Meena Alexander's "Closing the Kamasutra"
Closing the Kamasutra
In another country at the river's edge
We lay down in whispering dirt,
Then tried to fix a house with hot hope.
If we live together much longer
I'll become a cloud in my own soul.
Sweet jasmine floats in a bowl,
A keyboard harbours insects
(Mites in secret laying white eggs).
I must light frankincense to smoke them out
Else the alphabets will fail.
It is written in the Kamasutra–
They embraced not caring about pain or injury,
All they wanted was to enter each other.
This is known as milk-and-water.
About the Poem
How did I come to write this poem? Well the oddest thing started me off.
A friend told me that when she was in Chennai in the summer she had trouble with her computer. It wouldn't work. So she got a tech guy in, and guess what—there were insects in her keyboard. I had never heard of such a thing before but later, asking around I did hear similar stories from others. In any case what my friend told me stayed in my head.
Sometime earlier I had been putting together an anthology of Indian love poems for the Everyman series and as part of my task I had read the Kamasutra twice over, quite a steamy enterprise. I realised that there was a whole tradition of post-Kamasutra poems , most of them quite erotic, in the many Indian languages.
Around the time I got to know about insects in the keyboard I was feeling somewhat melancholic and thought, what if instead of opening the book of love, as these poets do, I were to close it shut. What would that sound and feel like?
These events came together in my imagination and I got the title of the poem.
Somehow I knew it had to be a sonnet, I needed that distinct compression for the emotions to fuse, to make it all hang together.
In case you were wondering, the last bit about milk and water is straight from the ancient text.
Meena Alexander is the author of six books of poems, most recently Quickly Changing River (TriQuarterly Books/ Northwestern University Press, 2008). Her book of essays Poetics of Dislocation is published by the University of Michigan Poets on Poetry Series, 2009. She is the editor of Indian Love Poems (Everyman's Library/ Knopf 2005) She has received fellowships from the Guggenheim, Fulbright, and Rockefeller foundations, and the Arts Council of England. She teaches at Hunter College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York.
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"Closing the Kamasutra" by Meena Alexander from Quickly Changing River (TriQuarterly Books/ Northwestern University Press, 2008) is reprinted by permission of the author. All rights reserved.