Praise for River and Bridge
“Meena Alexander is one of the finest Indian poets writing today” — Keki Daruwalla
“The next time that someone suggests that poetry cannot honestly deal with the real news of the world, I will raise the name of Meena Alexander and this fine book like a flag — or a prayer.” — Cornelius Eady
“The river and bridge are ultimately the same. Just as New York City and Delhi merge in the body and imagination of a woman making poetry near the end of an age, Meena Alexander eloquently leads to the conclusion of this fine collection with ‘There is no grief like this/ the origin of landscape is mercy.’These poems are the journey we take with her to know this, utterly.” — Joy Harjo
Poems from River and Bridge
Click on a title below to navigate to the poem.
River and Bridge
Trees on the other side of the river
so blue, discarding light into water, a flat
white oil tank with HESS in black, a bridge
Holzer might skim with lights – I will take her
down before she feels the fear – no sarcophagus here:
I have come to the Hudson’s edge to begin my life
to be born again, to seep as water might
in a landscape of mist, burnished trees,
a bridge that seizes crossing.
But Homer knew it and Vyasa too, black river
and bridge summon those whose stinging eyes
criss-cross red lights, metal implements,
battlefields: birth is always bloody.
Art of Pariahs
Back against the kitchen stove
In my head Beirut still burns
The Queen of Nubia, of God’s Upper Kingdom
the Rani of Jhansi, transfigured, raising her sword
are players too. They have entered with me
into North America and share these walls.
We make up an art of pariahs:
Two black children spray painted white
their eyes burning,
a white child raped in a car
for her pale skin’s sake,
an Indian child stoned by a bus shelter,
they thought her white in twilight.
Someone is knocking and knocking
but Draupadi will not let him in.
She squats by the stove and sings:
The Rani shall not sheathe her sword
nor Nubia’s queen restrain her elephants
till tongues of fire wrap a tender blue,
a second skin, a solace to our children
Come walk with me towards a broken wall
— Beirut still burns — carved into its face.
Outcastes all let’s conjure honey scraped from stones,
an underground railroad stacked with rainbow skin,
Manhattan’s mixed rivers rising.
Elephants in Heat
Soon after we met
you sent me a book
it had many pictures of elephants
I saw a male beast
scorched by stove fire
belly and curling tail stacked
with precise flesh
eyes irregular in passion.
On the margins faced in red,
two others sporting,
a female down below
licked by waterlilies,
buoyant in the curlicues of waves.
I used to make up nightmares as a child
so mother would come in
and lift me up, lips wet
in all that moonlight.
I saw elephants in heat
crawl over garden trees
the myna’s nest slipped loose,
it clung to ivory
The sky was colored in blood
as in this painting
Elephant on a Summer Day
Bundi School, circa 1750.
I wonder what it knew
that painter’s eye
seared by a fullness we cannot seize
in stanzas stone or canvas
short of stark loss
Our wiry bounding lines
silks and weathered ivories
scored by the Kerala sun
Thinned and dissolved
into desire’s rondures
mad covenant of flesh
A beast unpacking
delight from his trunk
your tongue scorching mine
undercover this spring season
As sulphur bubbles from limestone
and the unquiet heart
like the pale monkey in the painting
takes it all in.