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Meena Alexander’s six volumes of poetry include QUICKLY CHANGING RIVER, RAW SILK, and ILLITERATE HEART (Winner of the 2002 PEN Open Book Award) all published by TriQuarterly Books/ Northwestern University Press. She is the author of the memoir FAULT LINES (selected as one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of the Year)and editor of INDIAN LOVE POEMS. Her new book of essays POETICS OF DISLOCATION will be published in November by the University of Michigan Poets on Poetry series. The recipient of Guggenheim, Fulbright, Rockefeller, Arts Council of England and other fellowships, she is Distinguished Professor of English at Hunter College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York. A book of essays on her work PASSAGE TO MANHATTAN: ESSAYS ON MEENA ALEXANDER (eds. Lopamudra Basu and Cynthia Leenerts is forthcoming later this year from Cambridge Scholars Publishing). “Indian April” originally appeared in ILLITERATE HEART.
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- by Meena Alexander

Allen Ginsberg on a spring day you stopped
naked in a doorway in Rajasthan.

You were preparing to wash, someone took a snapshot:
I see your left hand bent back
cigarette in your mouth

Metal basin set at your ankles
heat simmering at the edges of your skin
in Indian air, in water.

Rinsed clean you squatted at the threshold again,
struck a bhajan on a tin can.

Watched Mira approach, her hair a black mass
so taut it could knock over a lamppost,
skin on her fists raw from rubbing chipped honeypots.

In the middle distance,
like a common bridegroom
Lord Krishna rides a painted swing.

You ponder this, not sure
if an overdose of poetry
might crash a princess.

Later in the alley way you note
a zither leapt from a blind baul's fist.

William Blake's death mask,
plaster cast with the insignia of miracles.

In a burning ghat the sensorium's ruin:
a man's spine and head poked with a stick
so bone might crisp into ash, vapors spilt
into terrible light where the Ganga pours.


I was born at the Ganga's edge.
My mother wrapped me in a bleached sari,
laid me in stiff reeds, in hard water.

I tried to keep my nostrils above mud,
learnt how to use my limbs, how to float.

This earth is filled with black water,
small islands with bristling vines afford us some hold.

Tired out with your journals you watch
Mira crouch by the rough stones of the alley.
Her feet are bare, they hurt her.

So much flight for a poet, so much persistence.
Allen Ginsberg, where are you now?

Engine of flesh, hot sunflower of Mathura,
Teach us to glide into life,

teach us when not to flee,
when to rejoice, when to weep,

teach us to clear our throats.


Kaddish, Kaddish I hear you cry
in the fields of Central Park.

He brought me into his tent
and his banner over me was love.

I learn from you that the tabernacles of grace
are lodged in the prickly pear,

the tents of heaven torn by sharp vines,
running blackberry,
iron from the hummingbird's claw.

He brought me into his tent
and his banner over me was love

Yet now he turns his face from me.
Krishna you are my noose, I  your knife.

And who shall draw apart
from the misericordia of attachment?


Holy the cord of death, the sensual palaces
of our feasting and excrement.

Holy, the waters of the Ganga, Hudson, Nile,
Pamba, Mississippi, Mahanadi.

Holy the lake in Central Park, bruised eye of earth,
mirror of heaven

where you leap beard first
this April morning, resolute, impenitent,

not minding the pointed reeds, spent syringes,
pale, uncoiled condoms.

You understood the kingdom of the quotidian,
groundhogs in heat, the arrhythmia of desire.

I see you young again 
teeth stained with betel and bhang,

nostrils tense with the smoke of Manhattan,                    
ankles taut in a yogic asana, prickly with desire.

You who sang America are flush now with death,
your poems -- bits of your spine and skull --

ablaze in black water drawing you on.
Allen Ginsberg your flesh is indigo,

the color of Krishna's face, Mira's bitter grace.
Into hard water you leap, drawing me on

I hear you call: Govinda, aaou, aoou!