by Gord Sellar
The harder they fall, alright.
Skin hard like cane reed, he squats low
in some alleyway, syringes in his many hands,
rubber tourniquet clenched between his teeth,
ghee boiling hard in filthy spoons. It’s impossible to tell:
is that his natural shade? or is the blue his withdrawal?
Nobody can drag words back past the brink of his accent,
not even in the shadowy corner of Kwality Tandoori
on West 52nd; or is it in Harlem now, where he hangs,
recounting stories of Parvathi’s lush addictions,
explaining the roots of his interest in free-form jazz,
the strange octopus beauty of Roland Kirk, with
his rack of duct-taped horns across his chest, which
convinced Shivji, eight-armed, he could do it, too.
When he woke at the top of Mt. Kaylash,
she was gone. He searched for eleven years,
found her shacked up with some musclehead
Hittite, essentially a hit-man for a small
cartel of Egyptian demigods, trying to make a comeback.
He left her there, in plastic flip-flops, at Giza,
and off he went, to America, to be a jazzman.
A tactical error. The death of one saxist Coltrane
came in 1967. Disarray. Sleeping under peoples’ porches,
having to play tonal in funk bands just to eat,
solos on tunes like “Big Mama!” and “Mama Come
and Jump Me!” and “Red Hot Big Mama Song Hyunh!”
Eventually he sold his horns, pawned them off
one by one. Took to drinking, syringe in hand, bitching
at his loss of Vedic income to that slick
bastard Krishna — “that slimy populist”, as he says.
Too broke for ghee, doing regular unsalted
butter in the darkness of numberless alleyways.
Spitting randomly at Hittite-faced cabbies and paperboys,
wishing on fire-escapes that he’d never bloody heard
of Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Always comparing
himself to Krishna, whose charm was always a little
more glittery, “the Elvis of the Ganges, he were,”
And Shiva will then point out to you, the name
Elvis contains within it Evil in the plural.
— 2001 (from The Dänikbharata)
“Shivji” was published (under the title Shivaji”) in Matrix 59, Fall 2001, along with “The Elvis of the Ganges, at his Height (in 1968)”, as “Poems from The Dänikbharata,” a project that remains unfinished, but which I haven’t given up on completely.
As a member of Dabang Band, I performed the poem as part of our song “Shivji and the Ecstasy of Butter and Fire” on our album “Pig Over Seoul” (2002):
February 2, 2012