Two Poems

Midtown panorama. Photo by Kenneth Dellaquila
Photo by Kenneth Dellaquila

Language Barrier

“When you tell them about their own bodies,”
My mentor told me, “realize
Their anatomy is Greek to them.
Their pupils dilate, pulses rise

With all the estranging mystery of tides.
You must unknow what you know
Like the back of your hand. Speak the body
In English plainer than a crow.

The deepest that their knowledge goes
Is the blood beneath the cut.
At the fork in a vein, in a brain’s ravines,
In the rumbling Tube of the gut

You’ll lose them every time because
We weren’t meant to open this chest.
Because the darkness in the body
Is darkness in the flesh.”


How utterly patriarchal, I scoffed
to myself, to advocate the demotic not
out of love, but rather to demote
the patient to a child, to an idiot
nodding at a white-haired white-
coated white male’s I-talk-plain-like-
plain-folks white linguistic lie.
Three rooms later, I felt in the groin crease
of a woman no older than my sister
a node, a lymphomatous dinosaur-egg
shortly to hatch that raptor
mortality. She told me, “That’s
been there for more’n a year now.
I figured after three kids
my ovary’d come loose & slid on down.”


By your kiosks and bus stops,  your kielbasa oases
and falafel hovels,  your white-whiskered
Trump Tower bellboys,  organic-gouda
yoga yentas  in shrink-wrap spandex,
your bong-broken  Sharpie-placard
prophets of dengue  and prion disease,
your interns and ex-cons,  your Ponzie-power-suited
Goldman Goldilocks  in latte lines,
hard hat and brown bag  Spanish-speaking
borough builders,  your lapsed this or lapsed that
something-seekers,  your Broadway-wannabe
audition moths,  your mothers and daughters
on picnic quilts,  your peace-and-quiet
tai chi-knowing  Taiwanese nonagenarians
sculpting noise  in the thick of traffic,
your grates and grills  mystically steaming,
windows and lanes  lit from within,
doors revolving  on Pythagorean pivots,
your stick-shift Beamers  and turbaned cabbies,
your ferries and jetties,  your fidgety fifth-
graders getting  in one Wednesday
all of art, your  subway-track axons
crowd-computing  the incalculable,
your Swarovski-fragile  skyscraper fronds,
curbside buggies  whose horses hang
their prairie profiles  to graze pavement,
your Park Slope ponytail  jogging her dog,
your coffee and Wi-Fi  café squatters,
City of decibels  and tambourine roundabouts,
jeweled City  with the Juilliard streets
and lions guarding  your library gates,
City, I swear  by your stained saints
and rusted ribs,  by the world you were
and the all you are,  City, I swear to you,
never again,  never again.

Amit Majmudar’s ( third poetry collection is Dothead (Knopf, 2016). He is the first Poet Laureate of Ohio as well as a novelist and essayist.