In a crumpled shirt (so casual for a god)
Bow tucked loosely under an arm still jittery from battle
He balanced himself on a flat boat painted black.
Each wave as I kneel closer a migrant flag
A tongue with syllables no script can catch.
The many births you have passed through, try to remember them as I do mine
Memory is all you have.
Still, how much can you bear on your back?
You’ve lost one language, gained another, lost a third.
There’s nothing you’ll inherit, neither per stirpes nor per capita
No plot by the riverbank in your father’s village of Kozencheri
Or by the burning ghat in Varanasi.
All you have is a writing hand smeared with ink and little bits of paper
Swirling in a violent wind.
I am a blue-black child cheeks swollen with a butter ball
I stole from mama’s kitchen
Stones and sky and stars melt in my mouth
Wooden spoon in hand she chased me
Round and round the tamarind tree.
I am musk in the wings of the koel which nests in that tree —
You heard its cry in the jolting bus from Santa Monica to Malibu
After the Ferris wheel, the lovers with their wind slashed hair
Toxic foam on the drifts of the ocean
Come the dry cactus lands
The child who crosses the border water bottle in hand
Fallen asleep in the aisle where backpacks and sodden baskets are stashed.
Out of her soiled pink skirt whirl these blood-scratched skies
And all the singing rifts of story.
Meena Alexander, 1951–2018
“Krishna 3:29” from Poetry (October 2018)
© 2018 Meena Alexander
Photo by Martin Jernberg on Unsplash