“Delirium, Malibu 2016” by Meena Alexander

Meena Alexander


I have gone sleeveless before you, armless too
(Your eyes the color of choke cherries)

Broken bodies, frolicking in grass
Under the white alder, yes, that is what I saw.

I left my cousin on the ground and wandered off.
The suicides started to melt away,

Before that they were thick in my head and in my heart.
Of course suicides is the wrong word

Each of them wanted to live
Even the one who had started to cut herself.

I do not know why I said what I did
Perhaps so as not to make them seem so helpless.

By the promenade, a white truck ran them over.
I shut my ears, I cannot bear my aunt:

So why in God’s name leave her behind,
Your cousin the little one just seven years old

Who hurt her ankle and could not run?
I bit my tongue:

Why dress a child in Broderie Anglaise
Begging to be stained?

Our world is a mess of sulphur and cordite,
Jaws without teeth gnaw butterflies.

Soul, a furnace where dross is burnt away.
But that’s an outmoded way of thinking

Why not a theater for a command performance
Precise disordering of vowels,

The beginning of delirium
What the gods long for

In this altered atmosphere
(Headless the muse in Malibu)

Poetry, a whipper-snapper thing
On a high horse, galloping.

Malibu, July 19 – New York City, August 10, 2016

from Rattle #54, Winter 2016

[download audio]


Meena Alexander: “There’s no monetary reward for poetry, but the reward, I think, is a kind of grace, a clarification of the everyday. Because that’s what poetry is really bound to, the stuff of our lives. It comes out of this muck and dreck and ruin that we’re in. I’m thinking that particularly now there’s such a difficult summer with all the shootings and the killings. I do think that as a poet one has to bear witness, but it’s also bearing witness to a leaf falling from a tree. I think you have to take what comes to you and write it.” (website)

Rattle Logo