Godhra and other poems
14 September 2016
We were not screaming, Qaidi
We were echolocating the silence
We were not running, Qaidi
We were tapping the pavement
with our feet
to see if it might give
like the trick floor
of a nightmare
We were not on fire, Qaidi
We were field testing
an experimental fabric
And when we crash-landed
and started moving our bony fingers
in the ashes
of our bodies
we were not drawing maps
to escape the city
not at all, Qaidi
we were drawing each other’s faces
we were writing each other’s names
When it was finished
sloshed some traffic
over the spot
where my friend the lawyer
scrubbed at the black stain
where the Fiat’s tires melted
scrubbed it away
with Tata trucks
bleached our whole neighborhood
with camera flashes
and hid the bodies
under the saffron tarpaulin
of a stage-managed
To this day, Qaidi
the only scorch marks
are on my memories
branded with his initials
of the dead
I milk of pus
Episode from the Ramayana
Lanka is on fire.
Dresden is on fire,
kerosene oblations poured on a svastika.
The Vandal’s mandala is on fire.
With kites for walls and toothpick bridges, Tojo’s
paper-and-glue Tokyo, too, is on fire.
Nippon, napalm, naphtha: Greek fire, spit forth
from a siphon, blisters the sea. Herakles? On fire,
his shirt soaked in a centaur’s quicklime heme.
Phan Thi Kim Phuc is on fire,
American cameramen forever by her side, shooting.
Agni, agony, Saigon, gone: Thich Quang Duc is on fire,
and he, too, will become a photograph, and win a prize.
Burn, baby, burn. Old Glory is on fire,
and new glory, too, this vainglory of a match burning
toward the hand that struck. Giordano Bruno is on fire,
and all our bygone divines, beggar devas, the Shining Ones
whose names are ghost pepper. My mouth is on fire,
my tongue is on fire, somebody get me a glass of water,
my sinuses, my eyeballs, my match head skull is on fire,
my flamethrower’s spit, my fuel’s heart, my dragon’s breath,
my poem, my person, my sermon are one fire,
by which I mean to say:
Lanka is on fire.
Sensations river in me, lucid
Zambezis of cerebrospinal fluid,
Upon which a whimsical compass disorients
Dysenteric late Victorians.
Romantics with their riding crops
Scale my dizzy Eigerkopf
To gaze on a misty, dendritic green,
Ecstatic in the dopamine.
My globe’s four lobes were named in Greek
By Neoclassicists who seek
Deep in an aging, Aegean Sea
That hippocampus, Memory.
Any day, a Bubonic bug or virus
Could plant its flag on my lingual gyrus,
But the monks are singing their Te Deum
In the ruins of the corpus colosseum.
In the interior, on the ocean floor
Are whole Amygdalas not yet explored,
Awaiting their Levi-Strauss, their Speke—
My brain of darkness, my tristes tropiques.
Ode to a pinecone
and no stupa,
all scales and no song,
on steps of sap
to the pinnacle
you pine for, all our
implicit in your
into pins, the pine
where you land,
we touch with a hand
The medical mission
Unmusical men but men of sound science,
we rode on camels out to the kingdom of silence
where none had been allowed to speak or hum
since the House of Aud allied with the cult of Mum.
A penlight in each mouth revealed a stub
tongue covered with gravel-colored buds,
petrified flowers strange to salt and sweet.
The vocal cords had not yet atrophied,
and so, boiling our scalpels, we dared
to carry out our maiden tongue-grafts there –
lizard’s tails, infused with Mountain Dew,
that whipped like firehoses by day two.
La la la, we instructed, la la la.
La ila, they repeated, la ala.
We were hardly singing-masters, we confess.
We were men of science, doing what was best.
In no time they were eating from our hands,
licking crystals sweeter than the sand.
We should have guessed that they would speak to one
another, la, lallation, mother tongue,
but how could we foretell, forestall the said –
these thousands chanting, calling for our heads?
~ Amit Majmudar is a poet, novelist, essayist, and diagnostic nuclear radiologist. He lives in Dublin, Ohio. His latest book is Dothead (Knopf 2016).