Amit Majmudar is a poet, novelist, essayist, and diagnostic nuclear radiologist living in Dublin, Ohio, with his wife and three children. His most recent collection is Dothead (Knopf, 2016). He is Ohio's first Poet Laureate - and his next book is a verse translation of the Bhagavad Gita, with commentaries, entitled Godsong (Knopf, 2018).
Death and the Maiden
And I said, Death, you cannot have me.
In a far-off country there’s a suburb.
In that suburb is a sidewalk.
On that sidewalk is a bicycle.
On its pedals are purple sneakers
And in those purple sneakers is a girl.
In that girl is love
And that love is for her daddy.
That love of hers may be the closest thing
To a soul I’ve ever had.
I keep myself there, in her love.
I keep her warm like soup in winter.
That warmth, Death, is the living heat of me
As she is pedaling into her future.
She bears her love for me,
Which, being more than me, is what I most am,
Inside her, safe.
Because she is too good to lose her father
As long as I am loved I cannot die.
And Death said, Don’t you know by now
I take no special interest in the middle-aged?
Check your phone, your wife’s been texting you.
Taking out, as he said this,
From deep inside his black trench coat,
Held in one hand, like an empty soup bowl upside down,
A child’s helmet with the chinstrap dangling.
My great-grandfather married a hurricane,
taking a hold of her whiplash wrist.
She stopped spinning and let him love her,
a wife in her weathers while his parents despaired.
She bore him babies, three at one scream,
then dissolved over land, leaving him dad—
shards and shingles on a mortgaged mile.
Each baby’s birthmark was peril and prophecy,
the littlest triplet’s a forest fire
branded on her brow. She gobbled boys
like Californias! Coal in her fist
would crush to ravens that knew her name.
How could she not be known and courted
through six counties? My father’s father
flung his future in a fistful
of heartshaped confetti consumed by her hunger.
She bore him a boy with cheeks like
a volcano, wicks twisting out of his navel
in a blasted bouquet, poisoned pistils;
then left him for a lover, an April migrant
picking strawberries, her bronze Apollo
en espagnol. He cut her throat.
My father, when he turned twenty-three, fell
for his mother’s memory, a storm with a name,
raven-haired and raving mad.
She kept us cowering, scrambling for cover,
every vacation demanding sandbag
barricades at Marriotts, retreats to the roof.
So now you know my love life’s
embarrassingly bad genetic juju—
if you want in on this wicked lineage,
let’s skywrite our names in smoke and money
with paper planes we’ll light and launch,
let’s bury ourselves in the burning sand,
start up a business on the ill-starred boardwalk,
in a haze, in heat, in hurricane season.
I hear my blood listening
to my past and my ears listening
to my blood
I hear Gandhi
while he bleeds out on the grass
I hear the tattoo needle
kiss the skin
over my right shoulder blade
I hear the sound sound makes
when the universe isn’t here
I hear a voice I exiled
crawling up a mineshaft into speech
and sobbing Home sweet
I am willing to die for this. I am willing to kill for this.
I need you to lie for me. I need you to lie still for this.
Shocked, are we, at this brick through the window? You put me in the kiln.
I’m calling this one “Kill Fugue.” I’ve never killed, but I will for this.
I am your biggest fan. I am the greatest of fanatics.
I hear the virgin martyr student soldiers getting shrill for this.
You have to be dying to kill for the cause. Because the cause.
Empty yourself and become a believer and kill your fill for this.
If religion is a drug, it’s PCP. Deathwish/killwish.
Dervish, the room is spinning. Doctor, is there a pill for this?
Speech is a shell game, phon for all.
Under one of these three sounds is wear where ware
The meaning isn’t isn’t isn’t.
‘I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your house down!’
Speech threatens meaning.
Every poem is another little pig’s swine song.
I only like operas if I don’t speak the language.
Bizet’s cigarette-factory girls can change into angels!
Quid est veritas? La fumée…la fumée….
Meaning is to speech
As latitude is to penguin. You know you’re in the Arctic,
But how did you get here, and how do you leave?
Speak the speech, I pray you, as I mean the meaning.
What am I saying?
We don’t have a prayer, do we?
My two cents: Say nothing, and all three cups
Shelter conceivable pennies.
Speak, and you’re two cents poorer.
Meaning moans in the mine
While spry speech clambers up the throat’s shaft
Into disappointed daylight.
‘The world is all that is the case.’
Inside that case?
A spokewheel, catching the sunlight,
Seems to shirr in reverse, toward a speech willed
Prior to meaning. Back to poetry.
Ooga-booga, Jorge Borges.
The consensus is that sense is
Tohubohu in a pita pocket.
That’s why I write in a plain style.
I write things people get. They sense
I mean it when I don’t say I say when I don’t mean.
museum: Dinosaur bones,
buried in the air.
“This is our stop. That
English isn’t spoken here
goes without saying.”
Futures breed like the
rabbits capitalists reach
in their top hats for.
“Of course they hate us!
If you were them, admit it,
wouldn’t you hate you?”
Swab your cheek and check
your genetics. We’ve all got
a touch of Genghis.
“The Saudis wanted
to build it bigger than St.
Paul’s, next to St. Paul’s.”
The way they pronounce
“guard” I thought she was saying
changing of the god.
I came here to see
what London looks like. Surprise:
London looks like me.
This, Winston, is how
you conquer a country. Not
with guns. With children.