I was young when you came to me. Each thing rings its turn, you sang in my ear, a slip of a thing dressed like a convent girl— white socks, shoes, dark blue pinafore, white blouse. A pencil box in hand: girl, book, tree— those were the words you gave me. Girl was penne, hair drawn back, gleaming on the scalp, the self in a mirror in a rosewood room the sky at monsoon time, pearl slits In cloud cover, a jagged music pours: gash of sense, raw covenant clasped still in a gold bound book, pusthakam pages parted, ink rubbed with mist, a bird might have dreamt its shadow there spreading fire in a tree maram. You murmured the word, sliding it on your tongue, trying to get how a girl could turn into a molten thing and not burn. Centuries later worn out from travel I rest under a tree. You come to me a bird shedding gold feathers, each one a quill scraping my tympanum. You set a book to my ribs. Night after night I unclasp it at the mirror's edge alphabets flicker and soar. Write in the light of all the languages you know the earth contains, you murmur in my ear. This is pure transport.
From Illiterate Heart by Meena Alexander. Copyright © 2002 by Meena Alexander. Published in 2002 by TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press. All rights reserved.