Meena Alexander Poems

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I was young when you came to me.
Each thing rings its turn,
you sang in my ear, a slip of a thing
dressed like a convent girl--


I watch your hands at the keyboard
Making music, one hand with a tiny jot,
A birthmark I think where finger bone

Central Park, Carousel

June already, it's your birth month,
nine months since the towers fell.

Night Theater

Snails circle
A shed where a child was born.

For My Father, Karachi 1947

Mid-May, centipedes looped over netting at the well's mouth.
Girls grew frisky in summer frocks, lilies spotted with blood.


Terrace deep as the sky.
Stone bench where I sit and read,

Portions of a mango tree the storm cut down,
a green blaze bent into mud
and they come to me, at dawn

Darling Coffee

The periodic pleasure
of small happenings
is upon us—
behind the stalls

Fragments of an Inexistent Whole

Inspired by Alison Knowles's "A House of Dust"


Syllables sieved through floating gates,
Metal clack of printer

Mortal rendition, Fortran -
The future coming closer and closer

House of broken dishes / by the sea / using electricity

Black flash, strange as any me I might claim

The already gone, its music barely audible
00-111 - 000 cut and sizzling, swiveling repetitions

The mind falling from itself, into no where.
The desire for place not to be denied

What touch affords us, sempiternal hold.


Imagine a woman with a veil over her head,
Black cotton or muslin

Of the sort that my grandmother wore, the edge of her sari
As she sat under the sun, by the well side.

Already the veil covers the garden
Mango trees split into the shape of harps.


The artist decides on materials, timber, tar, tumbleweed,
Then light source - natural, electric, strobe, that sort of thing

She decides on location -
A bracelet, a brandishing of space

Scores for a masked ball, the self and its others
Clinging close, hips grinding, a distinct congress

Precise rendering of rhyme or its uncoupling
Underwater copulation = syllabic sense.

The artist decides on persons - girls with jump ropes
Boys whistling in the sunlight by hydrants gushing

Hot metals, the planet soaked in ether,
A scholar blinded by footnotes, scores of them,

Men and women, faceless now, joyful and inconsolable
Veritable census of the dead.


House of Dust / on open ground / lit by natural light
Is that where I belong?

Lord have mercy!
Grandmother cried, when I was born

This child will wander all her life.
Grandfather tossed in a match

The bush filled with smoke, gooseberry bush -
With freckled leaves

- Tat tvam asi -
The deliverance of Sanskrit

What I learnt without knowing that I did,
Grammar of redemption

Sucked from fiery space
As grandmother's hands turn to dirt

The sky - cerulean blue

Sheer aftermath.

Death of a Young Dalit

In memory of Rohith Vemula (1989-2016)

Trees are hoisted by their own shadows
 Air pours in from the north, cold air, stacks of it
The room is struck into a green fever
 Stained bed, book, scratched windowpane.
A twenty-six-year-old man, plump boy face
 Sets pen to paper - My birth
Is my fatal accident, I can never recover
 From my childhood loneliness.
Dark body once cupped in a mother's arms
 Now in a house of dust. Not cipher, not scheme
For others to throttle and parse
 (Those hucksters and swindlers,
Purveyors of hot hate, casting him out).
 Seeing stardust, throat first, he leapt
Then hung spread-eagled in air:
 The trees of January bore witness.
Did he hear the chirp
 From a billion light years away,
Perpetual disturbance at the core?
 There is a door each soul must go through,
A swinging door -
 I have seven months of my fellowship,
One lakh and seventy thousand
 Please see to it that my family is paid that.
She comes to him, girl in a cotton sari,
 Holding out both her hands.
Once she loosened her blouse for him
 In a garden of milk and sweat,
Where all who are born go down into dark,
 Where the arnica, star flower no one planted
Thrives, so too the wild rose and heliotrope.
 Her scrap of blue puckers and soars into a flag
As he rappels down the rock face
 Into our lives,
We who dare to call him by his name -
 Giddy spirit become
Fire that consumes things both dry and moist,
 Ruined wall, grass, river stone,
Thrusts free the winter trees
 From their own crookedness, strikes
Us from the fierce compact of silence,
 Igniting red roots, riotous tongues

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