Amit Majmudar

Bharata; Kashmir Sequence; Nightcap: Amit Majmudar


They say modernity and mean the West.
The time they refer to is really a place. And the place
is a myth of the map
where the West means everything to the left
of the East. They say the East and mean
sandy-haired marijuana samadhi with sitars,
or mind-body down-dog clean living in Seattle,
or oppressive social structures,
pick your decade. I was born to the right
of the left and to the left of the right, which is why
I am all over the map,
even though I’ve never lived anywhere other
than Ohio, surrounded by place names
belonging to extinct tribes. They, too,
were Indians. The West said Indians and meant
people to the West. Trust no name
your mother didn’t give you. Everybody knows
go far enough West and you end up
losing a day
because time is a myth
with a line on a map of the real world.
They say real world and mean
the world as they say it is. The world as I say it is
doesn’t have a place
on any map. The East is mired in its myths.
The East has no sense of history or past, no sense
of historical time, no modernity, no sense of its place
to the east of the West. Everything
the West did to it, therefore, did not happen
at any time
at any place. If I keep going left across
the International Date Line
I might get there. A New
World I’ll name India. The same
place, lost in time.
My people lost in the same place.

Kashmir Sequence

They used her to scrape a bare patch in the grass
nine nights straight

scorpion-stinger coccyx
raw white, like a skinned knuckle

infected, oozing

into the gutter they dug in the place
between her

the pus was viscous, white
it kept coming

she woke up

I don’t want us to visualize this
our eyes are ball bearings anyway
steel spheres glistening by screen light

I want us to smell this

what name do I have to give her
for you to smell this

I can make her Rukhsana, I can make her Rakhee
Anuradha or Anjum

nine nights of Shivaratri
or nine nights of Ramzaan

a child or a child
feasted on

take your pick, you men of conviction
with your thoughts about Kashmir

protective brothers
honorable fathers
sons of the mother
land you left

one God
or Three: create her, sustain her, destroy her
five pillars of faith
seven times around the marriage fire

nine lives
for the cat, the pussy cat

lapping up the white

the spilled milk of a girl

named Saima
no Seema no
Simran no

whatever it takes

to force us to smell what has happened


Kashmir, they want to make a movie out of you
they do, Kashmir, you know they do

but I will make a poem
from the sounds of you

kaash, Urdu for If only
aakaash, Sanskrit for Sky

mir, Arabic for Prince
mere, English for slight

though derived from the Latin for pure

Mirror Lake


shattered by a single raindrop
fallen from your Sky, Kashmir

nineteen forty-
seven years bad luck

dispelled by mere love

if only


Line of beauty, Line of Control
verse line, plumb line, spooling
down to the bottom of Dal Lake,
of Manasarovar, of the Well of Souls

where the original temple
with algae in her hair, under
the original mosque with plankton-
tessellated ceilings

is toured by a lone Kashmiri carp
big-eyed, a most religious gawp

a single plumb line
a Line of Control

piercing extinguished mandala
and drowned mihrab alike

its delicate vertical shimmer
traced skyward

to the belly of the patient orb weaver
spinning this story, a spider

that prays for
that preys on


In the blockbuster about Kashmir
the brave and hunted soldier
mans his position in rocky Ladakh
like a scorpion against a wall

the bad guys try to draw him out

first they set a hostage
from his regiment on fire

nothing except for a grim salute
and a single manly tear

now they’ve set his elderly father on fire
who knows how they found him

our hero holds his position
he has orders

a village
some women
his scripture


but when they torch his flag
out he springs
screaming Nahin!, billygoating
down the rockslide

he caused in an earlier scene
with a lucky grenade

and now he puts the flag out
with his body, writhing
with it on the ground
while the gunfire
penetrates him from the mountains

he fucks Kashmiri soil
through that burning
flag while bullets
fuck him from
the back

four minutes
twenty-seven seconds of this

(I timed it on my phone)

before he screams and writhes and bleeds
his last

on a bare patch in the grass

the only sort of orgy
the Indian censors would pass


In a mountaintop temple
masked by a mosque
in Ladakh

sits shiva
for Shiva


The sky above the fire
is a reading test

does the smoke above a daughter’s
dream diary of a body

cracked open
so that laid flat
she stays open

does that smoke rise and tremble
into Urdu script
or does it curl in an Aum

dream diary
a book where nothing much
was written yet

holier than the Vedas
holier than the Qur’an

dream diary
with just her name on the front page
maybe a little heart to dot the i

what do you need her name to be
to share this nightmare with

her name is Imani
or if you prefer it

eye test: right faith, left faith
read the bottom line for me
how about now?
communal myopia

twenty twenty

I have never seen so clearly

I make an idol
in the image of a child
but at this distance
can the sculptor see the model

can the prayer reach the agni
can the adhaan reach the fear

if calling poems from my tower
I’m powerless


an ocean the size of a
language away from



God’s vodka: notglass after notglass full of text,
each thirst more disenchanting than the next

Amit Majmudar is a novelist, poet, translator, essayist, and diagnostic nuclear radiologist. Majmudar’s latest books are the poetry collection What He Did in Solitary (Knopf, 2020) and Godsong: A Verse Translation of the Bhagavad-Gita, with Commentary (Knopf/Penguin Random House India, 2018) as well as two novels published in India, Soar (Penguin Random House India, 2020) and Sitayana (Penguin Random House India, 2019). His forthcoming books include the biographical novel Mohammed and the Mahatma (HarperCollins India, 2022) and the children's fantasy book Heroes the Colour of Dust (Puffin India, 2022). His novel Partitions (Holt/Metropolitan, 2011) was shortlisted for the HWA/Goldsboro Crown Prize for Historical Fiction and was named Best Debut Fiction of 2011 by Kirkus Reviews, and his second novel, The Abundance (Holt/Metropolitan, 2013), was selected for the Choose to Read Ohio Program. His poetry has appeared in The Best of the Best American Poetry 25th Anniversary Edition, numerous Best American Poetry anthologies, as well as the Norton Introduction to Literature, The New Yorker, and Poetry; his prose has appeared in The O. Henry Prize Stories 2017, The Best American Essays 2018, and the New York Times. His first poetry collection, 0',0', was shortlisted for the Norma Farber Poetry Award from the Poetry Society of America, and his second collection, Heaven and Earth, won the Donald Justice Award. He also edited an anthology of political poetry, Resistance, Rebellion, Life: 50 Poems Now (Knopf, 2017). Winner of the Anne Halley Prize and the Pushcart Prize, he served as Ohio's first Poet Laureate. He practices diagnostic and nuclear radiology in Westerville, Ohio, where he lives with his wife, twin sons, and daughter.