Sujata Bhatt

A Different Incarnation

A response to an exhibition entitled Denken (‘Thinking’)
                  at the Columbia Museum of Cologne

The rooms are vast, and some are filled with birds, dead birds -
But we know a few crows are still alive.

Is it a maze or a temple - 
           a temple or a prison?

‘I ran from wall to wall,’
the prisoner said. ‘while the current buzzed
from floor to ceiling. I ran from room to room,
and then the current latched on to me.’

The rooms are vast and some are filled with stones - 
               and some are filled with Time,
The rooms are vast and some are filled with paper - 
with Pure Reason -      The rooms are vast
and some are filled with ink.


Some follow the lotus, some follow the rose
and some follow the Holy Ghost - 

while others watch the crow.

And then there are those who become the lotus
and also become the rose; there are those who can hear
the Holy Ghost speak to crows.


Today, petals wet with rain breathe life into your prayers.
Leaves drink in birdsong, feathers drink in the sun,
and now the birds sing louder, a song praising water.
Everything breathes and all the colours are awake.

Milky white, cream, yellow, green -
                     a fragrant, windswept green.

If you lose your way, you might find a thicket
            where deer hide their young.

Behind you, a trail leads to an orchard.

And look, over there, roses get all the sun.

Pale shades of pink and saffron, then bright red, maroon,
blue -      so much blue, and deep violet.

And then, dragonflies, - hundreds of dragonflies
dart back and forth -      The air whirrs, electric -
Even the light thrums with sound as it shimmers -
You turn and turn, trying to follow, and see
this garden suddenly veiled in iridescent lace.

Violet shadows fall across a golden light.

Light spills through dragonfly wings,
through those wings, across each lotus -
Light spills through dragonfly wings, across water -     
         so much water
where all the colours swirl - 

And then black, black hiding everywhere,
black moving with sudden leaps - 
           impatient, this rapid dance of being - 
Shall we listen to the story
about the Dragonfly and the Lotus?
Shall we listen to the story
about the Deer and the Rose?

There’s a child standing over there
who remembers such stories -
a girl who watches those flames.

‘Who will you be?’ she asks.
‘Do you want to be the Dragonfly or the Lotus?
The Deer or the Rose?’

Is it really a flame that flowers
       beneath the Holy Ghost,
               a flame the color of blood?

She says a blood red rose has blossomed
       beneath the Holy Ghost -
petals blown apart by a storm
           we cannot see.

Threads of blood like puppet strings.

‘Puppet strings,’ the girl repeats,
‘those puppet strings are threads of blood.’


There’s a sound of bees in the clover, bees in the honeysuckle,
                  and a distant, distant sound of bells - 

Hushed as a whispered lullaby, the hum of bees so close - 
And gentle, so gentle, the faint chant of bells that spill down
                                            to us in the valley - 
But you won’t find the bees and you won’t find the bells.
It’s a song of the Holy Ghost, a song that will never end.

It’s a song that will enchant you, invite you to linger for a while.
‘How beautiful!’ you’ll say. ‘Those bells in the distance,
how they mingle with this movement of bees in thick clover.’
Such sweetness and moistness only sharpen the sting.

But soon the bees will begin to sound like machines.
The tune will be wrong and you’ll notice a mechanical hiss
while the bells in the distance will ring with pain.

Voices from meadows sticky with blood.
Burnt trees, burnt fruit.
But you thought you heard the sound of bees.

You thought the angels would always return,
you thought good spirits still lived in the trees.

‘My soul is scarred!’ you’ll say. ‘Erosion is within me.’

Perhaps only crows have the strength
to live through such a song,
to take such a song into their hearts.
Only crows can understand its hidden beauty.
‘It’s inhuman!’ you’ll say. ‘It’s implacable!’
The bees don’t really sound like bees any more.’

And then, you’ll turn away in disbelief,
wondering what brought you here - 
                  you’ll feel compelled to flee
from this noise which hurts your ears.
And yet, you’ll return to the source of your pain,
wondering if you’re mistaken - 
The song calls you back, keeps you in thrall - 
this tune doesn’t change, doesn’t bend or swerve
                    from its burning brightness.

Is it all a ruse, or simply Truth -
                colder than you had imagined?
The current swirls closer and something answers,
something within your heart, your throat -
Perhaps the bees are wiser, perhaps the bells ring with love - 
and it’s you who needs to learn their language.

‘My soul is scarred!’ you’ll say.

But you will still listen
           for that was your journey.
It’s a song that’s unbearable
             but you will still listen.