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You’d have to be as crazy as Dante to get those down,
the infernal hatreds.
Shoot them. Shoot them where they live
and then skip town.

Or stay and re-engineer
the decrepit social contraption
to distill the 200-proof
elixir of fear

and torture the...the what
from the what? And didn’t I promise,
under threat of self-intubation,
not to envision this

corridor, coal-tar black,
that narrows down and in
to a shattering claustrophobia attack
before opening out

to the lake of frozen shit
where the gruesome figure is discerned?
Turn around, go home.
Just to look at it is to become it.


He was chronically out of work, why we don’t know.
She was the second born of a set
of estranged identical twins. They met,
hooked up, and moved in with her mother,
who managed a motel on Skyline Drive.
But always it was the other,
the firstborn, the bad twin, the runaway,
he imagined in the shadow
of the “Vacancy” sign
or watching through the window
below the dripping eaves
while they made love or slept.
The body is relaxed and at rest,
the mind is relaxed in its nest,
so the self that is and is not
itself rises and leaves
to peek over the horizon, where it sees
all its psychokinetic possibilities
resolving into shapely fictions.
She was brave, nurturing, kind.
She was evil. She was out of her mind.
She was a junkie trading sex for a fix,
a chief executive, an aviatrix.
She was an angel
to the blinded and the lamed,
the less-than-upright, the infra dig.
And she was even a failure.
She went to L.A. to make it big
and crept back home injured and ashamed.


They put him in jail, why we don’t know.
They stamped him “Postponed.”
But he didn’t mind.
The screws were almost kind.
He had leisure to get his muscles toned,

mental space to regret his crimes,
and when he wasn’t fabricating license plates
he was free
to remember the beauty
that not once but a thousand times

escaped him forever, and escapes me, too:
ghosts of a mist drifting
across the face of the stars,
Jupiter triangulating
with the crescent moon and Mars,
prismatic fracturings in a drop of dew...


There’s drought on the mountain.
Wildfires scour the hills.
So the mammal crawls down the desiccated rills
searching for the fountain,

which it finds, believe it or not,
or sort of finds. A thin silver sliver
rises from an underground river
and makes a few of the hot

rocks steam and the pebbles hiss.
Soon the mammal will drink,
but it has first
to stop and think
its reflexive, impeccable thought:
that thinking comes down to this—
mystery, longing, thirst.

Source: Poetry (November 2012)

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This poem originally appeared in the November 2012 issue of Poetry magazine

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  • Poet, essayist, and critic Vijay Seshadri was born in India and came to the United States at the age of five. He earned a BA from Oberlin College and an MFA from Columbia University.

    Seshadri is the author of Wild Kingdom (1996); The Long Meadow (2003), which won the James Laughlin Award; and 3 Sections (2013), which won the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. The Pulitzer committee described the book as “a compelling collection of poems that examine human consciousness, from birth to dementia, in a voice that is by turns witty and grave, compassionate and remorseless.”

    Seshadri has received fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the NEA, and the Guggenheim Foundation. He has worked as an editor at the New Yorker and has taught at Bennington College and Sarah Lawrence College, where he currently directs the graduate non-fiction writing program.

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