Poems by Ivan Kostka

At Home Abroad

My feet may take routes on
but my head’s always been
in the same clouds,
native to every sky,
that drift like continents
roots in foreign soil
knowing no boundaries.

I am a citizen
of a country called The Future
where visions are valid visas
and nostalgia but homesickness
for another country called The Past.

Not alien to alienation,
rooted in rootlessness,
a hardy hothouse-hybrid
fed on foreign fertilizers,
an expatriate in my own land,
even at home, a man abroad.

The tongue moves faster
than fingers on clay;
language was our first artyfact.
Poetry came before pottery;
I speak that Esperanto of the soul.

1977 – Fairfield, Conn.

Tea-Lover’s Honeymoon

Honeymoons are made in heaven
Or at least in heavenly places.
Ascending from hot, hazy plains
To aromatic verdant “blue hills”
We are transplanted into a
Tea-lover’s paradise, a tea estate –
Brooklands, to the manor borne.

We descend bridle paths amid
rows of monotonously manicured
bushes broken by sparse silver
oaks stingy with their shade.
the crisp silence is broken by the
klic-klac of tea-pickers shearing
bushes to democratic dimensions
scaled by extra-long yardsticks.

Shift-end sees gaggles of
tea-pickers trickle down to
the gates of the estates,
bags brimming with tea leaves
to be weighed on the master’s scales –
arbiter of the day’s pickings –
to be cruelly cut, twisted, curled into my cuppa.

Walking up, working up appetites
for late afternoon tea, high
in every sense. The tea may
not be to my taste;
everything else is – the food, the fellowship,
especially of my beloved,
the honey in my bitter cup.


Aboard The Pragati Express
Mumbai to Pune
March 1, 1996


Phir Bee (Even So)

Mera naam hai Russi
My name’s not Russi but Russian
The last name makes up for any lack of Polish
One hundred percent nominally Slavic
Phir bee dil hai Hindustani
Even so my heart’s Indian

Poucaguese was my mothertongue
English was at first a Second Language
Hindustani was only a distant third
Schooled in more French than Marathi
Phir bee …
My musical tastes are catholic:
Gregorian to Buddhist chants
Guitar and sitar, rags and ragas
Weaned on Radio Ceylon pop
Phir bee …

Inhabiting much more the worlds of
Hollywood than of next-door Bollywood
Little subject to Kapoor’s Raj
Ray lit up my Indian landscape
Phir bee …

Equally at home in kurta-pyjama
As in a three-piece suit and tie
Or, for that matter,
Faded jeans and T-shirts
Phir bee …

I can sing “O Canada, my home”
But not “native land”.
My Canadian passport still declares
“Place of Birth: Bombay, India.”

Brampton, Ontario
August 22, 2002
Inspired in Lucknow, April 2002

Visiting Mumbai – After Ages

Bornbay, city of my birth
– as with my aging mother –
I have visited you less and less
and for less and less time,
as if I were doing you a favour.

My Mum was aging –
more and faster and visibly –
time-lapse photographically –
wrinkling – shrivelling – stiffening,
stubbornly resisting movement until
she stiffened permanently,
frozen with her full-lipped final smile…

It’s been a while …
returning to you, my old love
hoping to rediscover
the once familiar contours
I lose my bearings
Closer and closer
I am no longer lost
within you … your familiar landmarks
guide me around the unfamiliar
newness of you.

Parts of your anatomy
have been under the scalpel –
mills, milling workers, lumpen
sucked out, spat out (like bloody betel juice) –
breaking ground for gentrification,
the urban pushes up into the urbane,
the sprawl of chawl after chawl
making rooms for corpulent orifices,
stacked higher
than the toppled
mill stacks.

As in the old days
when we fought and made up
your makeup is still there –
only thicker now –
your neon lipstick brighter now
Your age does not show now
in the parts you choose to show –
no wrinkling – no shrivelling – no stiffening –
stubbornly you refuse to stop
too busy staying alive
moulting, renewing yourself – for ever younger lovers?

When finally you see me –
after ages, aged –
as I hover over
even drawing near
I cannot tell whether it’s
a smile or a sneer
on your full neon lips.

Mumbai – Delhi; May 5, 2012
Mother’s Day, May 13, 2012