We Were Each a Brick in the Tower of Babylon

My hesitancy to make eye contact in conversations indicates shyness, discomfort, and an ironically fervent desire to capture the gaze of the person in front of me till their thoughts are engraved in their pupils, mirrored in mine, and transmitted as chemical signals to the ends of my nerves. This is the kind of understanding I seek, the pursuit of which compels me to write a line of poetry fifteen times before moving on, to sift through countless adjectives before recognizing the one shooting like a well-aimed arrow from the source of my feeling, onto paper. Spending solitary hours in the echoes of bold black words restrained in wispy, yellowing paper, I’m responsible for causing the disconnect between me and those around me. My parents and classmates- they live on different planes of existence; foreign sets of axioms direct their reasoning. I am determined to decipher the codes containing their instructions for use.

Sitting in the recesses of my room I wonder if the word delusion delivers the same dull ring of its first syllable to the ears of the construction worker outside, as it does to mine. Would he too feel indulgent pronouncing the last two: lusion; loo-sion; loo-zhun; would he prolong the l, leap into the u with the help of a little y? What about the surgeon and patient in the hospital opposite; how would each register the light from the bulbs in their room? Maybe the former notices each distinct sparkle, while to the latter the essence of the light lies in its peripheral glow. They’ll never know the other’s experience of that light- this is what irks me, skulking in my gut like a yet-latent virus: we comprehend each other superficially, enough to just function normally- but not to the extent that lets us truly live the other’s experiences.

Misunderstandings urge me to write; pens are far superior translators of my brainwork than any instrument or paintbrush. The ultimate goal: to articulate my thoughts as purely as they occur to me, so clearly that readers will discover the same ideas in themselves, as if they’d been perpetually aware of them. What is the intention of poetry and prose if not an attempt at this? Reading any poem would reveal that not a word in it can be substituted without completely changing its feel; translations to and from languages create not versions of the originals, but different works entirely.  ‘I loafe and invite my soul,’ writes Walt Whitman- loafe, not laze or relax. Loafe, because l fused with oa conveys the luxurious and elongated moment in which he sits on grass, because the f does not abruptly stop this moment, but instead introduces a gentle breeze. To loafe. Vaguear in Spanish, traȋner in French, āvārāgardī karnā in Hindi. Similar, maybe within a hair’s breadth of loafe, but certainly not conveying the same concept. Loafe itself may fail to represent the image Whitman had envisioned. Exactitude of language could well be an asymptote I venture to meet, but only ever approach. And to create an absolute meaning is an inevitably fruitless effort; the labor of making myself understood is my purpose. I suppose I ultimately write to unveil ‘me’ to myself: perhaps my own mind speaks a foreign language.

-Shaakya Vembar


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