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Ravi Shankar || 3 Poems

Sounds like Traxx


I can no longer shop happily.

(The Clash)


Before I was all lost in the S*PeRM**K*T,

dubbing the fugitive recyclopedia, or agog

among the penumbras and hungry fatigues,


there was that club with mad pinwheel lights

by the highway off-ramp in DC, an outdoor

strip of beach with towering potted palms


and a volleyball pit/dance floor where rubber

parachute pants morphed in groove to Jesus

Jones and Candy Flip covering the Beatles.


All tuned in, peering over the hedge back then,

those perilous and surreptitious departures

from TamBram family law to gyrating free


time late night with old friends and new punk

rock girls near as the shimmy lasso of hip

would allow, dancing into someone’s orbit


then penetrating the periphery, near enough

to touch, to make eye contact, then teasingly

withdraw in bouncing backstep, bass massive


in the ears, the oldest human ritual imagined

fresh as cherry blossom scent at the Navy Yard

in the early nineties. No guaranteed personality.





How Far from the Rust Belt is it to Silicon Alley?


In the gleaming corridors of the 51st floor

—The Clash from “Koka Kola”


Well, the other day I heard about these $5000 houses

they are offering artists in Cleveland & how the real

estate in, say, the Bay Area resembles tribal print blouses


that were once in vogue, then mocked because of the zeal

for a fabric modeled on some ethnographer’s sketch book,

then worshipped once again for possessing sex appeal.


Meaning that somehow, more perhaps by crook than hook,

the bubble of the 90’s has started being blown once more.

Struggling writers and artists might have the right look


but they can’t even afford to live in the Mission anymore.

I recalled then when I lived in a shoebox in the Marina

atop a loft in a closet-sized living room that lacked a door.


I worked in publishing & hung out with a cackle of hyena,

film school dropouts who cooked crystal meth in a broken

light-bulb years before Breaking Bad or Hurricane Katrina.


One of them was this drop dead gorgeous, outspoken

ad exec with toffee skin & wild Jeanne Moreau eyes

who took a shine to me perhaps because I was the token


Asian in the bunch. More smitten with her than blowflies

to a gas leak. She signed me up for a smattering of focus

groups, on things like video games or the allure of oversize


women’s fashions for the normal sized guy. I was a locus

for bubbling in questionnaires to help with concept testing,

faking enthusiasm for the slim chance to know her crocus


to corm. Then one drippy afternoon, done with ingesting

& grading watercress menthol flavored energy drinks,

I tried the closed door of her office to find her resting


her head on her desk, her face the riddle of the sphinx.

Then I saw the mound, a mini-Scarface anthill of white

powder rising between a stapler and the flushing pinks


of her cheeks. She had spectacular cheekbones, a tight

black pencil skirt & wafted of some exotic flower.

A cross between an orchid and a spider. I felt light-


headed then & headed home to reconsider in a shower.

Occasionally, many years later, I still replay that scene

of her pause being refreshed in the corridors of power.


I never saw so many toys—water guns, polypropylene

signs & foam fingers—as in her sleek, modular offices,

yet still I’d rather move to Cleveland or Bowling Green.




The Perils of Homecoming


with Priya Sarukkai Chabria


The castle looms blue upon the porcelain plate,

the shepherdess rests within the coffee cup’s gilt,

palm-sized Pierrot sits Pierrette on his knee for a kiss

her ceramic tutu ruffled by his haste while inches

away The Pied Piper leads his rats of silvery clay:

this menagerie once within memory’s chamfered glass

bolts, for pain’s insoluble grains gargle up the throat

in an inverse pantomime of tongue and tract. Such flow

of grief cannot be digested or broken down by bile

but persists moment after lifetime after era,

an inheritance of malady the mask of which a pale

face wears as persuasively as the ochre, the dead

as inexorably as the unborn alas!  The Cumaean sibyl

peers (more granules than limbs) from her bell

jar on the shelf and whispers I want to die!

weighted by knowledge’s intractable metamorphoses

into light as the body shrinks. Around

her ampulla glitter shards of promises, illusions

lost, broken rings of love , the salver of desire

beyond salvaged. Yet all’s not lost, perhaps. Aren’t

all dichotomies birthed from a whole?  Squint.

Unpeel eyes. Flurry the dust. What’s

that burning, burning, burning, burning sensation

like the smashed up bits of asteroids and comets

orbiting a planet to retrace a path hewn from prophecy

in a self-reflexive knot or biofeedback loop. Circulatory

ouroboros of eternal return where a serpent eats its own

tail. Just so, each of us a gravitational body around

which our past rotates–faces of lovers, shards of toys

we once imagined alive, the cave of a hundred

openings where songs take the shape of oak leaves,

where we may have played in this or that lifetime,

and where we may yet play again.

Yet the cool smoothness of porcelain,

the grains of gold gilt beneath blind finger tips, the dust

on Pierrette’s net tutu of glass that shadows touch –what’s

this lust that burns into bones, what’s this we cannot

turn back on, tail in our mouths, we who are toys

of eternal return? What’s this grief, this wonder, this

mesh of clay, colour, fire that constructs our glass, this

brokenness that bleeds prayer?


Forties 25, Ravi Shankar from Counterpath on Vimeo.


Ravi Shankar founded and publishes Drunken Boat, teaches at CCSU and City University of Hong Kong, and his next book of collaborations and ekphrastic poems “What Else Could it Be” as well as his “New and Selected Poems” will be out respectively with Carolina Wren Press and Nirala Books in the UK / India in 2015.