[Meena Alexander, February 17, 1951 – November 21, 2018]
for David, Adam & Svati
Name me a word
Great, simple, vast as the sky
A word that has, like the intimate hand
Of the woman I have loved forever,
Washed the dirty innards of history.
– Jibanananda Das, “Name me a word” | “Amake ekti kotha dao”
Your languid kohl-lined eyes resemble fish
swimming deep in high Himalayan waters —
where your consort in the guise of Shiva
holds you steadfast with love’s constancy.
You are a precious blue stone — a bindi, third-eye’s
astral order, nakshatra’s preordained destiny.
Your name, invoking the cyanic skies —
now just an azure epigraph in the heavens.
We hang on to delicate atmospheric embroidery
in these unpredictable toxic times,
trying to resuscitate our own breath
so we can live. In this quickly changing river
whose bed is our birthplace with buried stones
and stone roots, a house of a thousand doors
provides a safe haven, albeit temporarily.
“Life is too short to drink bad wine” —
we had joked in Manhattan, and again during
a boat ride in Macedonia’s Lake Ohrid.
Here the water’s pristine aquamarine, and blue
gem’s namesake — absorbs the shock of arrival
refracting your verse — wrapped in raw silk.
How precisely our fine fault lines fissures
recall the litany of words, phrases, book titles —
your poems woven as a pashmina shawl,
a patchwork quilt commemorating the dead
in colours so vivid that it almost blinds us
with its calibrated extreme saturation.
Such is our lives, their complicated twists
informing, charting familial stories —
your sepia-stained chapbooks slow-inking
a storm and its faithful companion
night scene: the garden of many senses.
The river and bridge we must now cross
is shaking, fraught with our limited days —
with lies and rumours some have falsely
created to hide their own insecurities,
their hollow vacuousness, their invented angst
shielding their untruths from people’s eyes.
Name me a word, my dear friend —
these letterforms, now emblazoned in gold
on matte red laminate — an anthology,
urgent beautiful words you gathered —
strung selflessly with quiet meticulous care.
What would my “one” word be?
How does one reduce life to just one word
or a hashtag? At the end of our lives —
we start from where we began — the same
cosmic sound of our mother’s womb,
the same elongated word-chant: “Om”!
And in this birth-echo you’ll live forever,
your words and spirit, eternally alive —
an epitaph in our illiterate hearts — R.I.P.
Author’s note: The italicized words/phrases act as an homage alluding to Alexander’s various poems and book titles. In Sanskrit, Meena is a name meaning fish, or one with beautiful eyes resembling fish. It also means sky, heaven, glass, starling, precious blue stone, among others. In Hindu mythology, Meena is a name of the wife of Shiva.
Editorial note: For more by Alexander, read “What Use Is Poetry?” and two poems from the November 2016 issue.