“The Anatomy of Endings” by Anoushka Subbaiah

Ekphrastic Challenge, November 2019: Artist’s Choice


black and white photo of boy walking dog on a street

Image: “Dog Walking” by Alice Pettway. “The Anatomy of Endings” was written by Anoushka Subbaiah for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, November 2019, and selected as the Artist’s Choice.

[download: PDF / JPG]


Anoushka Subbaiah


Even tender mornings are labor here,
something to be fought for. Light must erode
itself through a membrane of smog, thick
and silent as blood. The newspaper once called
this sheet of pollution soup and I imagined
us all broiled and begging in a great vat of the city,
our tongues shrinking into white onions and vermicelli.
Still, in the sharp glaze of summer, we will learn
to stand outside ourselves. To measure distance
with past-tenses: this was once the video rental store,
some long-haired banyan trees, a boy. My country
is dressed as a body-sized nothing. Can one know
crevices, interludes, before any language or name?
The dark eyes of potholes. Urine-streaked alleys.
I’ve forgiven the stench, the sting of it all—
it as much mine as anyone else’s. Stray dogs whip
like ribbed arrows through metal carcasses, make feasts
from boiled peanuts wrapped in damp tissue.
We’ve all fed ourselves with the spill of something
and called it enough. Yesterday it was the smoke
I rinsed out from my hair. Tomorrow it will be a stranger
with a face like an oil lamp—so burnished and flickering
that I’ll mistake him for a fallen sun. It’s a dull hurt,
to keep walking against such ordinary beauty. But
there are sleepless borders to outrun, stubs of grief
to be plucked from the dirt. My country is dressed
as a tumor of cement and glass, multiplying lifelessly.
All you can count on is the low whisper of passing limbs,
fraught with warning: remember, these scaffoldings were planted
on someone’s chest.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
November 2019, Artist’s Choice


Comment from the artist, Alice Pettway: “‘The Anatomy of Endings’ doesn’t seek to duplicate the photo but instead builds its own city of imperfections: a dog shot through a metal carcass, a stranger with an oil-lamp face, stubs of grief plucked from dirt. The poem captures the unease of street photography, which is so often the ‘dull hurt’ of ‘walking against such ordinary beauty.’”

Rattle Logo