Meena Alexander

CHILIKA LAKE

The prose of the world is taunting me,
The lonely girls are blossoming too fast
 In their fuming silks and chiffons,
Some will float in the warmth of lake water
Gone to hell for love, nothing but.
I kneel in a jungle of sweat, ruin of old bone
I salt cucumber and set it at my mother’s feet
Already she is eighty-eight years old
In the mirror she sees specks of lava.
The village where she was born is deserted—
Just a raw road, counterfeit bills, carnage of crows
Hurried betrothals behind cheap mauve curtains
As stray dogs turn into messengers of Bacchus.
Sometimes I think the past is a boom-or-bust theater
With back lit clouds, baffling us,
With wild auteurs, amateurs of skin
Festoons of words no one believes.
Still the planet’s heat is too much to bear
When life ends who will be with her?
Chilika Lake is nothing but a dream.

 

Transmigration

That man from Genoa—
Because of him I am knotted

And shoved into a closet of dreams.
At dusk he makes me sit

By the bedroom window
Without any clothes on

Why? Why?

 Nothing I see is real
And nothing is not

The soul sets the table
And draws me on.

No ordinary altercation
This rush of air, ferocious, forbidden.

I tear his letters
Into intricate scraps

They sprout from the rooftops
Scaring the pigeons.

With my taffeta dress,
With a candle flame

I set fire to this house.
Smoke spills from the sky

Let the Ganga pour
Into the Ghetto!

I’ll search for Krishna
His skin is indigo

He has a garland of tamala petals
To cover my nakedness.

Who are those men
Approaching in a gondola?

Can’t they see?
I am Radha now

My soul is rushing water.

 

Meena Alexander's Three Poems can be read in the print edition of The Arkansas International 1.

 
 

 
 
Photo by David Lelyveld

Photo by David Lelyveld

Meena Alexander, described in The Statesman (India) as “undoubtedly one of the finest poets in contemporary times,” is the author most recently of Birthplace with Buried Stones (TriQuarterly, 2013). A new book, Atmospheric Embroidery, is forthcoming from TriQuarterly in 2017. She is a Distinguished Professor of English at the City University of New York.

Note: The poem “Transmigration” is part of a cycle of poems inspired by Sarra Copia Sulam (1592-1641), a Jewish poet and intellectual who lived in Venice. She had a passionate correspondence with Ansaldo Ceba, a Catholic monk. In response to the accusation of heresy, she published her Manifesto on the Immortality of the Soul.