Meena Alexander

Meena Alexander

Meena Alexander was born in Allahabad, India where two great rivers meet. She has published six volumes of poetry including Illiterate Heart (winner of the PEN Open Book Award). Her new book Birthplace with Buried Stones (TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press) will appear in Fall 2013. She lives in New York City, close to the Hudson.

Her poem `Acqua Alata’ was recently (beginning of February 2013) set to music by the Swedish Composer Jan Sandstrom for the Serikon Music Group.


We have come to Haifa where the sea starts.
The theater Al Midani floats by a tree.
I see this clearly though a dark filament twists round the moon.
I tiptoe through surf —
A rope someone left at the end of the jetty,
I knot it to my ankle,
Not wanting to be swept away by sudden longing.
Inside the theater, candles, a mountain of bloom.
Does Haifa have almond blossom?
Must they gather it from the edges of the sea?
Someone was shot point blank and killed –
A man who kept waiting for the good life to occur,
For the mouth to speak what comes before speech,
Sap in the tree and firmament of flesh.

A child approaches me in the darkened theater
And whispers in my ear — Yes we are waiting for Godot –
I am overcome by the scent of tuberoses
And cigarette smoke and can’t reply —
Yes, many friends of the dead man are smoking .
Six or seven take turns reading from a poem
They pass the pages from hand to hand –
I left my gloom hanging on a branch of boxthorn
And the place weighed less.

A woman in black jeans forces open the windows.
The moon uncorks herself and blows away.
So this is how the sea starts: increments of longing,
Mostly in half darkness
Then a white light as waves rush through.

The lines in italics come from Mahmoud Darwish, Mural, translated by
Rema Hammami and John Berger (London, Verso, 2009)

Forthcoming in Meena Alexander, Birthplace with Buried Stones
TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press, 2013

Sun, Stone

          From a hot stone
A grasshopper dropped

          Into your palm,
You held a green heart, beating.

          This bitten cliff is calanque
The word in Provencal

          Comes from kal,
Stone in your mother tongue.

          The same sun strikes us
Here as in your childhood,

          No elsewhere.
A man is casting off in a boat.

          High above
A woman clings to a tree,

          Her wild skirts blowing.
She cannot see him

          So she imagines
The man with trousers

          Rolled up,
Stepping into a boat

          With a single
Transparent sail.

          The figures on the wharf
Grow tiny.

          No one knows quite how
They sang in Provencal,

          Or how on the calanque
In the green wings

          Of her skirt,
The love notes rang.

Forthcoming in Meena Alexander, Birthplace with Buried Stones
TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press, 2013

Acqua Alta

Why come to Venice? The young woman asks.
I answer in lines – their time may have passed.

As a child, half a world away
I floated in a black canoe, it sank in high water.

The lagoon swells at monsoon time and floods the Ghetto.
All the pepper of Muziris cannot buy their freedom or mine,

And painted pottery exchanged for monkeys
Or chattering peacocks cannot distill sorrow.

A fish with rainbow fins is swimming in a fountain,
It has swallowed the ring of remembrance.

This Kalidasa knew,
Dreaming of a high room by the Accademia bridge

That holds Sakuntala, still sleeping.
A bird, with feathers the color of jasmine

Has made its nest in the timbers of that bridge.
There I see a man, face painted white

A yellow star pinned to his chest,
Staring into water.

He too is part of this earthly theatre.
No one must see him weeping.

From Meena Alexander, Quickly Changing River
TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press, 2008

Poetry in this post: © Meena Alexander
Published with the permission of Meena Alexander