Wednesday, March 28, 2007

New Poetry By Ravi Shankar

Editor's Note:
Armadillo and Mink appear in the Spring 2007 edition of Connecticut Review. Shankar read Dirge and Canticle in Memoriam, for the 2005 Tsunami victims,
during the kickoff program for the 10th annual IMPAC-CSU Young Writers competition Jan. 19 at Naugatuck High School. Shankar will serve as co-master of ceremonies for the annual dinner June 1 at the Litchfield Inn.


Encrusted in granulated bands, parabolic

but for a tail tapered to an awl, methodical,

hairy-bellied, lizard-clawed, descended,

according to wheezy diner folklore,

from fugitives broken out of a traveling

circus that toured Smyrna in the thirties

with flatcars full of animal curiosities

and cirqueros, like the Human Volcano,

or achondroplastic dwarves who juggled

on top of hippos. Only the nine-banded

armadillos escaped. Still scour parched

earth for ants. No answer but in themselves.


Skittish-eyed, fleet of paw, dens in drift

piles or stream banks, stealthy, circumspect,

prowling the dark shore on paws alone,

hunting muskrat, crayfish, frog, skulking

miles at a time in night's percussion

section, pelt glistening even after the moon

slides from sight, more lustrous submerged,

a bolt of brown darkening under the water,

a crepuscular muscle uncoiling, emerging

to forage in forests led by a leash of scent.

Solitary codger, lithe, furbearing, thorough,

wanted for earmuffs and by horned owls.

Dirge and Canticle in Memoriam

For the tsunami victims, 2005

-the earth, like its inhabitants, is stitched

together in pieces, plates that rift in time

might move a centimeter in a year,

else suddenly judder fifteen meters in half

a second, triggering walls of water

that first recede like intake of breath-

how many breaths permeate each second

-a stretch of sea no eyes should behold

exposing glistening kelp, convulsive fish,

sedimentary curiosities, bits of bracken,

drawing onlookers on when they should be

fleeing for higher ground-

when warning should have sounded

-a stretch of sea accelerated to Lear

jet speed, overflowing the shore in hissing

torrents to uproot trees, topple minarets,

smash sewers, tear railroad trestles into snarls

of metal, splintering, rending, dragging

object or person with such force

no formula can fathom, no theologian

adequately explicate-

how render that force without making it aesthetic

-there's no adequate word for grief

pushed up against the very edge

of the unutterable like a doorstop.

There's no song that could begin

to placate, but we will lift our voices

in chorus together nonetheless-

prayer is intention

raised to a sharp note's keenness

song is a flare shot from dark to dark

a tendril

-for the Buddhist,

everything is impermanent

except Dharma and one never knows

when the next wave may come-

storm hands abrade the horizon

there is nothing you can do

about the world

except to let it go

-for the Christian, nature's wrath

arrives to remind each soul it must repent-

cursed is the ground

for your sake

both thorns and thistles

shall it bring forth for you

-for the Hindu, reincarnation's chakra

spins from destruction to creation,

and back again, until all beings

return to blissful source-

luminous is Brahman who dwells

in the cave of the heart

far beyond what is far

yet here very near at hand

-for the Muslim, the Divine Essence

is immanent and beyond imagining,

forbidden for us even to ponder-

there is no god but God

-for the Humanist, suffering matters

not to the earth's molten core;

only survivors have something to recover-

based on geotechnical analysis

the release of stresses between plates

is responsible for the magnitude

-for the Sri Lankan girl who has lost

her family, whose school has been razed,

the rice paddies she helped cultivate

submerged in fetid water, the village

littered with glass-shards, car parts,

rotting carcasses of stray dogs,

none of these explanations suffice-

water's susurrus will never sound the same

what has been lost will never be found

-let this music stand on her behalf,

prayer, tendril, flare and song

beating salt on the shore to the time

of an individual heartbeat

multiplied by two hundred thousand

and pressed in our minds like grooves

in vinyl, like mountain ranges in the air-

that it might have been us

except for a toss of dice

-a song whose pitched notes

preserve the undulation of fishing boats

tied to the dock, the feel of sand grains

against the soles of children's feet,

the aroma of mustard seed and coriander

simmering in oil, the curve of a domed

mosque against reddening sky, snippets

of Urdu, Indonesian, Tamil, Thai-

the bones of bodies were made

from stars

we're not so different

you and I

-there's no adequate word for grief

but we will lift our voices

in chorus together nonetheless-

Ravi Shankar is poet-in-residence and assistant professor of English at Central Connecticut State University. Shankar is the author of Instrumentality, a collection of poems published by Cherry Grove Collections in Cincinnati, Ohio. He has served as a judge in the IMPAC-CSU competition for several years and was keynote speaker in 2005.
He is a founding editor of the online journal of the arts "Drunken Boat"( Among many awards won by Shankar are the Gulf Coast Poetry Prize and the Bennett Prize for Poetry at Columbia University. His critical work has appeared in Poets & Writers, Time Out New York, The Iowa Review, and The AWP Writer's Chronicle.

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