Raw Silk (2004)

Praise for Raw Silk

“Meena Alexander sings of countries, foreign and familiar, places where the heart and spirit live, and places for which one needs a passport and visas. Her voice guides us far away and back home. The reader sees her visions and remembers, and is uplifted.” — Maxine Hong Kingston

Raw Silk demonstrates the rare blend of an acute, utterly contemporary intelligence with a sensuality that is, in itself, a radical way of processing information. In its profound and polyglot sense of world citizenship gained through the indelible experience of exile, Meena Alexander has written what is — not at all paradoxically — a book that’s quintessentially a New Yorker’s. This is a poetry which earns the reader’s trust, even, or especially, when the paths it takes in its explorations of the writer’s multiple worlds and of the forms poetry can make of them are unexpected.”– Marilyn Hacker

Poems from Raw Silk (2004) 

Click on a title to navigate to the poem.                    

Kabir Sings in a City of Burning Towers
Color of Home
Field in Summer
Bengali Market



There is an uncommon light in the sky
Pale petals are scored into stone.

I want to write of the linden tree
That stoops at the edge of the river

But its leaves are filled with insects
With wings the color of dry blood.

At the far side of the river Hudson
By the southern tip of our island

A mountain soars, a torrent of sentences
Syllables of flame stitch the rubble

An eye, a lip, a cut hand blooms
Sweet and bitter smoke stains the sky.



Kabir Sings
in a City of Burning Towers

What a shame
they scared you so
you plucked your sari off,
crushed it into a ball

then spread it
on the toilet floor.
Sparks from the towers
fled through the weave of silk.

With your black hair
and sun dark skin
you’re just a child of earth.
Kabir the weaver sings:

O men and dogs
in times of grief
our rolling earth
grows small.



Color of Home

I met you by Battery Park where the bridge once was.
Invisible it ran between the towers.
What made you follow me, O ghost in black cutaways?

Dear Mr Lorca I address you,
filled with a formal feeling.
You were tongue tied on the subway till a voice cried out:

34th street, last stop on the D.
It’s the Empire State, our tallest again.
Time to gather personal belongings, figure out redemption.

You leant into my ribs muttering:
Did you hear that, you seller of salt
and gatherer of ash just as your foremothers were.

How the world goes on and on.
Have you ever seen a bullfight?
What do you have strapped to your back?

Then quieter, under your breath:
Let’s survive the last stop together.
I knew a Hindu ballerina once.

Nothing like you, a quick, delicate thing.
I walked with her by the river
those months when English fled from me

and the young men of Manhattan
broke cherry twigs and scribbled on my skin
till one cried out — I am the boy killed by dark water,

surely you know me?
Then bolt upright you whispered:
Why stay on this island?

See how its ringed by water and flame?
You who have never seen Granada —
tell me, what is the color of home?



Field in Summer

I had a simple childhood,
A mother and father to take care of me,
no war at my doorstep.

Stones sang
canticles in my mouth
as darkness rose.

Love, love where are they gone?
Father, mother, ink dark stars,
singing stones.



Bengali Market

Dear Mr. Gandhi
It was cold the day the masjid
was torn down stone by stone,
colder still at the heart of Delhi

Ten years later entering Bengali market
I saw a street filled with bicycles
girls with rushing hair, boys in bright caps
I heard a voice cry

Can you describe this?
It sounded like a voice
from a city crusted with snow
to the far north of the Asian continent.

I saw him then, your grandson
in a rusty three wheeler
wrapped up in what wools he could muster.
Behind him in red letters

a sign: Dr. Gandhi’s Clinic.
So he said, embracing me, you’ve come back.
Then pointing to the clinic —
Its not that I’m sick

that gentleman gets my mail and I his.
That is why I am perched in this contraption.
I cannot stay long, it is Id ul Fitr.
I must greet friends in Old Delhi, wish them well.

Later he sought me out in dreams.
in a high kitchen in sharp sunlight
dressed in a khadi kurta, baggy jeans.
He touched my throat in greeting.

Listen my sweet, for half of each year,
after the carriage was set on fire
after the Gujarat  killings,
I disappear into darkness.

In our country there are two million dead
and more for whom no rites were said.
No land on earth can bear this.
Rivers are criss-crossed with blood.

All day I hear the scissor bird cry
cut cut cut cut cut
It is the bird Kalidasa heard
as he stood singing of  buried love.

Now our boys and girls take
flight on rusty bicycles.
Will we be cured? I cried
And he: We have no tryst with destiny.

My hands like yours are stained
with the juice of the pomegrante.
Please don’t ask for my address.
I am in and out of Bengali market.

Note: ’The voice of Anna Akhmatova (`Instead of a Preface’, Requiem) with a question someone asked her, echoed in my ear: `Can you describe this?’ In this poem I hear Akhmatova’s voice, coming from the far north.


Raw Silk | 2004 | Poetry, Works & Collaborations | Media:
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