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The View from Zero Bridge by Lynn Aarti Chandhok

14.00

Lynn Aarti Chandhok
Levine Prize in Poetry (2006)

It's the rich physicality of these poems that draws me to them, and it's their large reach that keeps me coming back. This is a poetry that embraces the problem of distance -- geographical, chronological, religious, cultural -- and the book gathers quiet force as it weaves between worlds as seemingly distant as Kashmir and Brooklyn, childhood and parenthood, sensuality and intellect, science and tradition. It's a delight to read a new book of poems that not only sings with a beautiful voice, but sings with remarkable wisdom, and sings to the heart. -- Contest judge Corrinne Clegg Hales

 

The View from Zero Bridge

My father made his way to Zero Bridge
before the sun slipped up the riverbed
and lighted plum groves-long before the cars,
carts, rickshaws, trucks, and bicycles emerged,
dew-slick at dawn, into the dust. He passed 
our shuttered shop, passed Ram Bagh Road, arrived
and, with his camera, peered over the edge.
The long shikaras jostled side by side,
their pointed noses wedged on the stone slab,
their open bellies full-kohlrabi, beets,
red carrots, long green kuddu, string beans-rows
piled patchwork, high as each small boat could hold.
The farmers, barefoot, balanced at the edges,
haggling, counting, weighing. He framed and shot

a young man in an orange, cabled sweater
swinging a bale of okra to his shoulder;
a pyramid of eggplants on a scale;
a farmer setting weights to balance them,
the wind across the Jhelum billowing 
his gray pajama. After the shutter closed,
the farmers tipped their heart-shaped paddles, turned,
rowed back to Dal Lake's maze of floating gardens.

It must have been our last year. Had he known,
he might have waited for the shot he missed:
the empty boats, the paddles poised to break
morning's gold film, laid thin across the lake.

 

Confetti, Ticker-tape

I want to say they're swallows. In September, 
when we were feeding everyone we could, 
we'd look for them above the tracks on Ninth Street. 
What startled me was how their undersides 
caught the light, flashed silver, how the group 
would swoop and rise like wind itself, the flock 
vanishing every time it changed directions,

how the birds hung on air and clung together
circling above us, silver, like the squares
we thought were bits of fuselage or flakes 
of skyscraper, falling, until they floated 
towards us, lower, landing on our front stoop 
and I picked the papers up, but they were blank --
one after the other, blank, burned at the edges.

 

Still Life

A handful of peaches on a burlap sack,
the sack itself, asafoetida salt, 
a clean mud room, two more sacks for two beds,
garlic and onions strung like bride's bouquets, 
a garland drying in the entryway
whose husks will fall, whose seeds will plant themselves --
the ceiling thatched, smoked black, and dry as bone
even in this monsoon. Outside, the stone
blue patio, the succulents arranged
in rusting cans with red geraniums,
the pathway lined with sunflowers, beckoning
towards clumps of dahlia so dark red they're black --
all this, and still the peaches on the ground
look most like love, and take me by surprise.

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