Radha Sings

Rolling Drum Press & Dark Child Press 1987

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Radha Sings, a book of erotic love poems written in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, is a series of poems that Radha sings to Krishna. It was published in 1987, and is currently out of print, though a newer edition is in the offing. Note my name on the cover of the book: it is Kamal, not Kamla. I took on the latter name after I met Payson in 1996, for that is what he called me.

Afterword

The reasons why one chooses a particular mythic framework are not all clear or conscious from the outlet. It is not merely that the subconscious, with its unerring instinct, focuses, in on that one symbol that would express best one’s own inner experiences, provide that objective correlative that would make the chaos of one’s feelings intelligible, give them form, but that the particular myth itself becomes a tool for further self-discovery.

The fact that I am invariably led, often most reluctantly and by the nose, into those very experiences that are demanded by the imperatives of the myth I have decided upon, often makes me wonder if I am not, after all, a more passive agent than I would like to believe, and that if its wasn’t more than possible that the myth it was that chose me.

Nor is it easy to say at what point in my life my interest in the subject that was later to be embodied in the myth of Radha and Krishna, began. Contrary to the obvious presumption that it probably must have begun sometime in adolescence when the processes of biology begin to overtly exhibit one’s existence as an erotic being, I think that my erotic concerns, without my being fully aware of them at that time, of course, began sometime in early childhood. I believe that what is isolated and labeled as the erotic part of our existence is an intrinsic and inseparable part of our total beings and hence has its beginnings with our own beginnings in the womb, and perhaps even further back with the very origins of human life, to the paradigms that are woven into its very fabric for all time.

When my parents told me the tales of the tenth guru of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh in my childhood, it was as a man I thought of him — virile, vascular, full-blooded, astride a white horse, and of a ravishing beauty. My first love poems written at about 16, had him as the object, or so I think now. But even in the poems, as in my imagination, just as he was always more than a god, a man, he was also always more than a man, a god. This has always seemed to me the perfect combination of ingredients to make the Total Person. While gods in themselves seemed to me to be exsanguinated, fleshless, sexless, with dew in their arteries instead of blood, men as just men seemed too limited, somehow, devoid of that dynamo that empowers them, transmutes them to the winged beings that they undoubtedly are when seen in the crepuscular light of the imagination and of myth, in which alone one can perceive the quiddity of things.

And Radha and Krishna were to me such total beings. Krishna, of course, undoubtedly was. He was the perfect man and god. But Radha, on the other hand, as depicted in popular and classical versions of the myth always seemed less than what she could be in her fullness. Whenever I read about her I couldn’t help but think of her as some sort of a fruity, vegetable or mineral creature: her lips like bimba berries, her teeth like pearls, eyes like lotuses, breasts like mangoes, thighs like lotus stalks. And besides, her obverted side revealed only her sexual identity – a valid part of her identity, for sure, but it obscured the other parts of her personality which must have been polyhedral and multi-dimensional to enrapture the essentially insouciant Krishna. Radha needed to be seen in the light of her godhood, she needed to be elevated to her true stature beside Krishna, she needed to speak of her version of things. But she also had to be seen in the light of her womanhood. The bimba berries needed to be transmuted back into lips, the thighs back into thighs, and she was to be seen as at once more actively erotic and more spiritual than she had been made out to be. And certain truths had to be set straight for the record. For example, that Krishna was not the only one with a free-floating libido that could attach itself to any object. If Krishna had his gopis – admirers and lovers — what most myths conveniently forget to relate is that Radha had her gopas. If Krishna could appreciate and desire beauty in many, so could Radha.

And how might you ask, did I know of all this? I found this true of Radha because it was true of me, and I had found Radha inside myself. And this to me is the true power of myth: that like phoenixes they are reborn, relived, rediscovered within each of us, empowering us, reacquainting us with our potential. I had given Radha life, and she in turn had resuscitated me by the secrets of her power. The big secret of her importance for all time was little more than her own unshakable faith in her power. She knew, perhaps even contrary to the testimony of mirrors, contrary to all the forces that would belittle her, that no power on earth was capable of divesting her of her consanguinity with the numen that had birthed her and the rest of creation. She contained it, she was it, and hence she was free to mold the plasma of herself into the images of her desire. But perhaps the greatest part of her freedom lay not merely in molding herself into the images of her desire, but being free ultimately of all images since they enslave, confine, limit. Even in terms of a lust for freedom Radha is a partner to Krishna.

And that is why the story of their love had to come to an ineluctably painful and tragic end… in time. But in the eternity of myth a Krishna is as inconceivable without a Radha as a Radha is incomplete without a Krishna. The story of their love is unending, not only because it is repeated and revived in the hearts and souls of individuals of all times, but because I believe a love so powerful as theirs cannot help but have spiritual reverberations of the deepest and highest kind. Spiritually is but a continuum of their carnality. Not only after their separation but during the whole volatile affair Radha has had to learn in the school of concupiscence spiritual lessons (this is why I do not at all agree with those who would regard their love-making as just a symbol and a metaphor for the ‘higher life’. Their flesh is a fact, their love-making an inerasable and immitigable event. It cannot help but be so, given that they are, despite all the promptings of empty and dead ideas tempting them to be otherwise, total beings). And it was the exigencies of this learning, which is even more than their love at the core of the myth as I see it, that made their separation in time an inevitability. Radha has to real-ize and experience her unity with the being that she sought externally, within- her self. She has, in fact, in her search for her total identity, to become Krishna, to incorporate all those principles and powers, which had attracted her to him in the first place. That is the imperative and reward of the highest form of love: to become the object that one worships.

Krishna goes away, marries, raises a family, fights in the Great Battle, the Mahabharat, and bequeaths his life-message in the Bhagavat Geeta. None of the myths mention anything about Radha after Krishna’s departure from Vrindavana, the idyllic and fittingly lush scene of their love-play. Some might say it is because her role of love-object being over, she is no longer needed for the myth. But I believe that Radha has a tragic flaw that accounts for her brevity in the myth. She is, as the gopis call her, ‘a junkie of delight’. She wants to exist always at a pinnacle, always at that excruciating and exhilarating peak that must, owing to its very nature, be ephemeral. She has no patience with the quotidian. She wishes always to be burning in a conflagration of feeling. It is precisely this, which makes her so attractive that makes her an unfit subject for further copy. Novas are brilliant and brief. Sexual ecstasy has limits. It does not take morality or mere convention to put an end to it, but nature itself in its cyclical gyrations ensures an end especially to the best of our experiences. While Radha clings to the taste of a past delight, now over, the gopis, who in my version of the myth carry on and culminate Radha’s song, know that nothing could be more dangerous for one’s development than a deliberate search for delight, a clinging to the taste of a thing even when the appetite and need for it is absent. After Krishna’s departure, the gopis, more in touch with their needs, return to their husbands and their homes, grapple with the everyday, are not only content with their obscurity but glory in their anonymity, knowing in their hearts that ‘‘though suffering makes song, joy is silence that sings in the unheard whistle of a cowherd in the fields.’’

And yet not all the gopis’ wisdom can entirely extirpate the conflict between desire and peace. Even though they have resolved now after Krishna’s loss to ‘‘participate in watching’’, to let the passing pass away, their memories of their sensual ecstasies in Vrindavana persist to distraction, and their decisions do not hold. They are often sucked into the whirlpool of Kama (the Indian Eros), and find themselves on the enantiodromic see-saw between longing and contentment. The stasis they attain on the pinhead of balance between extremes in the abyss of their inner experiences, amidst the confusions of their needs and desires, is precarious at best.

What impresses me most about Indian mythology is not only that it provides models that help us deal with the chaos of our own existences, but that they make us aware of and explain certain pandemic conflicts, which, though irreconcilable, yet have their place in the scheme of things. The gods here are contrary beings, like Shiva, who is both a libertine and an ascetic. Even Krishna’s lascivious sports in Vrindavana complement and complete his spiritual message in the Bhagavat Geeta. This contrariness, besides being indicative of their largesse, is also a reminder to the rest of us that since indulgence and abstinence are on a continuum, different portions of the felly on the same wheel going up and down as our atoms and planets and stars and galaxies ceaselessly whirl, the trick is knowing when to be what.

They also know better than to try to reach a stasis that excludes desire. Indian mythology is full of tales of gods who believe their austerities have finally made them immune to Kamadeva’s shafts, tripping most comically on their tumid pudenda. The function and purpose of our indefunctable sexuality, the seers say, is to keep us both humble and human.


Desire

With one garland of marigold
I roam
looking for Krishna

and behold, miracle of bounty!
I see him in every face

in the market place
I become woman
with a thousand eyes
a thousand hearts

and stand still
paralyzed by so much profusion
terrified at my desire
~

It’s Just That I

It’s not that I
like wearing flowers
in my hair

nor these jewels for ear
finger hand throat ankle

(I know myself
to be beautiful
when naked)

It’s just that I like
you to linger
removing these
~
I Have Told All

announced our love
to the whole neighborhood
the housewives have sniggered and sighed but you
you have lied, pretended, become angry
with me for telling all

which fool writing the history of our love
made you such a lover?
~
People Have Gossiped, You Know

said things that turned
my heart to stone

‘‘Oh that Krishna
is now tasting that
grey haired man’s daughter!’’

I have turned away in anger
that I should be no more to you
than a moment’s delight

refused to hear your flute
shut the door in your face

yet when you have gone
run through forests of asphalt, smog
traffic, looking for you

admitting in my longing
how sweet you are
to my tongue too
~

Look Here

if you touch my hunger
touch that sore
where dreams are congealed

then stay
forever and a day
in the room without a door

if you crack my shell
with the hammer of your gaze
shelter my meat
in the castle of your heart

devour
live bone close
blood near

but if the moon
will not let you
as it will not me

then, ah then

safe no more
we’ll learn
with broken wings
to plough the vaster space

~
So, You Are Gone Again
didn’t leave an address, you never
stay in one place long
nor know which wind will carry you where
nor to whom

you think of me
do you? as in the past
drooping in separation season
a lotus without water
a garden without an eye

imagine me
can you? naked as before
a mirror touching my breasts
noticing in pain the vanishing
marks of our love

sigh for me for
pity, is it? Now
envy me the intensity that
you have lost playing too much
the game of love with too many

well, then it’s just as well
you didn’t leave an address
or you would surely hear from me
now since you have gone
how good it is to be alone.
~
The Message Was Mine
why Krishna why
when the bees where out
sucking long and deep
had you made me ashamed of my desire ?

The shame was all yours
I hadn`t even paused to think
and when you went away

(it always seems, forever)
what could I do what could I
do with so much aching
intensity you feared away from
the earth the earth was all in me

so when the rains came I gave
freely, without expectation

admit then the message you gave the world
to give, live without measuring
you learnt from me
~
All These years I was Silent
left my tongue in your mouth
when you Kissed me and went away
Sang only when you were there

too much waiting
made a stone of the heart
I had to find thing to go
while you were away
I did not want to die

(that love for which we
lived died
centuries ago was it ?)

so I found other eyes, thighs
other flesh held
death away a while

sought diversions so

and learnt to sing while I wait
~
Hooked
you, who sang of freedom
from attachment, of standing above
the wheel, when you returned, the battle over
(not because one side won, the other lost, but both
wearied of the unending

indestructability of each)

you on not finding me beneath our tree
broke your flute, and wept

no philosophy came to your rescue
the pain refused to become song
and you, Lord of the Wind, Weaver of Illusion
were caught, caught
in a net so fine confounded
that in the raw flesh throb
you liked this bondage so !
~
Mess

when you are away

I keep my house clean

dust a lot, sweep straighten shelve

you come unannounced
a sudden storm

disorder spill scatter
but ah,
I love the mess
your coming makes
~
Yes Yes I Care

when you are not here
miss you melt and lust to be
blood under your skin enter
your brain possess
every thought participate
in every dream

but now I wish
you would just let me
turn over and sleep
~

Plonk In The Middle of

thoroughfares cars honking
in traffic jams heat and smoke
the thought of you stirs
some root unseasonably thrusts
its stem out of my
nipples and flowers
~
Gift

Shall I open it?

I don’t have the key.
Neither did you. But you
devised one:

a gun

blasted it open
with a bullet

and walked through.

You were weary of the knocking in the night,
weary of the knocking in the day,
weary of the knocking at all hours.

You heard it, not as I hear it,
as a muffled, muted sound
barely audible
but the imperative knock
you couldn’t ignore.

Even as we ate you heard it,
your ear cocked to the sound
like a shell on a dusted, glass shelf,
straining for the sounds of the sea.

I feared the knocking.
You feared it, too,
but in the heart of your fear
was desire
to go
beyond
word.

But I,
content (for the most part)
tethered to you, home
garden, job,
word, skin, flesh,
boundary, rhythm
presumed you were, too.

But you,
you flung
open the door, you,
walked into the embrace
of the dark lady at the door

our lady of sorrow
and exultation

and left me
here,
with this
absence, this gift
of grief.

*

As a Fountain in a Garden

Gift? Did I say, gift?

Let it stand.

The word
remains

as a fountain
in a garden

– a burst in air –

The word
remains

thousand petaled
blue lotus
sprung
from Vishnu’s navel
as he sleeps
on the churning, burning
sea, serene
unmindful
of birth, life, death,
and dreams

the world:

Gift, let it be.

*

Black Flowers of Knowing

My eyeballs
saw your end:

your body,
– meat mask –
limp upon the tree

testes cerebri
ejaculated knowledge
into my brain
that now instead of presence
puts memories in my begging bowl.

Brain is the begging bowl, white
skull full of hungers,
this knowing
beyond doubt:

you are nowhere.

Even in deluding dream, you
elude, melt away to cloud, to

air. You,

who swore you’d never leave me
are now between the satin thighs
(there is no getting away from image.
Even air has body, then, beloved)
of the dark lady
who called to you
even as you lay in our bed.

Even as your mouth was upon mine,
her tongue was in your ear.

It was a silent tongue
loud with its promises of an unambivalent love,
of a land without shadows,
of something more total and unquestionable
than flesh could offer.

You followed her, you son of a bitch,
the dark lady made of air
was more real to you
than me, more real
than the meals I cooked for you,
more real than taste and touch and sound.

This, then, is where this
poem, word, air
has brought me:

the imagined is
more actual
than the real.

So, too, for me,
– as for you the dark lady–
you are, now
in your absence, more real
than all the senses of this
sighted, blind world.

*

Stone Song # 1

I stole two baskets full of
stone
in dream last night.

Though it seemed a terrible crime
– the owners treasuring them
as the richest gems
and guarding them fiercely
with dragons and bayoneted men –
there was something compelling in those stones
I had to have.

I loaded them into the junky
get-away jeep
and got away
from the rain of fire
and the flailing, scaly, horny tails
without much hurry, trustingly,
in the stride of things.

In the safety of my home
some of the stones looked like ivory,
like ribs, like bone
and some like the kind we found,
you and I,
walking south on Torrey Pines Beach,

flat, and oval cobbles
shining, laved by the tide,
like hematite
heart stone, bloodstone.

We brought them into our garden
and you arranged them into a mock river
flowing out of Saint Francis’ feet
where he stands, cast in stone,
among the rocks in our cactus garden,
gazing up at the sky,
his left hand cupping a tiny bird,
his right hand upon his heart.

Heart. Perhaps the dream
has something to do with the heart.

And how it needs
stone, a rib cage of bone,
to sing its bleeding song.

*

The Lesson

There was something very dense about her,
thick and big, without curves, like a column
in blue jeans and blonde hair.

Even her walk was ponderous,
as if she were a tree, walking
lumberingly, dragging
with each step its baggage
of roots, soil, gravity.

“Blow the notes with power!”
She said, reaching for my flute
where I still gripped it tightly
in my hands, beneath my lips.

“And hold it lightly.
Here. You take it away from me as I play.”

She played, and her strong, delicate
notes floated in the air
like bubbles we once saw a child
blowing at the beach –
rainbow bubbles reflecting the world
and me and you in it.

Her blue eyes reminding me
of my assignment, I reached for the flute.
It fell into my hand as if it were a fruit,
ripe and ready.

I have tried, since, beloved,
to accept
this house, this garden,
you, your life, your death,
my life, my sorrows, my joys,
all, in fact, as gifts

to play with
not possess.

*


The Stage Door in a Garden

In a garden in Manali
on the banks of the
bounding Jamuna,
I saw a door, darling,
where the wandering actors
had abandoned it,
standing on the grass
wall-less, flanked by air.

It was ornate,
painted, I think,
to look like the iron gate
of unrelenting authority.

I tried the knob, and it was
locked, of course.

I stood before it
a long time, my mind
quaffing in the symbol,
as if it were amrit
served in a skull
by Shiva, Nataraja,
Lord of Actors,
Master of Magic,

whose naked sages,
smeared with ashes,
laugh wildly as they dance
gliding in and
out of the dark wings.

Such, dearest, I now believe
is the door in my dreams
before which I so ponderously pause,

a stage door, an illusion
of exits and entrances.

Perhaps now
in the shadow of your
bright death,
I too could live
with Shiva’s mendicant actors
whose treasures are
not nuggets of gold
but knowing

something deathless
and more bright,
like coruscating reflections
on boulders
of rivers that return
endlessly.


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