I was on an island where few birds call.
Old trees swirled in the wind
The door to my studio tore off
Stones struck clouds, church bells echoed
- Earthly unsettlement.
Forced to go on, what did I do?
I pulled down a wall,
Set up another with pasteboard,
Tacked a strip of mirror all along the floor
Till white plaster was afloat, gravity unhinged.
The lights I had set up fell to one side
I stepped through the mirror to touch her -
She was that sort of being, what was the word
You gave me - sakshi, yes that.
No one would see her seeing I thought
Without themselves being altered in some way
So in the end she could have a chance
Of being saved from all the body remembers.
I took the face, making it very precise,
Filling in the eyes with several strokes
Reddening under the lids - fire turned to blood, Each element as the Gnostics tell us
Resolved into its own roots.
The neck of course is simple and straight.
She is in a white dress as usual,
A child whose mother
Takes pleasure in dressing her well.
In the end my hands were pocked
And bruised with paint
And when I lifted them off the canvas
I felt something warm,
Very like torn skin fluttering off.
(An excerpt from Atmospheric Embroideries by Meena Alexander, Hachette India, 80 pages, forthcoming this June)