From HISTORIES OF THE FUTURE PERFECT
By Ellen Kombiyil:
CERBERUS AND PERSEPHONE
It’s audible to the three-headed dog:
her fear a high-pitched shriek
held in her throat. Pre-unleashed. The thought
of the shriek and not the shriek itself.
It’s freaking her out, this mind-reader dog,
how he tracks muscle-twitch, her intent to act,
pre-synapsed. He demands to know the before,
before the before: she was plucking flowers,
yes, when the ground opened its mouth,
but how she arrived at this exact spot,
how slowly she chewed and what she ate
for breakfast, how she slipped, stepping
onto the bathmat, her precise existence
at this particular moment—the two-, no
three-second pause at the four-way stop.
Indelible decisions. The luck
of the draw. The dog deciphers
eye-flicker, delves past thought in search of
the anatomy of thought, which moves
like starlight, born but the reaching delayed,
which moves like the gorgeous dark.
He’s doing it again, she thinks,
and he reads that, too. In his pupil-black,
black surrounded by gold flecks, she sees
the pre-patterned repetition
of next and next and next: her mouth, stained red;
she will not be leaving this place, not yet.
This future splits away like a cannon-
boom of sound. Calla lilies, held fast,
she lets drop. The great winding of a clock.
WHILE SIPPING LEMON TEA ON SATURN’S ICE-CLOUD DECK
The distant sun rises, the size of a dime.
Red light looks warm but is cold, the opposite of what I know.
What can’t be unknown: encrypted DNA, curling inside me.
What I google: Orbit: 29 years, 167 days. Rotation: 10.233 hours.
Dizzy days and sleepless nights—elongated years.
I’ve forgotten the outline of my body against you
how I’d reach across your warmth to the nightstand for water.
I am an untethered moon, unloosed from the sun.
Now is no time to panic: remember Sherlock Holmes.
He discards the superfluous, keeps room for important truths.
Human contact is what I’m lacking, so far from home.
Can you see me on the cloud deck, waving my arms?
I’m calling out for connection, any Watson will do:
It’s elementary, my dear; come here. I need you.
JULIET DREAMS OF THE CRYPT
Is it joy, waking to tall ceilings
painted white, inlaid with the smell
of almonds? The blind see colors,
cool heft of objects hand-held.
They do not see what is tarnished.
I’d be lying if I said I knew how
to get to the other side of my heart.
I rehearsed my speech as a child—Love
is a heavy wheelbarrow crushed with
hibiscus—before pretending to plunge
the knife into my chest. My mouth
at the moment of loss unbinds a thousand
mouths all making the same sound. I practiced
for the day I am blind, when
I will trade myself for one
dram of bottled summer, a lawn
that tickles my neck when I lie down
next to you without expectation.
Today’s poems are from Histories of the Future Perfect, published by The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective, copyright © 2015 by Ellen Kombiyil, and appear here today with permission from the poet.
Histories of the Future Perfect by Ellen Kombiyil is a book of poetry inspired by concepts in astrophysics. Canvassing across time and space to provide a luminescence unafraid of the big ideas, the book itself has what Kombiyil calls a quantum structure. Here we find Galileo’s thumbprint, Kurt Cobain Las Vegas, and Mary Lincoln communing with the dead. The poems themselves are never narrowly historical but rather cosmic in their inflections, taking on subatomic particles, DNA, and black holes, not simply as scientific props but as the very impetus for lyric motion.
Ellen Kombiyil is the author of Histories of the Future Perfect (2015). She is a recent transplant from Bangalore, India, where she lived for nearly eleven years, teaching creative writing and yoga. A fellow at the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program in 2013, Kombiyil’s poetry and fiction have appeared in many journals, including BOOTH, Spillway, Cordite, and Poemeleon. She is a four-time Pushcart Prize nominee and has read, performed or taught workshops at the annual Prakriti Poetry festival in Chennai, the Raedleaf Poetry Awards in Hyderabad, and Lekhana in Bangalore. She is the co-Founder of The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective, a mentorship-model poetry press, publishing innovated voices from India/Indian diaspora. Originally from Syracuse, New York, and a graduate of the University of Chicago, she now lives in New York City with her husband and two children.
Editor’s Note: Ellen Kombiyil’s Histories of the Future Perfect is an absolutely stunning collection, from its opening image to its closing word, soaring and shining with every star and feather in-between. In truth, I am like “the tarot-reading parrot” in the gorgeous cover image by Kalyani Ganapathy, selecting today’s poems by divination rather than choice, because there is far, far too much that is worthy of sharing in this book.
Enter a world where nothing is off limits for exploration: history, mythology, love. Dive to the deepest depths of the ocean and travel as far as the imagined reaches of outer space. Slip into the skin of the philosopher, historian, astronaut, necromancer, classicist, adventurer–all as imagined by the contemplative mind and lyric lilt of the poet. Give yourself over to moments as beautiful as they are thought-provoking–“My mouth / at the moment of loss unbinds a thousand // mouths all making the same sound”–and know that these are the ripples circling out across the waters of this one-of-a-kind collection.
Buy this book. Revel in its beauty. Let your mind drift, weightless. Be carried away.