This poem was composed for the exhibit ‘Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation’ at the Smithsonian, Washington DC, 2014-2015. The first stanza of the poem appears on the wall of the exhibit on the left, just as you enter, above a trunk filled with various articles a migrant might have brought with her.
Grandmother’s sari, freckles of gold poured into silk,
Koil’s cry, scrap of khadi grandfather spun,
I pluck all this from my suitcase — its buckles dented, zipper torn.
Also pictures pressed into an album:
Parents by a rosebush,
Ancestors startled in sepia, eyes wide open,
Why have you brought us here?
Mist soars on the river, my door splits free of its hinges:
My children’s children, and those I will never see —
Generations swarm in me,
Born to this North American soil, dreamers in a new world.
I must pass through that rocking doorway,
Figure out words, clean-minted, untranslatable —
Already in the trees finches are warbling, calling my name.
~ Meena Alexander
Meena Alexander, described in The Statesman (India) as “undoubtedly one of the finest poets in contemporary times,” is the author of ‘Atmospheric Embroidery’ (Hachette India, 2015). She is the author of eight books of poetry, two novels, two volumes of essays and the memoir ‘Fault Lines.’ She has received awards from the Guggenheim, Fulbright and Rockefeller Foundations, as well as other honours.
Editor’s note: ‘Bright Passage’ originally appeared in ‘Atmospheric Embroidery’ (Hachette India, 2015) and is republished here with kind permission from the poet.