ON INDIAN ROAD
In memory of Agha Shahid Ali, 1949-2001
I have come drawn to water,
Rooks in trees preparing for winter
A glazed horseshoe dropped a century ago,
Bits of arrowhead
From those who lived on this land,
Who thought the sun and moon beloved companions.
We were young,
Hair the color of crow feathers,
Mine spilling down, yours spiking skyward.
You had a shawl
Flung over your shoulders.
About you, the glamor of the very young poet.
We stood at a stall sipping tea.
A lorry painted with a four-armed goddess scratched to a halt.
The driver waved at us, strolled into the bushes.
Who is the greatest singer in the world?
Breathless, you picked up your own question –
Begum Akhtar. Who else? You must love her too.
My heart is given, I replied, to M.S. Subbalakshmi.
I will not take it back.
On the road where we stood it started to rain,
Under the neem roots
I heard a supernal, fleshly music
Shahid – the movie theatre where they showed Fire
Is burnt, rexine seats and all.
At the rim of Dal Lake, boats smoulder.
In your valley I see a girl, her feet so very clean,
Washed in a slipstream.
Her face pale, her kurta jonquil colored
March birth flower,
For the month she died.
On her left breast, the marks of barbed wire.
You said you were at the last ghat of the world,
What did you mean?
A heron, feathers bloodshot, swims to the horizon.
Love is its own compulsion —
In dreams you become a black god,
Our splintered geographies of desire
Sucked into meteors,
Flaming round your head.
Now I hear your voice in the cherry trees
In the thud of lost arrowheads,
In the resolute clip clop of horses,
Manes blown into the sun.
You stroll through clouds: beside you chinars float,
Four of them, making a secret island.
By me, small boats rock, hulls singing.
Meena Alexander lives in New York City, where she is Distinguished Professor of English at Hunter College and at the CUNY Graduate Center in the PhD program in English. She is the author of 10 poetry collections as well as memoirs, essays, and works of fiction and literary criticism.
© Meena Alexander, 2013 from Birthplace with Buried Stones (Tri Quarterly Books/ Northwestern University Press, 2013). All Rights Reserved. Printed by Permission of the Author