Meena Alexander

Issue #
September 6, 2013

Plot of Tiger Lilies

When Mirza Ghalib saw a bathhouse keeper
Burnt by passion,
A brown man with bits of dirt

On his face and thighs,
He knew that the sun had to be sucked
Into the leaf of his manuscript—

So that in unremitting light
The human stain would pour straight into soil
And blunt rock.

I am dying into my own life—he wrote—
There is no help for this.
Only music without words.

My body is growing old
And so I need to remember
This body, this flesh.


A child who befriends stones,
Searching out ants for company,
Letting them crawl on her flesh—

Putting clear things together
So they would make a cacophony
Ruled by a richer harmonic

That the poet sought, dreaming
A dark corona around their faces
As they stood still in the garden.


Picture the child
Carrying around the wound
That no one else could see,

Fearing it would slop blood
Over the stiff sheets on the line,
In a garden planted with tiger lilies,

Water in a black well,
The gleaming pot of hair
On the cowherd’s thighs.


Music originally for voices
Now for the sun—
A poet making music with no words.

I think of the child I once was.
She saw nakedness,
And was terribly moved. How old was I?

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