The poems in the collection show Satchidanandan as a core romantic with surrealistic tensions. Along Satchidanandan’s poetic cruise, his poems refer often to the gods, saints, philosophers, and the belt of Latin American poets and others by whom he is visibly, and even heavily influenced.

Sublimely sensuous

‘Sulekha’ is one of the best poems in the collection.With so many wings, Sulekha, what are you doing there?/ The white robe of a divine bride, white rose, white dreams: I see everything. (Sulekha). Satchidanandan turns sublimely sensuous and evocative in his poem on the Kashmiri mystic poet Lalleshwari “Lal Ded Speaks against Borders”.So I strip myself to attain my Shiva,/ naked like the breeze over the lake./ My lips are wicks that burn,/ my breasts, flowers/and my hips incense: / I am an offering./ Ask the peepal and the palash/ the soul has no religion;/ nature suckles everything/ The blue sky/ is the throat of the Neelkanth/.

Tenderly attractive lines lace the collection.The winter night trembling by the window/ is pale like garlic (Sulekha), I fly from word to word restless/ like a bird, its nest burnt out (The Prodigal Son), ‘Our brief day is a bird’s tail on fire (We live on Islands).

There are times too, when lines turn poltergeist.Dorota, our words are ants/ that drag in only headless corpses, and times when the haunt fills an entire poem. A moon rises in the lake of her tears/ a bird bathes in it and/ a woman sees her own image. (The Panther in the City)

A sense of mystery envelops in poems asThe Drum, or inWho Said?Who said that waiting is a railway station in north Malabar/ That a morning in uniform will arrive there in a coffin/.Alluring lines meet us inThe footprint on the wet grass/ need not be death’s/ perhaps a folk song had gone by (On wet grass),The wind was turning/ the pages of an apple tree (In Memory Of a Swedish Evening), You quietly placed your palm on mine/ like God polishing a rainbow/ and placing it in the azure sky (Infinite).

In his preface to this debut collection of poems, Balakrishnan speaks of how the poems that came to him on occasion used to “vanish in time”, swallowed up by the “humdrum” nature of his life. Not until 2001 when he brought home a computer was he rewarded by the unimaginable luxury of re-visiting his poems to polish them as he pleased.

His preface reminded me what the American writer Tillie Olsen says in her bookSilences about literary history being dark with silences” – the silences of great writers as well as hidden silences, the silence that falls when a writer ceases to publish after the appearance of one work, or when the writing fails to take the form of a book. Sometimes a writer decides to abandon a genre altogether because there are no readers or because no one will publish it.

To sustain the creative fire despite the fragmentation of time and the self can also pose a challenge. That Balakrishnan has managed not to lose sight of his vanishing poems entirely is perhaps what makes him a poet and indeed it is this that makes us forgiving of his lapses in craft and style. He speaks frequently of the aridity of his working life. In “Doubts from the 7{+t}{+h}Floor”, the speaker looks down from a window on the seventh floor and feels nearer to god and nature. He then wonders if this is merely the “fleeting wish of one who yearns/for something above this mundane life.” There is even a poem about having “no more deadlines to meet”. “Why do you come to me, my muse/At this hour in time/The noon is past, the sun has set/I am in twilight zone/The penumbra of life/Now – why have you come?” asks the speaker of the poem “Are you Saraswati?”.