Pramila Venkateswaran (Towards Visibility)

Pramila Venkateswaran

SLOW TOXIC

 

Not only the walls but the city

is a summer-shock dirty, smoky yellow

vacuuming our lungs.

 

I shudder at how dark the sky

around forest fires must be,

how heavy the heave of every breath.

 

No guns. No bombs. No heavy

artillery. This is our war. Ashen rain

coating our smog-chilled skin.

 

Trees witness the haze,

sense imminent flames wild winds

bring from low pressure centers

 

but carry on with their messaging,

not reneging on oxygen

to keep us alive.

 

 

ACOUSTIC SENSORS

 

I never thought I would get divorced, she said,

echoing many, whose rose-petal marriages vanished

despite elderly keep-your-husband-happy advice

gripping women, leaving traceless wounds, lies

wrapped in wisdom seldom helping young wives

steer their ship, for the map from the archives

of tradition does not mirror their ocean

heaving with sudden storms, delayed cautions.

Viruses thrive beneath palimpsests of lives.

Women hear: Die or escape the lair, strive

to anchor, find a path by moonlight,

follow crumbs left by precursors in flight.

Men stomp through the city closing entries,

ignorant that women under duress find release.

 

ANY DAY COULD BE SINGULAR

 

In the afternoon lull, other sounds tiptoe in:

a thin stream of lawn run-off gurgling into a drain,

 

children chasing each other around a blueberry bush,

laughing. A child bounces on a trampoline,

 

each soundless lift into the air pushes her

almost-bird freedom to ecstasy.

 

When I look up to see shanks of sky between branches,

I recall driving down a shimmering highway in Kansas,

 

a giant slab of blue bearing down on prairie grass

lighting its tips tawny, preparing it for sunset.

 

I mark this moment as beautiful, memorize it,

so it’s not washed away by the next calamity.

 

Even in war, one can marvel at a tiny pink petal

between rocks, a child’s soft fingers in your fist.

 

You call me woo-woo, idealistic. What is more realistic

than to remember the lips of a stranger on your dying

 

mouth, your star peering through smoke, a cup

of warm soup someone places in your open palms?

 

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), The Singer of Alleppey (Shanti Arts, 2018) and We are Not a Museum (Finishing Line Press, 2022).. 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. She is the President of Suffolk NOW.


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