Atmospheric Embroidery (Northwestern University Press, 2018)

In this haunting collection of poems we travel through zones of violence to reach the crystalline depths of words — Meena Alexander writes `So landscape becomes us, / Also an interior space bristling with light`. At the heart of this book is the poem cycle ‘Indian Ocean Blues’, a sustained meditation on the journey of the poet as a young child from India to Sudan..There are poems inspired by the drawings of children from war torn Darfur and others set in New York City in the present. These sensual lyrics of body, memory and place evoke the fragile, shifting nature of dwelling in our times.

Praise for Atmospheric Embroidery:

“Alexander’s language is precise, her syntax is pellucid, and her poems address all of the senses, offering a simultaneous richness and simplicity.”—A. E. Stallings, author of Olives: Poems


“In Atmospheric Embroidery, Meena Alexander takes us on her magic carpet ride of language and image. Reading her is the pleasure of displacement, but also the sadness of inescapable loss. She makes me cry. She makes me happy.” —Nell Painter, author of The History of White People and Old in Art School: A Memoir of Starting Over


“The beautiful paradox of Meena Alexander’s art has always been found in the distillation of her epic human and spiritual experience into a pure and exquisite lyricism. That paradox and that lyricism are on triumphant display in this book.”—Vijay Seshadri, Pulitzer prize-winning author of 3 Sections and The Long Meadow


Poems from Atmospheric Embroidery (2018)

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?




Atmospheric Embroidery | 2018 | Poetry, Works & Collaborations
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