This week we welcome Vikas Menon.

Menon is a poet, playwright and songwriter. He was a 2015 Emerging Poets Fellow at Poets House and his poems have been featured in numerous publications, including Indivisible: An Anthology of South Asian American Poetry and The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry. He co-wrote Priya’s Shakti, a comic book series that addresses gender-based violence. He was also one of the co-writers of the shadowplay “Feathers of Fire,” which had its world premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2016 and went on to tour 23 cities in the U.S. and six countries. He received his M.F.A from Brooklyn College and his M.A. in literature from St. Louis University.

“The rituals of mourning have always fascinated me, and inflect my poems, plays and songs.  These three poems from my manuscript Raga for the Fallen reflect that preoccupation with elegy. While engendered by personal loss when they were first written, in the time of Covid-19 they resonate differently. These poems remind me that love is fundamental to loss, however much it feels like a terrible absence in our grief.”

Thirunaavaya, 2005

Here we are sons or daughters, mothers
or fathers of the dead. Here, we are all kin
in the rictus that stoops our shoulders,
pales our breath. Kin in the quick grimace

as we mimic the priests,
between our gestures and theirs

an impossible distance.
Fling flowers onto water,

touch your fingers
to grains of rice. Pray.

Bhaarathapuzha river
spills with dawn flame

cattail spears like sentries in the distance.
We wait, tree-quiet.

The sun’s halo frames us,
the bewildered living,

our postures struck with gold.

First published in The Literary Review (Spring 2009) and reprinted in The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry by Indians (HarperCollins India, 2012).

  Pranaam (Sanskrit); the act of paying obeisance to a deity or elder.

How can I praise her?
From her lap

my horizon limitless
I watched gods and demons

arrive and depart—
if Gopala’s mouth held the universe

then she spun the cosmos on her tongue
with stories like cradles,

like thrones.
From even her little loves

sunflowers blossomed,
ate light and wagged their heads

over mine. For she whose hands
hovered over needlework,

lips moving silently,
eyes cast back in time;

for she who whispered
Men propose, God disposes

as I wiped her mouth,
cleaned her dentures

combed the thin white
hairs on her scalp;

today I pour milk through flowers onto her ashes
my limit,

my overflowing—

words cannot
wash the dust from her feet.

First published as “Elegy” in The Literary Review (Spring 2009) and reprinted in The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry by Indians (HarperCollins India, 2012).

Dear God of Death

It is quiet here.
The days pass.

I miss your skin against mine,
the lamps flickering in your eyes.

From tears I sieve the salt
that seasons your rice

and await your return

my Nimble,
my Inescapable—

First published in the Chicago Quarterly Review (Volume 24, 2017).

Nitin is a visual designer, gallery artist, and community arts activist. Past desk-oriented posts include: PBS, Digitas, K12, Inc., Fox News, The Wall Street Journal and Sesame Workshop International....

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