A Notebook Is Not a Foreign Country

     by Meena Alexander



Days and months are the travelers of eternity

So are the years that pass


Bashō wrote on his sleeve

As he crossed a mountain pass.


The warbling sound of the mountain.

Is this what Bashō heard?


His ink was the color of iris petals.

Where is Bashō now?


On the way to Dharamsala

The taxi stopped by a cluster of goats


Their coats mottled red in sunlight,

I see a child with a pitcher on her head


A scarf blows about her knees,

By a tree festooned with plastic bags


(Daily detritus) I catch the words of a girl—

Slow hours she swung in a tree


Leaves cradled her face,

Her eyes were hidden.


She needed a goddess naked and green

When her mother called—Meena,


O Meena where are you now?

The child’s lips trembled.


The tree replied

Rustling leaves, rattling its moist twigs.


Alone in her bed, the child writes—

I am she who cannot be.


What can a clump of words mean?

She hides the book under her muslin cover.


I brood on Bashō

Who burnt his house


And crossed a mountain pass

He entered a kingdom of ringing syllables


And did not lose his way.

A notebook is not a foreign country.


June 5—


A bird warbles in water.

In the stones


We see a laughing thrush.

Its feathers, the color of your hair.


June 6—


In the Kangra Art Museum, miniatures stud the walls—

Krishna combing Radha’s hair. Kangra 18 c.


Her skirts ruffled with intricate embroidery

Her nails incarnadine


The storm of her hair, his blue hands in it,

His ochre robe blowing.


Rocks and trees a blur,

Bear witness.


June 7—


Tibet Museum, in Dharamsala—

Bloodstained scarf and shirt


Worn by a political prisoner.

I could not pluck my eyes from precious stains


Tea colored now, in sunlight.

Dalai Lama temple—on the painted verandah


A brazier perpetually burning.

Inside the temple, Green Tara of Everlasting Compassion


Under her gaze, saved from peril,

Bound in fine linen,


Heaped inside glass,

They turn in stillness, ancient liturgies.



From Rattle #54, Winter 2016.