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The following is part of a series of essays and reflections published on The Margins in remembrance of the life and work of poet and scholar Meena Alexander, who passed away on November 21, 2018.


To Be Close Again to Meena and to Learn More from Her Poetry, I Compose a Cento


I came into this world in an Allahabad hospital

In the absence of reliable ghosts I made aria

I watch your hands at the keyboard

Memory is all you have.

And all the singing rifts of story.

A bus ride, M98 jolting along Lex / Under the El latticework of light–

A child hops in numbered squares, back and forth, back and forth

In the absence of reliable ghosts I made aria

You were bound to meteorology, / Science of fickle clouds, ferocious winds.

You’ve lost one language, gained another, lost a third.

There’s nothing you’ll inherit
by the burning ghat in Varanasi.

The wind lifts up my life

Crossing Chand Bibi Road / Named after the princess who rode with hawks

Where shall I go?

Three girls from Kanpur
hung themselves from fans
so that their father would not be forced to tender gold

In the absence of reliable ghosts I made aria

Mama beat me when I was a child for stealing honey from a honey pot / It swung from the rafter of the kitchen.

This disease has come back

No one knows my name in Arabic means port.


Kimiko Hahn is the author of eight previous books of poetry, including, most recently, Toxic Flora. She has won an American Book Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Theodore Roethke Award, and a Lila Wallace–Reader’s Digest Award. She lives in New York and teaches at Queens College, City University of New York.

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