from Raw Meditations on Money, 1. She Speaks: A School Teacher from South India

By Meena Alexander b. 1951 Meena Alexander
Portions of a mango tree the storm cut down,
a green blaze bent into mud
and they come to me, at dawn

three girls from Kanpur, far to the north admittedly
(we know this from national geography class,
the borders of states, the major cities).

They hung themselves from fans.
In the hot air they hung themselves
so that their father would not be forced to tender gold

he did not have, would not be forced
to work his fists to bone.
So that is how a portion of the story goes.

Slowly in the hot air they swung, three girls.
How old were they?
Of marriageable age certainly.

Sixteen, seventeen, and eighteen, something of that sort.
How do I feel about it?
What a question! I am one of three sisters,

most certainly I do not want father to proffer money
he does not have for my marriage.
Get a scooter, a refrigerator, a horde of utensils,

silks, and tiny glittering bits of gold
to hang about my ears and throat.
Gold is labor time accumulated . . . labor time defined.

Who said that? Yes, I am a schoolteacher, fifth standard
trained in Indian history and geography,
Kerala University, first class first.

The storm tree puts out its limbs and
I see three girls swinging. One of them is me.
Step back I tell myself.

Saumiya, step back. The whole history
of womankind is compacted here.
Open your umbrella, tuck your sari tight,

breathe into the strokes of catastrophe,
and let the school bus wait.
You will get to it soon enough and the small, hot faces.

See how the monsoon winds soar and shunt
tropic air into a house of souls,
a doorway stopped by clouds.

Set your feet into broken stones
and this red earth and pouring rain.
For us there is no exile.

Meena Alexander, "from Raw Meditations on Money, 1. She Speaks: A School Teacher from South India" from Quickly Changing River. Copyright © 2008 by Meena Alexander.  Reprinted by permission of Northwestern University Press.

Source: Quickly Changing River (Northwestern University Press, 2008)

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Poet Meena Alexander b. 1951

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Subjects Relationships, Men & Women, Nature, Landscapes & Pastorals, Social Commentaries, Gender & Sexuality, History & Politics, Family & Ancestors

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Meena  Alexander

Biography

Born in Allahabad, India, poet Meena Alexander was raised in south India and Sudan. She earned a BA at Khartoum University and a PhD at Nottingham University. She is the author of numerous collections of poetry, including Birthplace with Buried Stones (2013), PEN Open Book Award–winner Illiterate Heart (2002), and House of a Thousand Doors (1988). In her poetry, which has been translated into several languages, Alexander . . .

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SUBJECT Relationships, Men & Women, Nature, Landscapes & Pastorals, Social Commentaries, Gender & Sexuality, History & Politics, Family & Ancestors

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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