Atmospheric Embroidery (Hachette India, 2015)

From the Author of Illiterate Heart (winner of the PEN Open Book Award), a brilliant new collection of poems treading themes: of migration, war, dislocation, conflict, love and divinity with a distinct and concise vocabulary full of grace and precision.

Meena Alexander was recently featured in a Statesman Profile that introduced her as “undoubtedly one of the finest poets in contemporary times.”

The article — which borrows a quote from Alexander as its title: “Writing a Poem Is Itself an Act of Hope” — explored her take on the relevance of poetry in the U.S. and her native India, as well as her beginnings as a poet.
– See more at:

“One of the finest Indian poets writing today.” — Keki Daruwalla

“Praise for Birthplace with Buried Stones
‘With one hand on the things and textures of the material would and the other reaching into the mysteries beyond us, Meena Alexander does what poetry does best, conveying us from the known to the Unknown with grace and formal care.'” — Billy Collins

“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

Poems from Atmospheric Embroidery (2015)

Click on a title to navigate to the poem.

Atmospheric Embroidery
Net Work


Atmospheric Embroidery

Wads of ice-cream glisten on Route 6.
We stroll into summer, thoughts thrust into a bramble

Oriental bitter-sweet pocking the hedges,
Fists in pockets, lemonade dripping from a child’s hem.

In Boetti’s embroidery, in his mapping of the world
Everything is cut and coupled,

Occult ordering – silk and painted steel
Sun and electric moon, butterfly and naked man

In The Thousand Longest Rivers
The Nile is the hardest water

Then comes the Mississippi – Missouri. Once we lived by brilliant waters

Suffered the trees soft babble, Fissures in magma.

Already its August –
Season of snipers in the heartland,

Season of coastlines slit by lightning
And smashed bouquets of the salt spray rose.

Now I think it’s a miracle we were able, ever
To put one foot in front of the other and keep on walking.



Net Work

She cut off all her hair,
Scampered down a staircase, skinned her knees,
Years latershe pinched herself awake
Hearing words in a foreign language —
Books she longed to read, smudged with sunlight.
Broadway and 113 Street she whispered to herself ,
The sheer delight of walking a city street couldn’t be rivaled.

Her preferred method of work :
On an Ipad, sitting in a sidewalk café.
What she could not bear to think
She wrote. One by one she composed her lines
She numbered each with finicky care, struck– Send.
Her hope was that her sentences would net a quick-silver `I’
Swimming in ether.

  1. When we landed there were 3 of us.
  2. All our worldly goods were packed in a holdall.
  3. Pots and pans cleaned with well water. And that was that.
  4. Is this a Third World country or is it not ? Mother mumbled into her sari.
  5. Trouser wearing women were an abomination, this Father knew.
  6. I did algorithms, hoping long skirts would not trap.
  7. The river’s so close, can I swim to another shore?




Word over all, beautiful as the sky!
Walt Whitman

1. Provincetown by the Sea

As August fades I pedal hard.
At Angel Food I pick up Portuguese fig cake,

Almonds cut and buried in speckled dark,
Pinpricks of sweetness bound in Saran Wrap.

In the High Middle Ages
Theologians mused how angelspranced

On the head of a pin,
How the spirit could spin cocoons of flesh,

Whether a body could be in two places at once.
Almost always

I am in two places at once,
Sometimes in three.

Free me weep me Motherwell by the sea,
Night waves succor you.

You knelt on the floor by the canvas, thrust hard:
I made the painted spray

With such physical force
That the strong rag paper split.



2. Scrim-Scram of Music

How her wrists hurt when she piano played.
He was new in town, the English doctor

In pith helmet and crisp white shirt.
A brand new cure – he pricked her hard.

Drops of gold made her bones boil,
Tongue flower with blisters.

She was dead in a day,
One month short of fifty.

Moonlight, darkening storm.
Dove stamemoria

I never knew my mother’s mother.
In her diaries the recipe for mutton curry

Five cloves of garlic, a fistful of green chillis
Sits athwart Gandhi’s injunction to spin –

I have laid out my khadi, washed and ironed it.
Tomorrow when I wear it, the sky will be blue.

Nothing known –
The curse and blessing

Torn rag I pack around the wound,
Curbing the flow that could kill.



3. Torn Branches

Grandfather lies in wait for me. I
cannot flee.

My voice is young and burnt
My voice is a bramble berry squashed on stone.

All afternoon I lay curled in a hole
In the bamboo grove where cobras rove.

No one knew.
Rove — How did I learn that verb?

From my Scottish tutor —
She rapped my knuckles hard.

A swan in a bag, worth two in the lake.
A stitch in time saves nine.

She taught me some such things.
Who will bring me sweetmeats,

Swirl henna on my palms?
Who stokes sugarcane with kerosene

Binds cords of broken rope?
Dark sisters in the sky, their wings are torn.

They have stumps for wrists.
They sing Hosannas to our Lord.



4. Ars Poetica

By the crook of my knees
I hang in a mango tree.

The leaves are very green.
I slip a finger under my skirt,

I touch the bark of the tree with wetness. I
write on knobbly bark.

A red ant crawls on my skin. I
turn my face to the sky.

The blue is splattered with white. I
write the sky.

The blue is cut with reddish flecks.
From a great distance, they are calling me.

I am in the green tree,
They keep calling my name.

When I hear their voices
My finger threatens to catch fire.



5. Lines with Red Ants

Some things have holes in them
Leaves on the mango tree

When sparks fly through
I have a hole in between my legs

I pick red ants off the tree, I
let them crawl over me.

Fire blossoms where they bit.
I liked it when the red ants bit.



6. Bathtub Blues

At the edge of eleven a child
Crouches in a bathtub

Silver scissors in hand,
Skin trembling under metal.

The first materiality is all we have.
Duns Scotus knew this.

The child meets him in the dark,
His loin cloth was made of glass.

She whispers words she learnt by heart.
The mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall.

He forces her to see
Things that beggar speech

(Will strips of chiffon wrap around bone?)
Doctor Subtilis, please save me!



7. This is not a Dream

Someone stoops at the edge of a pit
The pit is covered with sticks and leaves

In the park the air is heavy
In the park the air is indigo.

Matchstick blue
The scrawl of circling birds.

The snare of love –
Impossible to crawl through.



8. Black Sand at the Edge of the Sea

Soon I will be given to earth,
Folded in a death squat

Together with pig marrow,
Swan’s down, thread leaved sundew,

Pitchblende sucking bones in.
Where is grandfather now?

My friend says think of old Walt
Bent over his dead enemy–

Touching lips to encoffined flesh.
So where do they live

The twin sisters Night and Death?
Will they wash the ground clean?


Atmospheric Embroidery | 2015 | Poetry, Works & Collaborations
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