“An Index of Visitors” by Ajay Kumar

Ekphrastic Challenge, January 2020: Artist’s Choice


watercolor painting of nighttime street scene with liquor store

Image: “Open All Night” by Kate Peper. “An Index of Visitors” was written by Ajay Kumar for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, January 2020, and selected as the Artist’s Choice.

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Ajay Kumar


I’ve seen something like this somewhere, all the time.
white, black & red the first colors. as we enter november,

the weather turns december. as it was june, it was also may.
remember, all the buildings blurring by to the next station.

remember the index of visitors, the middle-finger ring-fingers,
singers whose songs were just extended foreplays.

an old couple practice arranging furniture on the street,
still looking for the house they were sent to. sunglass-seller

on the newspaper-road-blanket looks polaroidal, as we enter
the new year, kaleidoscopic weather, stuck in the last decade.

swinging lighters caught the ruddiness of the white of eyes.
tea, tap, tray, gully rap to traffic-beat-hymns of highway

protests. blushing heel in my soiled hands, on my crossed legs,
soiling them too. we came out & went back in through somewhere else,

& being told about a way from the inside, we realized
how everything’s connected by a skeleton of ladders, like roads,

like railway lines, computer chips, germs of the lips of canon-mouths.
still, I see something like this somewhere all the time but every time

is different, with new unstill flames. the old couple pack up with all
their wooden things in the back of a truck to the next station. on fridays,

the sunglass-seller sells toy parrots instead, which fly into the neon lights
until the next. this time, from this body place the car has already moved

away half towards the blinding light. but as it was gone,
it was also there, waving & particle, all the time.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
January 2020, Artist’s Choice


Comment from the artist, Kate Peper: “Ted Kooser wrote, ‘… I hope that after I have labored over my poems … they look as if they’d been dashed off in a few minutes, the way good watercolor paintings look.’ One of the many things I love about this poem—and why I kept coming back to it—was that it embodied the very essence of what Ted Kooser wrote: immediacy, quickness and unexpected moments. I’m also a sucker for surreal imagery. And this poem manages to link ‘by a skeleton of ladders’ all its wild bounty into something beautiful and cohesive, and yet elusive. In the end, the poet’s attempt—like my attempt to paint a street scene at night—realizes it can never be captured: ‘… it was gone,/ it was also there, waving & particle, all the time.’”

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