Stone Oven

Meena Alexander - 1951-2018
Kasr Avenue was where the birds lived,
In a mud silo millet seeds flourished
 
All winter long and through the dry season
Laila was in my soul, also Majnoon’s madness.
 
I was a girl growing up and you, crossing the
Nile—yes a flat boat is all you had—
 
Came in, trousers wet and flapping,
Sat down with your back to me.
 
Hunayn ibn Ishaq the great physician
Thought of the heart as the oven of the body.
 
In the Grand Hotel the waiters wear
Cummerbunds, always maroon, over tunics, white
 
I asked for a lemonade with crushed ice.
Majnoon lived with his goats in the desert north of here
 
On a mountain of sand, where the sky turns dark
The color of millet burnt in a stone oven.

More by Meena Alexander

Muse

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.

Central Park, Carousel

June already, it's your birth month,
nine months since the towers fell.
I set olive twigs in my hair
torn from a tree in Central Park,
I ride a painted horse, its mane a sullen wonder.
You are behind me on a lilting mare.
You whisper--What of happiness?
Dukham, Federico. Smoke fills my eyes.
Young, I was raised to a sorrow song
short fires and stubble on a monsoon coast.
The leaves in your cap are very green.
The eyes of your mare never close.
Somewhere you wrote: Despedida.
If I die leave the balcony open!

Night Theater

Snails circle
A shed where a child was born.

She bled into straw—
Who can write this?

Under Arcturus,
Rubble of light:

We have no words
For what is happening—

Still language endures
Celan said

As he stood in a torn
Green coat

Shivering a little,
In a night theater, in Bremen.

Related Poems

Before You Came

Before you came,
things were as they should be:
the sky was the dead-end of sight,
the road was just a road, wine merely wine.

Now everything is like my heart,
a color at the edge of blood:
the grey of your absence, the color of poison, of thorns,
the gold when we meet, the season ablaze,
the yellow of autumn, the red of flowers, of flames,
and the black when you cover the earth
with the coal of dead fires.

And the sky, the road, the glass of wine?
The sky is a shirt wet with tears,
the road a vein about to break,
and the glass of wine a mirror in which
the sky, the road, the world keep changing.

Don't leave now that you're here—
Stay. So the world may become like itself again:
so the sky may be the sky,
the road a road,
and the glass of wine not a mirror, just a glass of wine.