Open them up and they’re never the same,
the neurosurgeon said that afternoon
I watched him suction bloodclot from a skull.
A forty-three-year-old swan dove head first
into a barfight. I remember thinking
about trepanning, Neolithic skulls
with round skylights—nobody knows if those were cut
to let depression out or visions in.
The Druids tapped themselves like trees for syrup
and wore their own bone-coins as charms. All newborns
have soft spots where the skull has not iced over,
a fishing-hole ancestral spirits sit around,
ghostgusts of breath that swirl clockwise, down,
and in. I’m forty-three years old as I
am writing this. I’m still swan diving head first
into a love that opens like a coin-sized
locket of bone that holds my mind inside it.
Emily Dickinson knew poetry
by how the top of her head felt taken off—
poet as neurosurgeon, bone saw kissing
a crisp horizon just above the eyebrows,
pale recluse squinting up at cold white light.
Everyone has a pond inside that’s frozen
bone white, and love’s the only way to swan dive
heart first into the future. Through that hole
the spirits swirl down and in to help
unlock the waterfalls. You melt to slake them.
The pond becomes a lake becomes a sea, adrift
on its breathing, open in every direction.
I like my religions founderless,
The fewer men in flowing robes, the better.
Best would be grandmothers, lighting incense
in front of the trees their grandmothers planted
and timing their fasts to the moon.
Turmeric on everything from food
to flesh wounds. Smudges of kohl
on baby’s cheek to divert the evil eye.
That gives me sacred awe, the mystery
mastered by knobby-fingered knowhow
that aches when it rains. All the inexplicables
stay unexplained, but all the rites
stay right. The wisdom of the forest
gave way to the wisdom of the desert,
but the wisdom of the kitchen
butters the loaves and fries up the fishes
and makes sure everyone takes seconds.
There is no talk of hell or holy war,
just grandmothers circulating like blood cells
through the capillaries of the cosmos
assuring everyone there’s more, there’s more.
State of Being
Between O and O
is a lowercase high,
a quick hello.
Our lives here jump
out of a manhole
into a manhole
on a street with no street
signs. I have spooned
the local honey
and failed to taste a difference.
I have rummaged
among the blotchy fruits
at farmer’s markets.
Forgive me, Ohio,
but apples genespliced in Wisconsin
trucked in from Michigan
glisteny with wax and pesticide
in artificial light
have always pleased me more.
I have never really lived here
after living here
my whole life.
In Rootstown mine was not the root.
In Mayfield mine was not the flower.
My hole of a life, Ohio,
has emptied through you.
I have been places
I would never want to live
in a place I never wanted to be.
I have never been
a place I did not want
I do not want to leave
I never loved.
Amit Majmudar is a poet, novelist, essayist, translator, and the former first Poet Laureate of Ohio. He works as a diagnostic and nuclear radiologist and lives in Westerville, Ohio, with his wife and three children.
Majmudar’s poetry collections include 0’, 0’ (Northwestern, 2009), shortlisted for the Norma Faber First Book Award, and Heaven and Earth (2011, Storyline Press), which won the Donald Justice Prize. These volumes were followed by Dothead (Knopf, 2016) and What He Did in Solitary (Knopf, 2020). His poems have won the Pushcart Prize and have appeared in the Norton Introduction to Literature, The New Yorker, and numerous Best American Poetry anthologies as well as journals and magazines across the United States, UK, India, and Australia. Majmudar also edited, at Knopf’s invitation, a political poetry anthology entitled Resistance, Rebellion, Life: 50 Poems Now.
Majmudar’s forthcoming collection of essays, focusing on Indian religious philosophy, history, and mythology, is Black Avatar and Other Essays (Acre Books, April 2023). Twin A: A Life (Slant Books, May 2023) is the title of his forthcoming memoir, in prose and verse, about his infant son’s congenital heart disease. The first volume of his epic retelling, The Mahabharata Trilogy, is entitled The Book of Vows (Penguin India, September 2023). His work as a translator includes Godsong: A Verse Translation of the Bhagavad-Gita, with Commentary (Knopf, 2018).