharangambadi, only the waves speak. Astride
A boat run aground, I watched the hot sea separate
Your thighs; from your crowned head, junk jewels of Janpath
Poured. Between breaths the earth keels over, a thousand years
To the minute. The sea. The big, blue drawer of memory.
Where the long finger of water sleeps close to the sky,
A slow smoke of decay curls up like a dream.
Would that be a ghost ship drifting from Denmark to your hip?
Smoke meets wing. To an eagle, all that moves,
Moves towards its earth. The Danes sold Dansborg Fort to the British,
Who, too, fled when the tide turned. Still the moon tugged
At the sea’s heart. Still my father slaved through centuries of night.
The beach flashes white and dark as the sea drags sunlight back.
At traffic lights, veiled women wail. Whips of blood
Split skin from songs. Drunks sight ships bulking
In empty air. Our ruins take shape as presidents
Wearing orange wigs. I uber; a cab my iPhone shook
Out of New York’s brilliant dust; my head wrapped
In voices of David Bowie, Eminem,
The red-haired rest who overwhelm. The driver farts,
Hewn air, shaped like India, on the map. Shadows fall
Over the years, sunlight on soot. You eclipsed mirrors.
I made love to you everyday after you swam away.
I see my father at the door bright as a beam
Of butterflies. Ghosts flit, like wind on water,
Everywhere in broad daylight. On my shoulder,
His hand; muscled in care, brown. I’ve taken it nowhere
Out of town, though I’ve dragged my feet through clouds of lead;
A moraine of sorts following my streets, like it was lost.
Where he touches burns, like a child on fire. When I arrive true,
The day before, or the day after, I must put my shoulder to the sea,
Watch it hiss; feel the waters part the heart like a passage to you.



At last she puts in a shy appearance
At the far end of the belt,
Having made sure the young,
Good looking ones have left:
An old, bulging thing,
Last to leave a plane,
Waiting in places
From where people hurry to exit
For her aging mate
Equally out of shape.

The pocket flaps are worn
To a thread.
The zippers are half way down;
The mouth gapes
Like a sack undone.
One strap lags,
An arm that suffered a stroke.
The wheels drag.
Almost everything’s more
Than she can contain.

I watch my bag go past me thrice
Before I take grip of her by the belly,
And we resume life, man and wife



These chairs stuffed, welcoming with arms open,
Head-cushions, and leg rests, are thrones fit for a Herod.
At thumb, a button draws you level with the ground,
Once used for burial, then a dumping site, now a mall
Housing a salon for those who believe appearances
Will win the round; close shaved and hair trimmed,
They flee through mirrors their skin, risking all
To fall in line as he comes, smelling the compliance
Of shampoo, tonic, powder and cream, and sprinkles
Water on your head as if to douse a fire.
You close your eyes to the hair swept to a corner,
Flecked with blood, and wait for the blade to bite
As with hands that might hold down a calf,
He presses a razor to your throat, and you think of John
Staring at Salome from a plate, his locks still dread.



Today I put up my house for sale,
Clearing all the furniture except
The writing desk.
They went up a truck,
The six-drawer dresser with mirror
In excellent condition,
Staring at me all the way,
As it turned the corner.

I drove around
Just looking at things
In the rain,
Sat on a bench in a park.
I got back late, wet.
I took my jeans off
And placed it over the desk, legs hanging
Loose as if they were broken at knee, the hips
Collapsed to coccyx, the belt snaking around
A stomach shaped like a giant pear
Opening up at one end.
The whole thing looked like a man waist down
Spread-eagled, stone-drunk,
Except that I was sitting in a corner
Naked, watching him go to bed.



These roads are good now,
Clean, deserted,
Fit to walk, or stage a duel.
A lone Victoria, slow,
As if the horse was drawing
The whole city after it,
Is the only traffic.

The lamps on Marine Drive burn,
Like candles to the blind;
The footpath is salted
With spray;
The parapet taciturn
But for a couple split
By a wedge of sea
Gazing at Arabia
Where the sands must shift.

In a clock full of 4 a.m.-s
This would be the city to live in
And write a song; perhaps end a love,
If only, amigo, bleeding, you could trust
A horse to take you home.

September 2018 Poetry Feature: CP Surendran

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