Three Poems by Amit Majmudar

The Opening

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,
theologianless, commandmentless.
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
and lived
in a place I never wanted to be.
I have never been
a place I did not want
to leave.
I do not want to leave
a place
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).

Five Poems by Kari Gunter-Seymour


Sunday morning, the alarm set
for dawn, I gargle lemon water
to loosen phlegm, open vocal cords.
Mother postured at the piano, paces me
up and down the major scales,
Are you washed in the blood of the lamb?

I dress in a starched white blouse,
an A-line skirt hemmed precisely
below the knee. Mother stands behind me
in the mirror– cat eye glasses, Pentecostal bun
– hot-curls my ragged mane into
a semblance of respectable.

Later, in the choir loft, mother leans,
her coffee breath all over me,
whispers loud enough
for the soprano section to hear,
You’re too pretty to be so fat.



The last stars arc, dim the sash.
Wails the pitch of a coalmine’s siren
quiver my temporal bone, a song to dig a hole.
My grandfathers, coal-caked, muscle
and blood, yoked to Peabody scrip,

sinking shaft or pit, railroad cars tippled,
cinder and soot smutting miles of track,
valley fills steeped in acid spoil,
one hundred years of forest sheared.

Pained as I am to reflect, my great-greats,
pigeon-toed, gap-mouthed, pondering
how the hard-working find themselves
both proud and begging, held fast,
like a flag that never waves.

Who hasn’t rationalized themselves
a noble son or daughter, their life tightly
squeezed between two fists?

Tonight, roaming the ether,
I visit their graves, blush-pink peonies
to decorate each stone. Saying nothing,
I write, one finger in dust,
Fire in our hearts, fire in our souls,
forever together, “down in the hole”



Daddy didn’t like watermelon,
he loved cantaloupe, “musk-melon”
our family called it. He would
cut one in half, scape the seeds,
add a shake of salt inside the cavity, feast.

Daddy and his people grew up
in Putnam County, bare foot, feral.
He declared cantaloupes grown
along the East Fork Obey River,
where the air sweats and melons
swell like teats on a bluetick,
the best on earth.

Every year, late July, our family
made the pilgrimage. He’d sniff,
and thump, roll them over,
looking for blanched spots
on their netted rinds, evidence
of ripening in the field.
Like all best things, they didn’t last long.

Come mid-summer, I’ll make my way
to Putnam County. In spirit, my Daddy
will ride shotgun, shirt sleeves rolled,
collar open, puffing a Parliament Menthol
as I speed down old Highway 53, mouth watering,
the bottomlands calling me home.



Lakeside, crickets and stars,
my host said it was a Loon,
but the southeastern Ohio in me
heard coyote, the long slow wail
that comes from generations of hard luck,
skin sagging loose from the rib.

Considered the white trash of the four-footed,
you probably don’t know that tax dollars paid
fifty bucks a head to kill sixty-eight thousand
coyotes in 2019, or that forty-six percent
of Appalachian school-aged children
experienced food insecurity the same year.

Revered as first teacher by the Indigenous,
they say it was Coyote in the dark land of mists,
who called insects, birds and animals to council,
to decide if First Man and First Woman
should pass into the Third World.

Tonight, moon full, air brusque,
those forsaken dream of full bellies.
Loon flaps iridescent wings,
rears her dagger-like bill,
howls Coyote’s death song.



The conversation began
with a false step, everything
that followed was a downward
plunge, the silence left
in the middle of a sentence.

Said she felt like she was –
what was the word?
Only to realize it was one
of the first she’d learned,
one of her earliest memories.

After that, to know
it could happen again,
did happen, everything transient,
leaving her like her child self,
struggling to fill the gap.

Elsewhere, people wake,
make coffee, listen to the news.
She is focused on the process
of loss, dropping dead words
into private conversations.

As if somewhere in the mix,
she might find an end
to the mortification,
or just one day the voice
inside her head does not judge.


Kari Gunter-Seymour’s poetry collections include A Place So Deep Inside America It Can’t Be Seen, winner of the 2020 Ohio Poet of the Year Award and Serving, runner up, Yellow Chair Review Chapbook Award. Her poems appear in numerous journals and publications including Verse Daily, Rattle, Lascaux Review, The NY Times, and on her website: A ninth generation Appalachian, she is the founder/executive director of the Women of Appalachia Project (WOAP) ( and editor of the WOAP anthology series, Women Speak. She is a recipient of a 2021 Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellowship and Poet Laureate of Ohio.