Shanta Acharya


Every day I spend some time alone
thinking of you, our relationship,
and wonder why you never
keep in touch or drop in. I try
to remember your limitless love,
but cannot recall when, where
or how I learnt of it. I no longer cry
as I change the rules,
it’s difficult to live without any.
Even that seems like small consolation
to someone who expects so much from life.
Do you want me to list the things I’ve done,
those I should’ve done, and others I cannot
recall. I will not mention the things
you keep to yourself because that is your way.
I have known how easily lives are ruined.
I’ve tried to save myself from the sins of the world,
not successfully. I’ve seen the death
of many a decent thing, have seen crimes
and retributions worse, spent many lifetimes
thinking about this, have filled
my mind with half-truths and lies,
read confessions which are complete fabrications,
seen people rewarded handsomely for deceit.
I know human beings are willing to do anything,
heard some say they find it liberating –
the lying, thieving, fighting, raping, killing.
Can’t say I’ve found myself in this charnel pit.
I’ve not given up on the possibility of love,
of knowing another, learning about my vulnerability.
Nor have I given up on you, my longing shining like the sun
for no reason except for the inalienable joy of being.



Scary, strange, inscrutable
things happened mostly to other people.

Our lives were safe and predictable –

an elegant staircase of days rising
heavenwards, unfolding an array
of possibilities, our lives commemorating

life’s immense artistry and we like sunflowers
worship our days passing effortlessly –

until scary, strange, inscrutable
things start happening to us like the people
whose lives were never safe or predictable.



Last night at the hotel Hermitage my head
said to me as I tossed and turned in bed,

Tu-dumb, tu-dumb, tu-dumb, tu-dumb…
crashing like waves in gale force winds.

I know, I know, I know, I know –
I crooned as if humming a lullaby.

Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn, damn…
my heart went marching to its own solemn beat.

Calm down, calm down; let’s sleep in peace
together, tonight, I cajoled as a lover might.

Both kept knocking wildly wanting to be free,
my fluttering heart and giddy me.

My heart lay by me, angry but strong,
murmuring all night of its burning wrong.

I fell asleep listening to its litany of grief
leaving unceremoniously like a thief

at dawn with an incredible billion dollar hallo,
my spirit soaring high above the mountains of Monte Carlo…



(After a sculpture carved from mammoth tusk,
found in Montastruc, France 11000 BC; British Museum, London

Unassuming, in a climate-controlled case,
hardly ever moved for fear of it crumbling
to dust like dreams delicate disappearing
on waking lies a rare sculpture –
compact, slim, slightly curved, carved
from the tapering end of a mammoth’s tusk.

A small female reindeer decorated with incised lines
swims in front, the larger male inhabiting
the wider body of the tusk behind.
Chins up, antlers tipped back, they are swimming
together, their legs stretched, bodies streamlined
exuding energy, beauty.

This object was not made for any religious ceremony,
not a love charm, it had no functional purpose.
It tells us how all creatures define us,
are our link to the universe.

I imagine a herd of reindeer roaming wild
across Europe in the last Ice Age
when the continent was a frozen, treeless plain.
The skill of this toolmaker turned artist –
was it one or many – leaves me astonished.

Time does not stand still sprints
like a hunter to survive in an unforgiving planet.
There is a time for living, time for dying,
time for the universe dancing.
Then something happened.
Nature rewired the human brain,
and the earth lighted up like an aurora borealis.

I had a vision of rapt faces,
hands chiselling away at this exquisite object –
reindeer swimming –
migrating to winter pastures, reaching out to life,
the message understood making us human.



Once a Mesolithic camp, now part of a sprawling
heath, home to a flock of flaming flamingos,

the hill still attracts modern hunter-gatherers
who arrive armed with hampers, blankets, mobile phones.

Young men fly kites –
their feet barely touching the grass glinting in the sun.

An ancient site of druidic disputation,
it has not lost its magic as it holds a mirror up to us.

Who would have guessed it was named Traitor’s Hill
where Cavaliers clashed with Roundheads
during the English Civil War,
a retreat for troops loyal to Parliament?

Here people questioned the King’s divine
right to rule, rejected the remorseless working of things –
eleven years without parliament, seven without a king.
Call it what you will – civil war, class struggle, revolution.

The Stone of Free Speech, no longer pristine white,
is surrounded by tourists debating
the meaning of democracy, justice, freedom, peace.

In the news we hear of lives lost in Ramses Square,
Tahrir Square, Rabaa al-Adawiya Mosque,
Habib Bourguiba Avenue, Takshin Square –
promises of the Arab Spring scattering like dreams.



Rising up the arc to the zenith
twice as fast as a tortoise sprinting
we move in a transparent capsule
oblivious of vertigo, surveying
the ancient city’s surprised sprawl.
The river passes by naming each building,
old and new, along the embankment.
Glass, steel and concrete facades
stretch in all directions shaping
the landscape and our perception,
shaking things up, reflecting dreams
ghostlike in the mist of history,
announcing the arrival of the new
Londoners, survivors and creators
sharing in their own languages
forgotten stories. Earth and sky
hold on to their secrets, memories
strong enough to bear suffering,
galaxies of pain flowering,
shadow more real than the body.
At the end of my journey I step out
of the goldfish bowl, get blown
away on a wonderful gust of desire,
swept up high, invisible, soaring,
looking down on centuries of struggle,
life hanging on a chance, trusting
to be taken home to that mighty heart beating.

The Author: Shanta Acharya was born and educated in Orissa, India, before studying at Oxford and Harvard. Her doctoral study, The Influence of Indian Thought on Ralph Waldo Emerson, was published in 2001. The author of nine books, her latest poetry collection is Dreams That Spell The Light (Arc Publications, UK; 2010). Her poems, articles and reviews have appeared in major publications including Poetry Review, PN Review, London Magazine, The Spectator, The Guardian Poem of the Week, Edinburgh Review, Oxford Today, The Warwick Review, The Little Magazine, The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry (2012), India International Centre Quarterly, Cimarron Review, Fulcrum, Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia & Beyond (Norton, 2008), and The Literary Review. She is the founder director of Poetry in the House, Lauderdale House in London, where she has been hosting monthly poetry readings since 1996. She was elected to the Board of Trustees of the Poetry Society, UK, in 2011. www.shantaacharya.com
Illustration: Female and male swimming reindeer - late Magdalenian period, approximately 12,500 years old found at Montastruc, Tarn et Garonne, France; courtesy of Wikipedia

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