- Summer Splendor, and: For My Father, Karachi 1947
She rides in an acre of sand, past half-baked houses, Quarter notes of despair, a desert music.
Ahead, a river dark and shining. She props her bicycle against a ficus tree;
Tied with a rope, a boat with Coca-Cola crates, Metal rods, broken statuary.
Can she slip into the fishy stench, Budding breasts, pubic hair, hot heart stammering?
Embrace a figure wrapped in cloth Ibis-headed god
Brilliant eye and turquoise beak— He who unlocks speech, pours out prophetic song?
Dreary, squatting in the reeds, Singing back to the god she dreams herself free.
The bird quavering in the ficus tree Could not do more.
When she straightens up, Mud on her skirt, a fetching thing, polka dots in black and jade
Stitched by a tailor on Kasr Avenue. She stops by a silver sign—Khartoum Station—
Glimpsing Gordon Pasha’s headless ghost Throat simmering in sunlight. [End Page 65]
In a whitewashed house By a mirror propped on a tin trunk, her mother waits.
Over the trunk a throw of Belgian lace— She smooths the folds of her sari,
Stiff cotton set loose by circling air, Then turns, transfixed by impromptu sounds:
A summer splendor, Crickets, whirring fruit flies, sand grouse in heat,
And streaming into the mirror Someone else’s eyes filled with blank misgivings.
For My Father, Karachi 1947
Mid-May, centipedes looped over netting at the well’s mouth. Girls grew frisky in summer frocks, lilies spotted with blood.
You were bound to meteorology, Science of fickle clouds, ferocious winds.
The day you turned twenty-six fighter planes cut a storm, Fissured air baring the heart’s intricate meshwork
Of want and need— Springs of cirrus out of which sap and shoot you raised me.
Crossing Chand Bibi street, Named after the princess who rode with hawks, [End Page 66]
Slept with a gold sword under her pillow, Raced on polo fields,
You saw a man lift a child, her chest burnt with oil, Her small thighs bruised.
He bore her through latticed hallways Into Lady Dufferin’s hospital.
How could you pierce the acumen of empire, Mesh of deception through which soldiers crawled,
Trees slashed with petrol, Grillwork of light in a partitioned land?
When you turned away, Your blue black hair was crowned with smoke—
You knelt on a stone. On your bent head The monsoons poured.
Meena Alexander has published six volumes of poetry, including Illiterate Heart (winner of the pen Open Book Award), Raw Silk, and Quickly Changing River. Her memoir Fault Lines was picked as one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of the year. Her volume of essays Poetics of Dislocation appears in the Michigan Poets on Poetry series. She has received awards from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, Fulbright Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation (for a residency at Bellagio), and the Arts Council of England.