“There Are Two of Us” by Vasvi Kejriwal

Ekphrastic Challenge, May 2020: Editor’s Choice


photograph black bird flying in silhouette

Image: “Shadowplay” by Megan Merchant. “There Are Two of Us” was written by Vasvi Kejriwal for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, May 2020, and selected as the Editor’s Choice.

[download: PDF / JPG]


Vasvi Kejriwal


Scene from Apocalypse Now

Two faces pressed against
the heat of a smoky, burner stove sky.
They stared outside each other.
One spoke, “My husband’s last word
was morphine.” The faded canary
of her dress reeked of tiredness and wine.
To this, the other said, “The war goes on.
Like the river beyond this north wall
does not forget to flow.”
He reclined, bare-chested,
like a pumiced wooden doll.
She countered, “Sometimes, we forget
whether we are animals or Gods.”
Against the night-black morning,
the pearls on her throat were a bloodless white.
He smoked away his conscience with his pipe,
with the air of an immortal,
as if to fuel an entire sun in his chest,
and declared, “The river does not care
that we kill or we love.
You cannot step on it twice.”
His lips then froze where they slightly parted
like edges of a still lake.
They sat in quiet, their faces ablaze,
and listened to the flap
of a blackbird’s broken wings.
One thought of its feathers.
The other thought of its flight.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
May 2020, Editor’s Choice


Comment from the editor, Timothy Green: “I was fascinated with the way this tied together Megan Merchant’s photograph with Apocalypse Now—such an imaginative leap just in the premise of the poem, which quickly shifts into a scene of interior conflict over the nature of perception. And then what an ending. After selecting the poem, I realized Vasvi included a note that explains it all better than I ever could, so I’ll just include that.”

Vasvi Kejriwal: “This image took me back to the scene in the film, ‘Apocalypse Now’, between Martin Sheen and Aurore Clément. It is an interaction between two people: one person who has had to kill in him all scope of vulnerability to fight a war, and another person who is unafraid of revealing her own. I think, within all of us, we have two such people—this is a universal dialogue that is also an internal dialogue, which has unfolded within each one of us—at least at some point in our lives. I selected visual and conversational elements from this scene and juxtaposed it against Megan Merchant’s photograph. The smoky haze of the sky highlighted the clear cut outline of the bird in flight—as if the flight was the only certain feature in the image. I wanted to question this certainty by portraying how this itself is an illusion. There was also something about the element of flight in this photograph: although it evoked hope, it didn’t promise to solve anything. Through this poem, I’ve tried to capture this: one image can elicit a completely different response from two separate people. And at any one given time, a spectrum of responses resides within each of us. It is within our discretion: which response will be allowed to take control of our mind?”

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