Amit Majmudar

American Upanishad (IV)
April 20, 2023 Majmudar Amit

American Upanishad (IV)




The I is a pillar,
Ionian, lonely.


Atop that pillar, the stylite sky:
Transcendence perforce.
I, too, want to hoist myself
toward the metaphysical


The ich is an itch.
The yo is a greeting between strangers,
the self you were and the self
you are.


I am that I am a tautology
stretched between being and beyond.
On that silk thread strung
from silence to spoken to sung


wingless, for now


the caterpillar






The self is a sylph
who flees a groping God.


Appalled at Apollo, she turns into
a tree, the kind of tree
that doesn’t spread her branches
or her legs, a solitary


Italian cypress. The sun,
when he throws himself on top of her,


only dots the i
of her new, curveless body,


the sylph, at long last,
a self.





The books I am keep sliding off my shelf.
My memories make better sense without me.


What’s the singular of confetti, if not confessed?
Everyone toasts my solitude without me.


Karma eyes me through a roulette wheel’s iris.
The lover I came in with leaves without me.


“I” is an isthmus of spider silk.
“I” is a vein I tap for ether ore.


This ghazal is a game called Guess That Ghost.
I sense my absence would be better off without me.


Hi, this is Amit. I can’t make it to the poem right now.
Go ahead and read this one without me.





At the university
again they want me to discuss


I wait the introduction through,
namaste their applause,
then tap the mic
and tell them
once and for all:


My gender is transcendence.
My race is toward God.





I’ve caught the virus. I have to isolate.
Insula, isola, isle: I have to islandize,


to make myself a place of keyhole coves
and barrier reefs, a one-man Andaman,


a Bikini atoll where my atman, beckoned
beyond, can test this fusion bomb, nirvana.


My devas devastate. The Islands of
the Blessed are Islands of the Blast.


It’s only Iyurveda that can cure me,
a salutary solitude of soul,


the needle’s i, a droplet at its tip,
the IV drip, this night to ice my fever.


There’s always been a me in me that hated
breathing anybody else’s air,


including mine. I used to crowd myself,
the family man in me at odds with the godhot


ascetic nibbling chiggers from his hair.
But now I’ve caught this thing by reckless public


breathing, a windfall that has felled me here,
this island where it’s always high noon, where


crosseyed, crosslegged, I am waiting, waiting,
concentrating on my breath, my breath.





Long ago, a boy fell through a well to Patala
and interrogated Yama, God of Death.


What separates solitude from loneliness?
What separates truth from blackpill?
What separates cute from cloying?


Yama said,
The mind. The mind. The mind.


What separates love from neediness?
What separates righteous war from razzia?
What separates world faith from weird cult?


The mind. The mind. The mind.


What separates self from other?
What separates self from Brahman?
What separates death from rebirth?


The mind. The mind. The mind.




When I was young, I read to conquer
the dead.
I captured ancestors.
I wore their ears on a string around my neck.


When I got older, I read for wisdom.
I held each ear to mine
and listened for the ocean.
All I heard was an emptiness, breathing.


Now I read to be haunted,
to set the dead free,
but I am a dead man walking,
dead man talking,


and none gives ear to me.





My I is an eyelash
I blow off the back of my hand.
Only the silent wishes have a chance.


My I is a splinter
deep in the sole of my foot.
It keeps me from joining the dance.


My I is an eyelash
sized splinter in my mind’s eye.
I don’t see eye to eye with anyone.


My I splinters.
Though lashed on the soles of my feet, I dance.
Dancing with no one, I am many dancers at once.





Cupping our newborn daughter from cradle to couch,
I faced my wife’s right breast, bared: before me, but not for me:
ignoring me. I never learned so much about desire
as I did then, when feeling none. I wanted that so bad,
I thought, but now it’s gone strange. So much of fatherhood
in the first weeks is being alone, shut out from the intimacies,
bashfully inept, irrelevantly male. I peeked in on bath time
like an accountant blundering into a witches’ coven
as mom and both grandmas huddled around the plastic cauldron
brewing a baby sorceress from singsong soap suds.
I had done my part nine months before, and everything since
had taken on a life of its own, placental rootlets, umbilical stalk,
fetal peapod. I wasn’t the soil, I wasn’t the rain.
The species used my desire to its own end, its selfishness
exploiting mine, my body a sluice for semen, as hers,
for milk, two irrigation tunnels from the same sacred river
out into samsara, that grows us all in army cemetery rows.
Cupping our newborn daughter from couch to cradle
like a lit wick ferociously ashiver in a clay dish,
I wanted to be a selfless father, wanted that honor for myself.
Awake in the new quiet, I paced the apartment, hands behind
my back, never so alone until I stopped to find the windows
glowing, all at once and all together, through the blinds.

Amit Majmudar‘s newly published collection of essays is Black Avatar and Other Essays (Acre Books, 2023). Twin A: A Memoir (Slant Books, 2023) is his forthcoming memoir, in prose and verse, about his son’s congenital heart disease. The first volume of his Mahabharata trilogy, The Book of Vows, is forthcoming in India (Penguin India, 2023), as well as a book for younger readers, The Later Adventures of Hanuman (Puffin India, 2023).