Setu is a bilingual Hindi-English journal published out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I’m thankful to Setu and to Scott Thomas Outlar, it’s guest editor for the Western Voices issue, for publishing two poems written in collaboration with Lee Ballentine as well as a poem each from us both.
Here is one of the collaborative poems:
but silence is never silent
Collaboration with Lee Ballentine
Like an ultimatum of birds gone to their winter nests,
I refuse to speak in the shadowed echoes of your applause.
Like things you will never hear again, sounds tremble as they fall,
leaving nothing but your voice telling me what I cannot be.
As my honest self fades to gray, I hear its damp echo.
A machine preaches tolerance, but I see only scowls.
The eruption of unbidden tears. Imperfect duplicates.
A divided spirit—sonorous voice, gregarious smile—
belies the familiar fist. The slammed door and bruised spirit.
Heartache demands shame’s silence.
But silence is never silent. Car doors slam. Jets
roar through dirty sky. Distant dogs complain.
Choppers enforce imaginary lines between Us and Them.
Or maybe bear torn flesh, twisted bodies, the comma of death.
Train tracks thunder a despot’s rage that stops for nothing.
A teacup knocked to the floor, a tympani of windows and roof,
a glorious vibration, the sound of fragile metal, a car
dropped to the concrete floor of a garage in the next block.
Pigeons trill sweetly, then scold anyone without seed.
Water flows through pipes like the presence of god.
Breath rattles through tubes of flesh and dying lungs.
Snub nosed dogs snort and snore in irregular rhythms,
like the voice of ghosts from beyond a non-existent wall.
They cannot stop telling stories of all that’s long forgot.
Footfalls from wooden floors where no feet walk.
I breathe poisoned hills and smell toxic water. My life
demolished like a listing shed in the rail yards.
Lost as the travelers who never returned home
bathed in the midwinter scent of a sea’s perfume.
The migratory odor of abandonment lingers,
and I have nothing to say to you.
The waves you would not see
shimmer like a mirror of clouded ice
gone frozen over the falls.