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9/11 Poems from Raw Silk
by Meena Alexander

Late There Was an Island: Poem Cycle

Meena Alexander was born in Allahabad and divided her childhood between India and the Sudan. From her cross-cultural perspective, Alexander writes in, Raw Silk, Triquarterly Books/ Northwestern University Press, with moving intensity of post September 11 events as she evokes violence, and civil strife, love, despair, and a hard-won hope. This autobiographical cycle of poems reflects the surrealism of such a life and is shot through with the frissons of pleasure and pain, of beauty and tension that mark a truly global existence. Meena Alexander is the author of several books of poetry. Illiterate Heart, also from Triquarterly Books, won the 2002 PEN Open Book Award. Her memoir Fault Lines, chosen as a Best Book of 1993 by Publishers Weekly-- was recently reissued by the Feminist Press at The City University of New York, in a post 9/11 edition, with a new chapter entitled "Lyric in a Time of Violence." She lives in New York City where she is Distinguished Professor of English at Hunter College and the Graduate Centerer of the University of New York. [Photo (C) 2004 by Robin Holland]

1. Aftermath

There is an uncommon light in the sky
Pale petals are scored into stone.

I want to write of the linden tree
That stoops at the edge of the river

But its leaves are filled with insects
With wings the color of dry blood.

At the far side of the river Hudson
By the southern tip of our island

A mountain soars, a torrent of sentences
Syllables of flame stitch the rubble

An eye, a lip, a cut hand blooms
Sweet and bitter smoke stains the sky


2. Invisible City

Sweet and bitter smoke stains the air
The verb stains has a thread torn out

I step out to the linden grove
Bruised trees are the color of sand.

Something uncoils and blows at my feet.
Sliver of mist? Bolt of beatitude?

A scrap of what was once called sky?
I murmur words that come to me

Tall towers, twin towers I used to see.
A bloody seam of sense drops free.

By Liberty Street, on a knot of rubble
In altered light, I see a bird cry.

3. Pitfire

In altered light I hear a bird cry.
By the pit, tor of metal, strut of death.

Bird song yet. Liturgie de cristal.
Flesh in fiery pieces, mute sediments of love.

Shall a soul visit her mutilated parts?
How much shall a body be home?

Under these burnt balconies of air,
Autumnal duty that greets us.

At night, a clarinet solo I put on:
Bird song pitched to a gorge, a net of cries.

In the news, a voice caught on a lost line:
`We’ve even struck the bird’s throat.’

`Late, There was an Island’
In my notebook I have written down the dates of composition:`Aftermath’ September 13-18, 2001; `Invisible City’, October 17- November 3 ,2001; `Pifire’, November 20- Dec 5, 2001.
`Aftermath’, `Invisible City’These two poems saw the light of day on December 7, 2001 at a panel discussion `Artist in a Time of Crisis’, New York Foundation for the Arts, Drawing Center, SOHO.Together with `Pitfire’ they were in the exhibit `Time to Consider: The Arts Respond to 9/11. (www.timetoconsider.org)
`Pitfire’`Liturgie de cristal’ is Olivier Messaien’s phrase. I have taken it from his preface to Quatuor pour la fin de temps, Part 1. The clarinet solo is Part 3 (abime des oiseaux)

Copyright ©2004 by Meena Alexander. All rights reserved by the author. First appeared in RAW SILK, TriQuarterly / Northwestern University Press, 2004 www.nupress.northwestern.edu


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