Saturday, August 22, 2009

Sanskrit moth

In the Bhagavad Gita there is the line, Moths rushing full tilt to their ruin fly right into an inferno (11.29). Some moths are content simply to sit on Sanskrit dictionaries and absorb meanings by osmosis. Like this one who is meditating on the ramifications of gola: a widow's bastard. How many hatreds are woven into that meaning? A little further down, off the page as it were is the meaning: a woman's female friend. Astrologically it occurs when all the planets are in a single sign.

I began learning Sanskrit in 2007 and at first I found the task daunting. Now I expect it to challenge me and sometimes defeat me, all the same the climb is worth the view.


This rock wall is perpendicular–
she scrambles for a foothold
a tiny jutting of rock to grab onto.

The language is perpendicular–
the roots elude her, the gerunds
are thick with meaning and she slips

and falls crashing to the ground.
Picking herself up, she climbs
a conjugation, declines a declension

all the while, the endings are tangling.
Seven mountains she has crossed, each
one higher than the last. The participles

present not too much challenge, but
the passive is aggressive. Now and then
she has etymological epiphanies,

blinding insight and then finds
it was the wrong form, the wrong verb,
an unknown Vedic version.

She has taken to reading the dictionary
forwards, backwards, horizontally and
vertically, even then the sandhi–

internal and external–takes her on
another spin down the rock wall.
Falling is easy, she hopes she never lands.

This poem was performed as aerials and text on 4 May 2008 at Community of Selves, a collaboration between Suzanne Bellamy and Susan Hawthorne held in Northcote. It was later published in Sinister Wisdom.


  1. so very true... every word of it
    for me, not being much up in the air
    the ropes have turned to dreadlocks
    matted, old, never washed,
    knotted togetherer with sandhi raksasahs
    or perhaps night riders
    demons anyhow -old, very old
    2000 years or there abouts
    gerundal or ablatival or perhaps just premenstrual

  2. I love the idea of sandhi raksasahs - and it's great to get responses from friends - especially in the this time of little talk - that is I don't get to talk much here.

  3. I couldn't resist a poem in response to your comment rye:

    sandhi rakshaasas dp258

    demons are eating language
    words broken their limbs
    amputated by sound

    there are demons in the phones
    words smashed to pieces
    letters sprawling

    the rakshasas are in the wiring
    coiled around necks of words
    strangling silently

    demons are in the water supply
    gargling fragmented thought
    vomiting words

  4. I think the last word should be syllables - but I can't figure out how to change a comment!! The problem of responding with a poem without sleeping on it overnight!!