Meena Alexander

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Meena AlexanderBorn in Allahbad, India, and raised there and Sudan, Meena Alexander is the author of six volumes of poetry, including Illiterate Heart, winner of the 2002 PEN Open Book Award, the acclaimed autobiography Fault Lines, two novels, two chapbooks and numerous academic texts.

Alexander has been well lauded for her work, receiving a number of awards and residencies over the years. In 2009, she received the Distinguished Achievement Award in Literature from the South Asian Literary Association for contributions to American literature. Alexander passed away on November 21, 2018.


I was young when you came to me.
Each thing rings its turn,
you sang in my ear, a slip of a thing
dressed like a convent girl–
white socks, shoes,
dark blue pinafore, white blouse.

A pencil box in hand: girl, book, tree–
those were the words you gave me.
Girl was penne, hair drawn back,
gleaming on the scalp,
the self in a mirror in a rosewood room
the sky at monsoon time, pearl slits

In cloud cover, a jagged music pours:
gash of sense, raw covenant
clasped still in a gold bound book,

pusthakam pages parted,
ink rubbed with mist,
a bird might have dreamt its shadow there

spreading fire in a tree maram.
You murmured the word, sliding it on your tongue,
trying to get how a girl could turn
into a molten thing and not burn.
Centuries later worn out from travel
I rest under a tree.

You come to me
a bird shedding gold feathers,
each one a quill scraping my tympanum.
You set a book to my ribs.
Night after night I unclasp it
at the mirror’s edge

alphabets flicker and soar.
Write in the light
of all the languages
you know the earth contains,

you murmur in my ear.
This is pure transport.

From Illiterate Heart (TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press, 2002)



Reading with Ishion Hutchinson | January 12, 2012