Amit Majmudar

Horoscope and American Upanishad
August 25, 2020 Majmudar Amit



Two hearts can charge the moment they meet,
ramming each other across a room. They break
open, stagger back, and bleed out. Love’s the only one
who gets to establish dominance. Why stomp,
why rage? Desire lunges at a bloodred rustle
snatched away to reveal an emptiness.
The heart is a drugged bull, haggard, yearning
for love’s word, love’s sword to slide in
here, between the eyes. There are always
two lovers, the lover you envision
and the lover you get. They’re twins:
you fall in love with one, but you marry the other.
When it doesn’t work out, you warn strangers:
Look out, love is a cancer, love will spread
to your bones and give you night sweats.
They don’t believe you. Neither do you.
You meet someone, and you stick your head
in the lion’s mouth. At least it’s warm in there.
You touch someone, and love swells you
like a virgin birth, a sacred mystery
that tips the scales in favor of to hell with it,
I’m going to do this, I’m going to love all over again.
The heart is that lonely, that desperate to be pierced
by something: bee sting, shared needle, Scorpion.
Your pulse rises, and you unbuckle your armor
for the love god, the original archer, time’s arrow
at the heart of all tragedy. Tragedy used to mean
goat song because the heart winters in white wool,
then licks the hand that shears it, licks the shears.
Love’s sole rule of engagement is scorched earth.
It wants you begging for a water-bearer
to sprinkle your fishmouthed gasp in the desert
it’s made of your days. Sculptor blinded by the flames
you tried to sculpt, this is the Braille prophecy
you would read if your scarred fingertips
could feel stars. It doesn’t matter when you were born.
If you haven’t burned alive in these twelve
housefires, arsonist, you’ve never lived.




American Upanishad


There is a place of stillness. But the stillness moves.


The four arms of the Milky Way,
The two arms of the hurricane,
The two arms of the body:
These embraces squeeze the Self to death.


The four faces of Brahma,
The twelve faces of the lucky dice,
The fifty-eight faces of the brilliant-cut diamond:
No face shines brighter than the facelessness of the One.


Inside a hurricane of images,
become the Eye. E pur si muove.
Extinguish the stars, and you starve the diamond.
Who wants to marry you now, Maya?
The gambler’s children can’t eat dice.


The Self becomes its own Creator God
and faces all four directions at once.
Incoming, from every direction,
is a hurricane. All four hurricanes
have the same name: Hurricane Yama.


Remain unmoved.


Here is the place of stillness.
Population: One.
When the stillness moves,
so does my tongue.




When the gun brands the nape of your neck
with absolute zero


say this prayer:


Aum. My mother named me Amit, Limitless.
Aum. My father named me Amit, Limitless.
Aum. What are the limitless things?
I’ll name three:
The heir, and the Self, and the sentient sea.
Whoever shot these three things dead?
There is no killing me.



A long jumper, photographed in burst mode,
fans into a parabola of ten long jumpers,
but they are all the one Self
reborn, reborn, reborn.


Take up embodiment like it’s a sport
and read, read, read.
If you don’t show up to practices,
how will you medal at the meet?


Your body is a field.
The years wear cleats.


Who sprints the fastest, sitting still?
Who daydreams of a pole vault over death
that never dimples the landing pad?


The Self is an athlete
training to break a three-minute mile,
reborn, reborn, reborn.


There’s no repetitive motion injury
that ruins the knees like
karma, karma, karma.




Two birds sit on a sacred fig tree.
One eats the fig, the other looks on,
symbolic of the self and Self
in all the sacred books before this.
One detail has been left out.
From the same branch of that
sacred fig tree, ficus religiosa,
dangles a hanged man.
The noose around his neck
is made of the same rope
the theologian of maya
on a sleepless, moonless night
mistook for a snake.
The birds are oblivious
to the hanged man—
one too busy eating, both
too busy being symbols in
the theology of maya.
O self, don’t ignore that hanged man.
O Self, don’t ignore that hanged man.
In a past life, he might have been you.
In a past life, you might have lynched him.




sires desire.
The desireless
desire more
than no more


What they desire
is less
a desireless
state than a more
selfless desire
transcending desire.


can desire
to desire
and desire that more
than knowledge, more
than lust,


to its loss.
This is how desire
proselytizes desire,
its sole morality, more,
its one true god, desire.


The desireless
train to desire
not less
but more.
They want desire
to turn on desire


so that desire
destroys desire
and morphs
into something less
and more
than desire.


Desire no more, say the desireless.
But no mere lesson can lessen desire.
Tomorrow, says desire, I will listen.



The four feet of the burning tyger,
The five feet of the grand Miltonic line,
The six feet of the casket lowered in the grave:
No way to measure me in feet.


My prison yard of pacing words,
The backyard where I learned to throw a spiral,
The shipyard where the hull and skull of me were built:
No way to measure me in yards.


I used to think my name meant Sweet
in Sanskrit. Someone told me that.
I knew the woman I would marry when
she taught me what my first name meant.


The Self, this inchworm:
This millipede, the Self.
Eight-legged Self, absailing
on a line of verse.


Immeasurable Self, absconding,
your stillness moving parsecs
faster than REM sleep’s
photographic shutter
fluttering in
burst mode
here then






Don’t listen with your ear, listen to
your ear. Hold your ear up to your ear and hear
the false ocean in the conch shell. Sound


familiar? Something empty has been
mimicking the depths. You, too, are a body


of water
without fullness, a body
of evidence
without a truth to prove.


Every empty skull
is waiting
for some side-scuttling thing or another
to make a home of it:


This desire, that desire: claws
too big to be used with any grace,
too wide apart to join in prayer.


When you find your Self in the shallows
and turn the conch to check the lip-smooth incurve,


whose eyes will look out at you?




If the lie is an infectious disease,
why does the secret wear a mask?


The lie is breath. The breath is maya.
The secret is speech. The words are maya.


If the lie is a maneater on the loose,
why does the secret have to sit in a cage?


The lie is appetite. The appetite is maya.
The secret is silent. The silence is maya.


Face it: If the secret got out,
the secret would eat most of us alive.


Could you go back to work? Could you smile at your family?
Would you dare to sing? Could you bear to join a crowd?


Always remember this
when you catch yourself thinking the plague isn’t real:


The secret’s mask isn’t there to protect the secret.
The secret’s mask is protecting me.




He was born charmed, the love child of luck and karma.
Knowledge came easily, but never what came after. Now what?
He steered his dad’s motorboat to the center of the lake
and cut the engine. Silence. Slowly, the wobble and welter of reds
remembered they were maple trees in autumn. Now what?
Two lovers bookended his youth: a black body absorbing his incident light,
a white body on whose glowing curve he died a moth’s death. Now what?
Pleasures of the tongue: a Moscow mule, a poem, salt crystals
crusting the rim of life. A big dinner put him to sleep, and the dream
walked up to him with sorbet on a salver. He woke up
holding a tiny spoon. His reflection in it had black hair. Now what?
Pilons stabbed into a wall of rock, pale spicules in his beard. Now what?
A half-marathon, then a full marathon, running away from his blessedness,
but at the end of it, one more line he crossed with ease
and poured bottled water on his upturned sobbing grimace. Now what?
Distance running dropped his resting pulse to fifty, the heart’s atomic clock
slowing to prolong his pleasure. The Capuchin monkey on his shoulder
learned to cup a child-small hand and kiss his ear
so it looked like he was being told a secret. Now what?
Pleasures of the mind: conversation lit by the goldgreen glow
of olive oil, Chinese letters practiced with a new brush,
music without words, ideally Scarlatti. The nights were cool. Now what?
He took up the guitar, and the guitar played itself. The notes
spilled from the hollow body like bright tacks on the hardwood. Now what?
He was back on the boat, the engine cut, his dad’s private pond
going still. The silence opened a secret history of thrushes
whose notes spilled from the sky like red petals from unseen hands.
He picked them off the floor of the boat. They tasted of salt
and melted on his tongue. The autumn reds of the maple leaves
dissolved on the pond, and then on the trees themselves.
He sat crosslegged in the stilled boat on the stilled pond,
as bony as the winter woods around him. Now what?

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).