Thursday, May 24, 2012

Suspended moments

It was almost twelve, daddy, and we hurried through gallery 11,
wavering but a moment at the raja, vajir, haathi, oonth, ghoda and pyaade,*
all suspended in ivory: a battle, set up, but forever awaiting the conch.
We ran down the corridor --Sunday afternoons slipped by
when you'd taught us to build forts on pieces from your childhood
--and arrived, breathless, to the musical clock in the lobby.
But that little watchman, time, had already chimed the hour.

*Piece names in Hindi for the king, queen, rook, bishop, knight, and pawns.
Something like this:


  1. Sensational! And added to by the photograph. Time waits for no man, not even a father... and thatis the sub-text of the poem... which also shows the togetherness of a family, in a lovely specific museum setting (gallery 11, going on 12 o'clock, which has chimed...)

    Oh, I should be helpful (you too, eh? Braver, as I am.)
    Hmmm, I can't fault it.
    Is that helpful fluff?

    Hope so.

    Thank you ... you do the family snapshots so well.


  2. Oh, man, galleries are always closing just when you're looking at something interesting! I like the conflict this sets up--you want to stay and look, but you have to leave.

    The chess set you link to is beautiful--is that the one your characters are looking at? The photo has a lot of details that aren't captured in the writing--the fact that the pieces are carved to look like soldiers on foot and mounted on various animals, and the fact that the gallery is named Kedleston Hall. One way of enriching the reader's mental imagery is to work these details into the poem's text; another is to make sure that the poem is presented together with the picture. (These aren't mutually exclusive!)

    One challenge concerning the use of Hindi words is that a English-speaking readers who aren't either Indian or clever with languages will be ignorant of them. (I was.) This doesn't mean that it's wrong to use them--it would be a tremendously dull world if everybody spoke the same bland, trans-oceanic kind of English--but it does mean that you can reach more readers by accommodating their folly. If you label these things as chess pieces, and provide little details or descriptions of each, then even an ignorant reader will be able to work out the gist of what's going on. (You've addressed this issue with a footnote, which, as a matter of somewhat personal taste, I like less--it means having to step back from the world of the poem to work out what's going on.)

    Thanks for a lovely, fascinating scene.

  3. This is beautiful, the play of time & the chess pieces stilled forever in the museum, awaiting the conch -- a horn, a call to battle? The father & daughter moving together, her memory of her childhood, remembering his childhood...Time moving, the last line -- 'that little watchman'... The rhyme. Just beautiful.