ars_interpres_6_7_sm1Poems Published in Ars Inerpres (2006)

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Letter to Achilles
In Kochi by the Sea

Letter to Achilles

You were burnt all over by your mother, 
Only an ankle remains, more raw than the rest of your skin. 
She thought she was making you immortal. 

I whisper this aloud, to you Achilles 
Alphabets of ink too coarse to touch so fine a runner.
Do you recall the trill of the sandgrouse, 

That fantailed bird, afloat in the deserts of Punt? 
Your mother loved its wings, 
Charred and lacquered into mirrors 

To shield the faces of the dead. 
Why did she do that to you? 
Did she think you were a sandgrouse and could flit away? 

Achilles, turn homeward now.
Now hunger pins you to her door 
Where a boy’s soles are carved in ash



In Kochi by the Sea

You walk in darkness 
A candle in your hand, your sari unravels, 

An inch of cotton snatched underfoot,
Sheer wax catches the doorpost.

Amma, is something burning?
Anamnesis, I looked it up in the dictionary

A seventeenth century usage in the language 
You helped me learn, of Greek provenance 

Used by some in medical literature for signs 
That help uncover bodily condition. 
Who was she? 
In Kochi, that sunbaked city by the sea

I was high as your armpit.
You held me in your  umbrella’s shade.

We saw a woman very pale, squatting on a doorstep
‘Rahel, Rahel!’ 

Someone was calling out her name.
A man, knife raised, circling a squawking bird 

The woman paid no heed.
The bird poked under her sari, disappeared.

In the shadow of her clothing in between her feet
We saw vermillion dots, a trickle, a slow pour. 

She dipped one pointed finger, then another 
In the show of blood

Making a flower, a fist  
A cockrel’s head, a candle, a cloud,

A quickly changing river, 
Parts of a city, many houses burning,

The sheaves of redemption reeling.
You drew me aside so sharply, shielded my eyes.


Anamnesis, I try to think 
Of what Plato might have meant

The body cleansed, 
So seeing with the soul, 

True recollection perfectly attuned 
To every jot of what the future brings.

But there’s a discomfort in the inner life 
I had not bargained for —

A stream with blistered rocks where I must walk
Barefoot as I did so many years ago

But now in a river bed
Not marked on any map I learnt to read

In a schoolhouse with a palm tree outside
Where the barbarous sun pours.


When you dropped your candle
Nothing came to fire

The future for an instant, pacified.
The dark was sweet and filled with singing birds

That fly into this garden without being asked,
A breath of joy, a fragrant certitude

Scarcely to be set into sentences.
Your umbrella was in the corner by the doorpost

Cupped in a flash of stormy light
Its ribs bent and broken by that wind renewed,

A monsoon crossing the Arabian sea.
And the woman we left behind?

Not to be seen except in figurations
Of the damned on Mattancheri  palace walls

There she squatted on a stony road
Making forms of blood 

Auguring what? Who could tell?
Figures cupped from the chaos of our dailiness, 

Such ordinary things through which 
We try to learn what the past presages, 

And we think we touch, 
A clarity of longing, a blessedness. 


The afternoon you dragged me from the street 
We walked beside the pounding beach
Past tiny wreaths of wood the color of wax
Washed out from the belly of a river

Cast into  shapes of ruined cities,
No-nation cities lacking anthem, flag,

Their lintels blown, gardens stilled into ash.
Torn free of you I ran into the wind.

Waves crashed into voices, 
Highpitched, vulnerable

The color of dropped blood, 
The color of indigo cut from the mothering tree.

And underneath —  in memory now — 
I heard a darkness, luminous.

— From Ars Interpres 6 (2006). Print.

Poems Published in Ars Inerpres (2006) | 2006 | Links, Poems by Meena Alexander
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