The Enigma of Arrival
First the Coptics came smiling to the Maryland shores,
drowning black cats, when they weren’t worshiping
the bells that never rang around their knobby necks;
then came the Assyrians, settling around Boston hills,
digging in the land like raggedy rabbits run out of chase,
weaned of scraps, agonized by the shadow of their tails;
then came the Phoenicians, complete with identity clasps
strangling their thin throats, swishing their romantic robes
as if they were a nation entirely of loving kings and queens;
Finally, the Huns, who chose Philadelphia to build
in the image of castles where murders are publicized
to maids not afraid enough of their raping masters,
so that harmony in the new world may prevail.
Upon Viewing the Enchanted Mesa
at Acoma Pueblo
This is not rock, silent rock, rock of time.
My footsteps echo the brute yellow butte.
Red afternoon wind, in the mesa’s climb
to the sky, in a whisteless sigh, mute
like the tight embrace of sentry stones.
What do they guard, those abutting bald rocks?
Ingenious man—hid from watchers, your bones
weed round our hollow soul—distemper knocks.
This is the valley past the crawl of death.
Night has never lit here without regret.
Man wakens to the sun stunting raw breath.
You do not hear the footsteps trailing threat.
Once this valley absorbed all the red sun.
This energy is earth’s core on the run.
H. G. Wells Initiates Fiction Writing, Circa 1895
The boiler, penumbra to rheumatic washerwomen,
reclines in turgid steam, present to its own order,
and the adipose quotidian miracle of the master’s house
remaining alive in this same order, day after day,
conjures a comatose fantasy of wellness.
The Thames a burglar’s whole check.
Passive boaters would not know how to take in a resplendent moon,
should it occur out of time.
Hearts beat like thick sludge.
Who takes measure? Who keeps time?
At the smaller lending libraries in Putney
volumes of girls’ romances are dog-eared in what must surely be
acts constituting the antithesis of romance.
Reading has to acquire its passionate following of would-be grotesques and silent rogues,
or else wither of overuse, of course.
Thomas Henry Huxley, Darwin’s bulldog, retools young scholars
in his own laborious image, scholars to a new age
of dog-eat-dog, and youth at any cost—
oh, I am Faust, I am Faust!—who love to tell the tale,
and I one of those scholars at South Kensington,
before T. H. got ill, and I too in his image,
became a buried flower, before my time—
no churchyard stone to sing of how I came to be.
It can’t be literature.
I am no Verne. I am no James. I am no Conrad, even.
The Pall Mall Gazette is a gasbag of the golden age.
Man reads man to swallow him whole.
A new question about Victorian England:
Who will bury the cosmic corpse,
at whose expense?
Serial rights set the bar to pro igacy,
though I thrill in this new pro ciency.
England, behind the city’s scenes, smokehouse and workhouse,
bread and butter on the cheap, machine work never easier,
the hedges trimmed by knives sharpened through instinct,
mothers embosoming workhorse sons by night,
bewitched swallows sorting industrial rust,
new plagues infesting factory floors,
alleys dark hours after noon—
and myself no social observer.
No, Mr. Ford, in the kingdom of letters
only boilerplate counts, only how you boil the common man’s
The discovery of the future is a prophet’s melodrama.
It serves the earth-based ants right.
On the edge of Bloomsbury there are witnesses
to Carlyle being a sort of Quaker who preceded his time
by many millennia. Such strong will
in the face of menace and worry.
God’s creatures are nothing if not aged.
It is a time of fantasy and fable.
The century has proven elastic beyond measure.
Do we not behold democracy’s final barricades
falling before our eyes? It is a time of fantasy, indeed.
Then there will be a future to reckon with.
Iron wills and iron skills,
for an age of prophets thrilling with palsy,
and weapons that dignify death
by its sheer quantity.
The grotesque is a paradigm of beauty.
See how the failed chemist from the Potteries coughs blood
but keeps it secret from the housekeeper?
We travel through time to meet ourselves
in an earlier state of disguise.
And it is wondrous how often our disguises are intact after piercing.
Wondrous is the state of brotherhood,
as England travels through time, salvaging workmen’s nest crooning hours.
These poems are from Anis Shivani’s debut poetry book, “My Tranquil War and Other Poems,” just been released by NYQ Books. Anis’s poetry appears in The Times Literary Supplement, Epoch, Boston Review, Washington Square, Harvard Review, The Threepenny Review, Iowa Review, Green Mountains Review, Fence, Verse, Denver Quarterly, Subtropics, and many other journals.