the slip underneath my dress her valedictory address is
showing the future for the overeducated english major is
living in a flop house buying chips and beer on your father’s
gas card until he cuts you off folding perfect t-shirts in a
go-nowhere retail job documenting the apathy and fear of
your friends as they roll in and out of bed with a long list of
anonymous lovers terrified they might die of aids i was going
to class forgetting class watching my roommate a korean
baptist who covered a hole in the wall next to her bed with a
poster of jesus fall messily in love the fiddlestick of hedonism
unfurled for the both of us i reeked of clove cigarettes of the
transient thrill of breaking up with your first love before he
beats you to it everything was excess rip it out damn it get
rid of it damn it courtney love ditched her dress stripped to
the underslip so the boys fueled by cisco and testosterone
launched the furniture out of the seventh floor window we
were one part teen spirit one part american spirits in my
pocket everyone was smoking themselves silly i was getting
hard i was getting soft my mouth burned like a stranger to
my mother’s food i grew a sailor’s tongue salty and swollen a
thriving and invasive new colony of individualism and irony
while the language of childhood atrophied the untranslatable
bits faded into a was-i-ever-there home movie could i explain
this newly discovered tragi-romance walt whitman singing
heartily of himself henry rollins lunging and thrusting into
his robust quads body surfing the mosh pit trusting the hands
that buoy you until you fall nikki giovanni talking black
arts black revolution litwack quoting public enemy don’t
don’t don’t believe the hype clutching foucault to my chest
deconstructing everything to smithereens the naked man
in a loin cloth imagined feathers in his hair like a statue of
quetzalcoatl if you look closely you’ll see everything in my
Vikas K Menon
Forranners kalpikyana, he’d snarl in Malayalam
when he felt he was being ripped off—
They’re teasing the foreigner.
At work, he was full-on a malarkey alert:
Golf—who has time to play games
with these jimokes?
Boilermakers had burned bourbon
into his English, but his otherkiltered
rhythms laid bare his roots,
an American Banyan tree.
Always respect your elders,
he said, but question everything.
Only once did an alien
sound come between us—
when I said to him, I love you.
My drawled hosannah on the altar of us
was so paltry an offering
that we both laughed,
poured more drinks,
sat down to eat with our hands.
For Jeanne Mukuninwa, Congolese war-crime victim
This, my friend, is the question I have:
Just what can you bake into a poem?
Sky blue skies, bouncy clouds of cotton, vanilla milk-shake moons,
red-bottomed robins and other creatures with wings
that visit you on mornings dreary with bags of work,
the sea rising in a whisper of piano notes…
these things and others
Their batter flows freely
into the moulds of lyrics, sonnets and free verse.
But what of Jeanne Mukuninwa
who slid off sky blue skies and clouds of cotton and milk-shake moons
when she was raped over and over
till inside her fistulas erupted,
till she stopped noticing black-bottomed robins and other creatures with wings,
stopped wishing for seas rising in whispers of piano notes?
There must be a way, surely,
of baking fistulas into a poem?
Of gathering body wastes
and pouring them into moulds newly created
so other worlds can rise?
The Many Uses Of Mint
Fresh mint leaves muddled with cane sugar
at the bottom of a rocks glass full of crushed
ice and an exquisite spiced rum don’t taste
as good as you, not even close, though sprigs,
intoxicant green and flavorful, spring to mind
when I think of you, consider your nape, flute-
shaped, and your almond eyes that see so far
into me that what I’m yet capable of surfaces
like wet earth gravid with the start of shoots
after a protracted frost has finally thawed.
Or say, I’m new minted in your gaze, unused,
unmarred, coined especially to fit your purse,
to be pawed, turned over, spent as legal tender
in a country whose borders no map could draw
because it extends past this life into the next,
into the past, where we were more verdant
than jade polished to a sheen, were the envy
of every hoarder’s greed but could only belong
to each other because in each other we reach
the apotheosis of—dare I say it?—human love.
Then down to Scottish use it comes, to attempt,
to intend, to suggest, to dare, to make a mint
at it, no matter the impediments which run
beyond winter, past numismatists, clear of mites
that might gnaw a stem to a well-withered nub,
into infamy of the Capulet variety—what indeed
is in a name?—into a gale of forces that coalesce
to enforce such abstractions as “sanctity”
and “family values” even while the rafters quake.
Petrifying yes but fuck it—let’s make a mint at it.
Before the poet was a poet
nothing was reworked:
not the smudge of ink on twelve sets of clothes
not the fearsome top berth on the train
not a room full of boxes and dull windows
not the cat that left its kittens and afterbirth in a pair of
Before the poet was a poet
everything had a place:
six years were six years parallel lines followed rules
like obedient children
[the Dewey Decimal System]
homes remained where they’d
Before the poet was a poet
many things went unseen:
clouds sometimes wheedled a ray out of the sun| parents kept
photographs under their pillows| letters never said everything
they wanted to| lectures were interrupted by a commotion of
leaves | | every step was upon a blind spot.
R Raj Rao
To flee the ill-fame of Bombay
you go to the hill-station.
Take a cab from base-camp
Where the train dumps you.
Your package begins then and there.
The driver packs his van to capacity,
seats you next to him.
He turns on the ignition, climbs, stops.
To make you sit
astride the car’s phallus
so he can squeeze in
one more guy.
Each time he changes gears
he hits you in the solar plexus.
South of, actually.
Is he a taxi himself?
When you reach the summit
You’ve been molested forty-two times.
You ask the driver
how many trips up and down
he makes daily.
How promiscuous, you shrilly exclaim,
scandalized to the bone.
And rush back to the city
to get a bank loan
and become a taxi-driver yourself.
Telegram from Mountain View
natives are friendly stop am learning the names
of trees stop there are caverns of soapstone stop
I detect a glow stop
underneath he is rainbow trout stop
I have seen a pink tadpole stop the discovery
of my jellyfish stop
my wrists regenerate stop ears have
dissolved stop learning to tune
with tendon stop
in retrospect stop I stop have stop
there is no such skin stop
have cut out my eyes stop will send
Waiting to Depart
The boat is prepared to ferry, the airplane shrunk
its line of boarding, the train just one whistle
from exiting platform – all docks unroped, air
crisp with departure, even the molecules drunk
with buzzing. Yet the air
hovers on your face, revealing
this one heel spun towards
new journey and one arch
affixed in your gaze – we break
clasp and remember: even Achilles
faltered, before a final storm.
Parvati in Darlinghurst
So I lay on the body of a pale Shiva. He spoke
not a word, bothered perhaps by my nut-brown
skin; my slow dance calmed his electro shuffle.
A slap of limbs pinned him down to my earth.
I hadn’t bathed in sandalwood, flouting legend
with a preference for Estee Lauder. The moon’s
crescent tangled my hair, my breasts were bare,
our timing synchronised. Night fizzed, vanishing
into day, the club’s hypnotic rhythms subdued.
We scorned the Puranas, our tryst no Himalayan
cave, but a hotel bed I had draped with stockings,
lingerie, and the crystal ice of a Third Eye. I admit
that’s why I spoke with the speed of an antelope.
It seems the acharyas were mistaken: I hadn’t
dated for marriage or adultery; nor with a wish
to deck his house with flowers or sweep his floors.
I am too busy, I declared, for dalliance or abstract
gossip. I have no interest in honeybees and birds.
All I wanted was a good time. I swore as the river
is my sister, that this guy was not my sun or my sky.
No way did it even enter my mind to have his kids.
His first wife’s ashes are scattered all over the city.
Goddamn it, Shiva is a walking disaster; whatever
he touches burns. Restraining him with handcuffs
I said, forget it babe, your lingam and my yoni are
made for one thing only, improper and unchaste.
It’s little more than conjecture to think our sweaty
helix could ever be whole. Then I offered to grind
and gyrate him silly, suspend our want indefinitely,
and he fell utterly silent with this new meaning.
The Sayonara Alphabet
I would bid you farewell, friends
And would say:
You served me well.
Omega and alpha, sayonara
Aleph and bey, ciao.
But I know that a few furlong further
I will find inksmears on my soul
And you will feel
The four humours I left with you.
I would say adeus, word and vowel
Consonant and diphtong.
Farewell, plosive and labial
We smeared each other you and I
through constant use.
Detachment will not be easy.
In a psychic turn toward the popular,
my most mundane anxieties
now feature assassins and a car chase,
or two, most nights.
Bad news if you can’t drive
and are comatose in pajamas:
floral, frayed, beyond repute.
Sleep, my father said, is the courage
of fidelity to a benign universe,
faith in the absence of constitutively hostile others;
so we subside in war zones, traffic, terminus, intersection,
punctuating the vigil of wakeful reason with bravado:
‘I’m alright, you can go now’.
Alone in this sensorium, who watches as we sleep
our nervous rest exact a toll for credulity?
We recompose matter, we become the hostile world.
A ghost mutates through intensity, gathering enough energy to touch you
through your thin blouse, or your leggings, or your scarf.
A ghost damages the triptych of ancestors composed of descending, passive
and synthetic scraps.
But what if the ghost is empty because it’s making a space for you?
~ ~ ~
Vertigo is a symptom of profound attraction. An excess of desire.
~ ~ ~
Once, after a long shift at KFC, during which we ran out of baked beans and
the manager sent me across the Birmingham New Street plaza with a twenty
pound note, to Marks and Spencer’s, for a family-size tin, I didn’t go back to
the flat in Selby where my boyfriend lived. I went to the cinema in my red
and white striped shirt and watched Au Revoir Les Enfants. A Londoner, I
blinked in the rainy quiet darkness that had fallen by the time I left. I ducked
into a bright room. There, I was picked up by a Muslim man with a thick
Yorkshire accent, who bought me a Malibu and orange. I was conscious of
having wasted my entire summer on a boyfriend. My parents thought I was
interning as a trainee journalist on a regional broadsheet. I’d told the KFC
manager my mother was dying, and that I had to take every weekend off
to be with her in the hospital. On Saturday mornings, my boyfriend would
drive us to the sea in his refurbished Nash Metropolitan. Once, he drove us
to France. I drank coffee on the ferry, staring into the blazing pink sun while
he slept, his head on my lap. But that night, a Thursday night, I ended up
in a graveyard with the man from the bar, and his friend, who had arrived
as we were leaving. A ghost is a duplicate, a tall and handsome man who
contracts then dilates so swiftly, you can’t refuse. In fact, you don’t say a
word when a ghost, when two ghosts, lead you by your upper arm into an
empty place, verdant with cypress and elm.
~ ~ ~
They’re sodden, the lot of them,
leafy, with more than a whiff
mottled with history
dark with grime.
God knows I’ve wanted them different
less bizarre, more jaunty,
to dreams of rancidity
a little more willing
to soak in the sun.
They don’t measure up.
They turn suddenly tuberous.
But I keep them
for those days.
For their crooked smiles
their sudden pauses —
signs that they know
about the sound of mulch
and how green stems twist
as they vanish
into the dark
finding their way
drawing a breath between each
sentence, trailing closely every word.
— JAMES HOCH, ‘Draft’ in Miscreants
some things, I knew,
were beyond choosing:
didu — grandmother — wilting
under cancer’s terminal care.
mama’s — my uncle’s — mysterious disappearance —
ventilator vibrating, severed
silently, in the hospital’s unkempt dark.
an old friend’s biting silence — unexplained —
promised loyalties melting for profit
abandoning long familial presences of trust.
devi’s jealous heart misreading emails
hacked carefully under cover,
her fingernails ripping
unformed poems, bloodied, scarred —
my diary pages weeping wordlessly —
my children aborted, my poetry breathless forever.
these are acts that enact themselves, regardless —
helpless, as I am,
torn asunder permanently, drugged, numbed.
strange love, this is —
a salving: what medics and nurses do.
i live buddha-like, unblinking, a painted vacant smile —
one that stores pain and painlessness —
someone else’s nirvana thrust upon me.
some things I once believed in
are beyond my choosing —
choosing is a choice unavailable to me.