Volume 4 Issue 2, June 2020
Special Issue for Indian Poetry

Pramila Venkateswaran



The past, the way back past, is frozen.

Most of us hacked it a few times,

but it did not give.


A few flat, frosted dents blossomed

on its opaque surface.


We gave up soon, for the daily called us urgently

to attend to each passing minute.


First survival, then desire, finally ambition.


We became like the rest.

Now that we are the rest, there is no “rest.”


Those who left for Israel look back.

Soon they will stop looking



Just like in the afterlife, no one

says, “Oh, I want to go back,”


knowing full well the journey will be the same:

Shuffling one’s way to the afterlife.





That’s how the letters looked—

like tree branches, some gnarled,

some bent, some straight.

Until she sounded them into words

they inhabited the abstract world where

mysteries dwelled.


Her eyes moved from right to left,

as she collected the twiggy letters

and sounded them out Shalom

Challah, concretizing them so I could

taste them in my mouth, feel their breath

from my gut, marry the sound.


Malayalam was a land of curlicues--

snails, snakes, jellyfish, letters with no backbone.

They stayed somnambulant, energized by slumber

to produce melody. Kashnam, manslayi, samayam

curled my tongue around themes of m’s and y’s.

Between branches and snails, I grew up with Hebrew

in the temple and Malayalam at home.





Coming is always arduous

--mountains, near-depth escapades


until you chalk a square space

and call it home.


Going happens in a split second,

a bird taking wing.



The Face of the Other

                                      “the face speaks to me and thereby invites me to a relation…”

                                       Emmanuel Levinas, “Totality and Infinity”

Why do some see yellow stars

instead of faces, their marauding pens

marking the city’s walls with swastikas?


Hate clouds barrel down the ages

from the Black Sea and Ararat, from the Nile

and Babylon. It storms in

among starched shirts and rags.


Why would a Jewish child be selected

to be erased? Philosophers say

to love is to see the other in oneself. But

the other blends into the unknowable.


I ask, doesn’t a child crying for his mom

on any street around the globe

make you wince?





About the poet

Pramila Venkateswaran, poet laureate of Suffolk County, Long Island (2013-15) and co-director of Matwaala: South Asian Diaspora Poetry Festival, is the author of Thirtha (Yuganta Press, 2002) Behind Dark Waters (Plain View Press, 2008), Draw Me Inmost (Stockport Flats, 2009), Trace (Finishing Line Press, 2011), Thirteen Days to Let Go (Aldrich Press, 2015), Slow Ripening (Local Gems, 2016), and The Singer of Alleppey (Shanti Arts, 2018). She has performed the poetry internationally, including at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival and the Festival Internacional De Poesia De Granada. An award winning poet, she teaches English and Women’s Studies at Nassau Community College, New York. Author of numerous essays on poetics as well as creative non-fiction, she is also the 2011 Walt Whitman Birthplace Association Long Island Poet of the Year.

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Published by The Alternative.