Three poems by Vijay Seshadri
A winner of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry 2014
Poet of Honour is a series of our celebration of some of the best contemporary poets who are nothing but an inspiration. This month Ars Notoria is thrilled to present Vijay Seshadri, a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2014. Vijay won the prize for his collection, 3 Sections, a “compelling collection of poems that examine human consciousness, from birth to dementia, in a voice that is by turns witty and grave, compassionate and remorseless.”
-Yogesh Patel MBE
The brown bear living near the estuary,
and wading out when the tide swells and the salmon run,
during the days of the dwindling salmon runs,
and slapping with his big right paw a hook-nosed fish
whipsawing inland to spawn,
the ambidextrous bear,
furred like the forest from which he emerged,
waddling into the unteachable waters
to swat the salmon out the fast-running tide
and catch the red salmon in his mouth
and toss and juggle the sockeye salmon
thrashing and drowning in the air—
and when he’s expressed himself completely
he catches with his jaw the self
that swam ten thousand miles to the estuary
and daintily, mincingly, with one paw grasping
the caudal fin and the other the head,
eats that salmon as if he were we
and the fish an ear of boiled corn—
that bear is a bear about whom rich and complicated
feelings can be felt. That is a bear from whom ideas
about the state of nature can be derived.
Cruelty is the wrong word to describe
the pleasure he gets from playing with his lunch.
Play and life are the same thing to him,
art and life, life and death.
Creation impinging on a consciousness
clear and crystalline. Pinpoint revelatory
explosions unsoiled by words, unbesmirched.
Creation clambering out of the waters,
shaking itself off, creation
surrounding itself with itself. . . .
Stay down on the pavement where you just fell in a heap
like a bag of laundry, just stay there. Move even a
little and you might damage something else.
You’ve already done plenty of damage.
Stay down, supine. Stay down,
and let the giant buildings loom over you, let them
in their abstract imperium stun you with their indifference.
Wasn’t that the reason you built them in the first place?
Stay down, stay down, and ask yourself:
“Could I be the bear in this fable?”
“Could I be the fish?”
“Could I be whoever is imagining all this?”
I’ll meet if you really want to meet,
I’ll even meet in some small café or some
park across the way, but I won’t meet for long,
and not for a minute will I look at you in your isolation,
your human isolation. Looking at yours makes me look at mine—
transparencies of each other are they, yours and mine—
and I don’t have time for mine, so how could I have time for yours?
When I knew you, I had time for mine.
When I knew you, imagining my skeletal streaming
solitary oceanic swimming enlarged my dignities.
Not anymore. No time for the nostalgias, infinite, infinitesimal,
and the ones in between. No time to pretend I can sustain anyone or
even understand how they feel—to show, by the grave,
downward turn of the face, the haunted eyes,
the image of an impossible inward stricken empathy.
The contradictions are unsupportable,
and I don’t have time to not support mine,
so how could I not support yours, too?
I don’t even have time to write this text.
See how uninflected it is, without rhetoric,
expatiation, form, concreteness, geography, weather, flora, fauna,
plain and bare (which shows you that I’m sincere)—
no Denali, no Great Rift, no seven-year trillium,
and not one phoebe in the woods getting ready to sing.
The house collapsed and I was crushed under the rubble,
pulverized, but here I am,
walking around as if I were alive—
with an oxeye daisy in my buttonhole,
the bitter voluptuary, never satisfied,
the three-legged dog,
the giant under the tiny parasol at
the only Abyssinian in the choir of the
Abyssinian Baptist Church.
(Somebody must have done a self-portrait of me.)
Just amazing. I think I could wrap my arms all the way around
the 24,901-miles-circumferenced Earth.
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