Two Poems by Indran Amirthanayagam

BOMB 83 Spring 2003
BOMB 083

Beyond the Beautiful House

Beyond the beautiful house I find you
trapped in a thicket, on the wood’s edge,
skin burned by the fierce sun
that has followed you from the most
remote geographies, of Ceylon and Côte d’Ivoire.

You left prints on those shores,
in walks with Adiaffi
through the woods in search
of the trees’ names and their spirits’ sap
to fortify your intelligence and be ready

for the return home, to the metropolis
that welcomed you with lagoons
and fish, bakeries and the French
Cultural Center, sixty languages,
cosmopolitan life, beautiful houses.

Adiaffi has since died. I got the news
by e-mail; he left by boat
with his spirits crossing
the lagoons in the deep jungle
where the rasping cries of parrots

and monkey howls accompanied him.
I do not know if I will again see
Jaffna, the North Pole of my cosmos
where my father was born; this poem
has become a speech before the mirror,

on the edge of the trembling bridge.
The storm lashes us, as it lashed
the old man who lost his reason
in the wilderness and recited
never five times, I tell you

never. I will never find you beyond
the beautiful house, you will
never find me hanging on the tree
with my hands tied, never
see the sacrifice in the coordinates

of your lenses, never pay
attention to another southern madman
drunk with the palmyrah’s fermented sap,
with giant prawns in his pocket
and the incredible idea that poetry

can save a romance. Poetry makes nothing
happen, Auden explained for all time,
it survives in jailed solitude where
the prisoner dwells and needs the beat
of wings and song, even the scratching

of a rat; he’s outside, beyond
the beautiful house, in a corner
of Adiaffi’s tomb; he eats wild
rice and tadpoles, inhabits
the spirits’ kingdom.


Two Evenings—with wildlife and bombs

A man and dog
listen to the evening …

near a boat club
by a still-flowing river …

beyond the garden wall,
on the riverbank,

a mongoose spotted
his prey in the weeds,

a stray rat, and pounced …
while a wary serpent

slid through the gutter
that circled the house …

house crows and jungle
crows swooped for meals

on the lawn, while
a golden-backed

woodpecker pecked
his hungers on the bark

of a massive evergreen … and
nature poetry renewed itself

in Madras, the evening,
blessed by observation

of wildlife, blushed;
even the cocker spaniel

delighted in splashes
of the setting sun

did not bark displeasure
but turned on his back

waiting to be tickled,
and tempted with a treat,

gnawed the former
shinbone of a goat,

while in faraway
mountains, beef eaters

and vegetarians,
digesters of air,

sweet tooths, swashbucklers,
gathered in divisions

and companies, carved out
positions, lobbed grenades …

and returned to base camps,
villages—men, dogs,

women, children, livestock—
and listened to the same

and not the same evening,
the sunset modified

by high hills and cold,
the fauna weathered

to scurry into holes
and hide while high

above them whizzed
whizzed and flashed

the day’s last sunbursts …
and fireworks …

from the department
of ordinance.

June 2, 2002, Chennai

—Indran Amirthanayagam, a member of the United States Foreign Service, is currently posted in Monterrey, Mexico. He writes in English and Spanish and has published three collections, including The Elephants of Reckoning (Hanging Loose Press, 1993) which won the 1994 Paterson Poetry Prize, El infierno de los pajaros (Grupo Resistencia, 2001) and Ceylon R.I.P. (International Center for Ethnic Studies, 2001). He contributes essays to the Hindu and Vijaya Kamataka newspapers in India. Amirthanayagam is a past NYFA fellow in poetry and received a grant from the US Mexico Fund for Culture for his translations of Mexican poet Manuel Ulacia.

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Originally published in

BOMB 83, Spring 2003

Featuring interviews with Paul Pfeiffer, Pat Steir, Tom Sachs, Marie Ponsot, Steven Millhauser, Meshell Ndegeocelo, David Greenspan, and Neil Labute.

Read the issue
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