Godhra and other poems

Godhra and other poems

Six poems
Buildings set on fire during the 2002 Gujarat violence (Photo: Aksi great/Wikimedia Commons)
Buildings set on fire during the 2002 Gujarat violence (Photo: Aksi great/Wikimedia Commons)

A clarification

We were not screaming, Qaidi

We were echolocating the silence

We were not running, Qaidi

We were tapping the pavement
with our feet
to see if it might give
like the trick floor
trap door
of a nightmare

We were not on fire, Qaidi

We were field testing
an experimental fabric
for wings

And when we crash-landed
and started moving our bony fingers
in the ashes
of our bodies

we were not drawing maps
to escape the city

not at all, Qaidi

we were drawing each other's faces

we were writing each other's names



When it was finished

the city
sloshed some traffic
over the spot
where my friend the lawyer
Shaukat Ehsan

the city
scrubbed at the black stain
where the Fiat's tires melted
scrubbed it away

with Tata trucks






the city
bleached our whole neighborhood
with camera flashes

and hid the bodies
under the saffron tarpaulin
of a stage-managed

To this day, Qaidi
the only scorch marks
are on my memories

branded with his initials
for life


of the dead

Memory, Memory

holy heifer

whose udder
every morning

I milk of pus


Episode from the Ramayana

Lanka is on fire.
Dresden is on fire,

kerosene oblations poured on a svastika.
The Vandal's mandala is on fire.

With kites for walls and toothpick bridges, Tojo's
paper-and-glue Tokyo, too, is on fire.

Nippon, napalm, naphtha: Greek fire, spit forth
from a siphon, blisters the sea. Herakles? On fire,

his shirt soaked in a centaur's quicklime heme.
Phan Thi Kim Phuc is on fire,

American cameramen forever by her side, shooting.
Agni, agony, Saigon, gone: Thich Quang Duc is on fire,

and he, too, will become a photograph, and win a prize.
Burn, baby, burn. Old Glory is on fire,

and new glory, too, this vainglory of a match burning
toward the hand that struck. Giordano Bruno is on fire,

and all our bygone divines, beggar devas, the Shining Ones
whose names are ghost pepper. My mouth is on fire,

my tongue is on fire, somebody get me a glass of water,
my sinuses, my eyeballs, my match head skull is on fire,

my flamethrower's spit, my fuel's heart, my dragon's breath,
my poem, my person, my sermon are one fire,

by which I mean to say:
Lanka is on fire.


The Neuropeans

Sensations river in me, lucid
Zambezis of cerebrospinal fluid,
Upon which a whimsical compass disorients
Dysenteric late Victorians.

Romantics with their riding crops
Scale my dizzy Eigerkopf
To gaze on a misty, dendritic green,
Ecstatic in the dopamine.

My globe's four lobes were named in Greek
By Neoclassicists who seek
Deep in an aging, Aegean Sea
That hippocampus, Memory.

Any day, a Bubonic bug or virus
Could plant its flag on my lingual gyrus,
But the monks are singing their Te Deum
In the ruins of the corpus colosseum.

In the interior, on the ocean floor
Are whole Amygdalas not yet explored,
Awaiting their Levi-Strauss, their Speke—
My brain of darkness, my tristes tropiques.


Ode to a pinecone

All shingles
and no stupa,
all scales and no song,

fruitwood ladder
leading up
on steps of sap

to the pinnacle
of evergreen
you pine for, all our

implicit in your
hand grenade's

into pins, the pine

where you land,
gradual shrapnel

we touch with a hand


The medical mission

Unmusical men but men of sound science,
we rode on camels out to the kingdom of silence

where none had been allowed to speak or hum
since the House of Aud allied with the cult of Mum.

A penlight in each mouth revealed a stub
tongue covered with gravel-colored buds,

petrified flowers strange to salt and sweet.
The vocal cords had not yet atrophied,

and so, boiling our scalpels, we dared
to carry out our maiden tongue-grafts there –

lizard's tails, infused with Mountain Dew,
that whipped like firehoses by day two.

La la la, we instructed, la la la.
La ila, they repeated, la ala.

We were hardly singing-masters, we confess.
We were men of science, doing what was best.

In no time they were eating from our hands,
licking crystals sweeter than the sand.

We should have guessed that they would speak to one
another, la, lallation, mother tongue,

but how could we foretell, forestall the said –
these thousands chanting, calling for our heads?

~ Amit Majmudar is a poet, novelist, essayist, and diagnostic nuclear radiologist. He lives in Dublin, Ohio. His latest book is Dothead (Knopf 2016).

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