Poem- 5 (5.2)


  Teesta Review: A Journal of Poetry, Volume 5, Number 2. November 2022. ISSN: 2581-7094

Extract from Cities by Jeet Thayil and John Kinsella


Which could sidetrack us to London

either regretfully or with bravado,

a grim hotel not far from the offices

of Faber & Faber, and a tucked-away


cinema showing art films that don’t quite

time with the lunchtime crowd,

though might if they’ve a mind to.

That’s where we end up if drawn


to the interior of the M25 as if its

been there since the Roman plexus.

But that was always my problem,

wasn’t it, thinking of London


planetrees and not planes

over London? How do we begin

a conversation about crime

and religion, about peace shout-outs


and bargain basements, pretending

the embassy is anything but colonial

from its jarrah floorboards to the stone

of its headstones? The river


can’t be clean though I enjoy

crossing its flood defences. What we inhale

is exhaled in Cambridge, and there’s a theory

the poet Andrew Duncan has about


a ‘bloodsoaked Royston Perimeter’.

Should I begin at someone else’s beginning?

Those building blocks of ‘Commonwealth’

falling down around articulate ears?





7. London Plane


On the blurry edge of Bloomsbury

you'll find Parton Street, which joins

Theobald's Road to Red Lion Square.

It's the square I'm thinking of, John,

the tall and easy plane trees there,

the way the speckled trunks glow

with some solid curvilinear mystery.


The London plane is an immigrant,

of mixed race, whose parents

came from opposite sides of the world,

from Asia and America, say. Or from Spain,

brought over as an urban worker, exiled

by war and a policy of attrition,

execution, murder, assassination.


Or the plane was born at John Tradescant

the Younger's nursery gardens,

the Vauxhall ark to which a decent

number of the city's trees trace their origins.

However they got there, London's first planes

were planted between 1660 and 1680,

that is to say, three hundred and fifty


years ago, a blip in geological time,

a trifle in the time kept by trees.

Despite the plane's rooted demeanour,

it is an upstart, a Johnny-come-lately,

a rank outsider, a foreign tease.

If you ask me, it should be declared

a transnational treasure of Red Lion Square.






Fair call, Jeet! Which in a round-

about way makes me think of botanical

gardens, and Cambridge Botanical Gardens

in particular. I obsess over these


gardens, but I always have problems

with acts of collecting, accruing and relocating

for the purposes of display, whatever

the science behind it. An imperial map


that will sweet talk floriography

into a Victorian craze, an arrangement

of implication and suggestion,

a chronology of acquisition.


But taking the ‘British native tree trail’

is not contraindicative, and doesn’t

balance out the contradictions,

though I admit to a feeling of connection


(whether I should have it or not)

to the Fen display, amidst which resides

the elusive and exquisite Cambridge

milk parsley, and maybe that sense


of a garden being knowledge

that cuts both ways in a city

of ‘knowledge’ comes out of the

diminution and vanishing of fens


in a region of fens; habitat destruction

an internal as much as an external

world unbuilding. But there’s little comfort

in irony, only a distancing from loss.


Apropos of this, the Gardens’

Newton’s Apple Tree (version #)

was uprooted by Storm Eunice,

though it had (sadly) already died


due to honey fungus, and to ensure

the continuity of the (eureka!) strain,

a graft from the history of grafts

was ready to grow in lieu, ready to show.






As are we, ready to grow in lieu,

wherever the grafts we brew.

I remember the transplants I knew,

the rooted uprooted, the damned-if-we-do,

the sailor exiled to shore.


I return the name of the storm

to the Eunice remembered in this song:

Eunice de Souza, poet, lover, curmudgeon,

who rendered history to snapshot, theology to form,

in one or two stanzas, a dozen lines, no more,


and invented a voice so sharp, sardonic and wry

three generations of poets took up her cry.

But it was love she extracted from fury.

Bombay's almond leaf, impossible to bury,

listing, landlocked, sailor.




Interliminal Encounters: Indian and Australian writers in po(i)etic dialogue, eds Amelia Walker and Aden Burg