When Things are Finished

The air starts moving again
You almost
Let yourself forget the stillness that paralyzed your lungs
Kept you from shifting your weight even a little
Just in case the floor caved like everything else
Or gravity stopped obeying the rules too

You can almost
Think again, almost
Let one idea flow from another
Without stopping the train at every station to check for contraband
Images that can never be allowed home
Words that can never be respoken

The phone calls know you’re almost
Available, can almost
Pick up and answer, can almost
Affect a lack of hatred towards the voices that say
The sun still sets in the West
You’re still as wonderful as ever

Friends who almost
Have enough courage to talk to you, almost
Make you believe that you can almost
Live through this, almost
Accept that faking it is making it
That this is all there is

But I’m not the like the cowards who hide
Behind uncertainty, support your chance to fail
I’m the one who screams the words you don’t want to hear
That the air has always been moving
That the ground never stirred
And that I don’t believe in almost

From the Beginning

The world has flashed me an exit sign
Screaming that dead dreams have no heartbeat
If I get out today, resuscitation may be on the table
But I’m still here

I know now that romance is the dust of a hazy glamour
And Paris is made of concrete and pickpockets
Cities born of angels spend their nights cleaning up feathers
But I’m still here

Every day with you is one less layer of skin
There are no more nails for this coffin, the straw has landed on the camel
When I crawl bleeding into the night, I’ll do it alone
But I’m still here

Because this was never about romance
All my dreams were borrowed from experienced fools
Diamond traders outsold by zirconia. We sparkle just as brightly
So I’m still here

I still live in a world of jewelry and caskets, dirt and halos
Of beauty and uncertainty and falsehood and imagery
My only constant is that you never lied to me
And that you’re still here

________________________________

Reaction to Paris, Los Angeles, and this quote by Elinor Glyn

Aaj

Aaj

Today, I met her for the first time

As we sat around the fire

the young played and the old told stories

of other lovers meeting

we went around the fire

more stories, some songs

getting dark, time to go

Today, I took her to meet my mother

Sister showed her around the house

father, grandmother, brother all like her

I think they are happy

she hasn’t decided yet

Its fast for her, I’ll give her time

Today, she decided

I face her as the music plays

mother, sister, grandmother

white dresses

she made her decision, her final commitment

it was time for her to take this step

When reading this poem from an English or American perspective it can be seen as a simple love story. Boy meets girl at an innocent campfire get-together, their relationship grows and eventually they decide to marry. By employing familiar symbols we can understand the story—campfire stories, meeting the parents, white wedding dresses.

But some of these symbols, when seen from a different cultural perspective- can have widely different connotations. The title gives the clue as to what culture is involved here. “Aaj” is the Hindi word for “today.” In traditional Indian culture, it was not uncommon for a bride and groom to meet on their wedding day- many times as part of an arranged marriage. Integral in the Hindu wedding ceremony was a fire, around which both extended families sat singing songs, telling stories and playing music. The new couple walked around the fire to symbolize their upcoming journey together. To a reader familiar with this custom, mention of circling a fire would be enough to make the message clear. The couple are now married.

So where does the story go from here? The newlyweds often would move in with the groom’s extended family. Now the references to the sister showing the girl around symbolize more than a friendly tour. This is the bride being inducted into her new life. Hindu girls in this situation often faced the possibility of never seeing their family again. This new family was her family now. This gives new meaning to the groom’s giving the girl some time. He doesn’t have to do this, but wants her to feel comfortable in his home before claiming his rights as a husband.

Now the story takes a turn that only someone familiar with Indian culture would see. In India color symbolizes life: the more color, the more life. In this culture, when all the color is taken away what is left is white. White is the color of death, the color of mourning. When a person dies their body is placed on a pyre and their closest relation stands facing them. Now we understand exactly what the girl’s decision is. She only saw one way out of this arranged marriage. This was her final step.

Although much has changed in India today, the symbols and their connotations are still familiar to modern Indians. Reading the poem from this perspective reveals an entirely different story. Many people- from any culture- take their own perspective for granted. They don’t think to look at any situation from any view but their own. We can learn a lot about the world around us by looking at it from another angle.