An acclaimed poet, scholar and writer, Meena Alexander is the author of several collections of verse including Raw Silk (2004) and Birthplace with Buried Stones (2013). Born in Allahabad, raised in India and Sudan, she lives in New York City, where she is Distinguished Professor of English at Hunter College and at the CUNY Graduate Centre. Here is an excerpt from her forthcoming book Atmospheric Embroideries to be released in June this year.
I was on an island where few birds call.
Old trees swirled in the wind
The door to my studio tore off
Stones struck clouds, church bells echoed
– Earthly unsettlement.
Forced to go on, what did I do?
I pulled down a wall,
Set up another with pasteboard,
Tacked a strip of mirror all along the floor
Till white plaster was afloat, gravity unhinged.
The lights I had set up fell to one side
I stepped through the mirror to touch her –
She was that sort of being, what was the word
You gave me – sakshi, yes that.
No one would see her seeing I thought
Without themselves being altered in some way
So in the end she could have a chance
Of being saved from all the body remembers.
I took the face, making it very precise,
Filling in the eyes with several strokes
Reddening under the lids – fire turned to blood, Each element as the Gnostics tell us
Resolved into its own roots.
The neck of course is simple and straight.
She is in a white dress as usual,
A child whose mother
Takes pleasure in dressing her well.
In the end my hands were pocked
And bruised with paint
And when I lifted them off the canvas
I felt something warm,
Very like torn skin fluttering off.
(An excerpt from Atmospheric Embroideries by Meena Alexander, Hachette India, 80 pages, forthcoming this June)