three poems

in earnest


“The literary tradition of great men thought

the world a symbol of self as if self came first…

they were always espousing, which means

mouthing off and marrying.”

– Rachel Zucker


Storied memories once given to me are rotting –

they’ve brewed apathy toward the collective unconscious,

toward universal themes, bold truths, a man’s mortality,

and the absence of sensational emotion – rid us of its liquid

that runs and runs over everything.


Barred from being a Goldmund or Narcissus

and allowed to be a side pleasure, just a sin barrel,

now I’m left here like this: ticking off each day on a round

pharma-calendar, blithely violent in the morning,


then sunk with a plunger full of afternoon disquiet –

left with the evening pang to write

and meeting a blank page in abeyance.


I am burning small thoughts off faster than a camphor flame,

living in a small world where satire is most eloquent,

and signing off sincerely,

with a promise to control my sentiment.



 on calling your grandparents


A firmer grasp on the telephone handle is reflexive, a grip

born from the hollow pressure that expands in your head, then

crawls down an arm to your fingertips. Though you haven’t ever

drowned it’s close – sucking in English like water, feeling the flash

entropy of language. Once, words lay out to dry, prepared. Now they

flicker in, and you try but cannot cling to them. Their emergence is no

gaseous vapor that rises easily from your mother’s lips. Instead it

hurts. A second of dead silence rings, like the tone of temples and long distance.


Imagining the two of them, the coil of their ears angled into plastic –

jumping towards each sound, giving anxious nods. What happened to

keeping this? What happened to the neurosis of nightly mental

laps in bed, the recitation of soft D sounds, a Th like sheets of thin

metal pounded together? Here is the fear of forgetting the mother tongue, a

natural dissolution of gold leaf, clarified butter, Marathi, mahji

own. You are living in a liminal country, just you and a black hole that eats

premeditations. Prayers once stored refuse to materialize – they are

quarantined like typhoid, making the loss of words a fevered occlusion.


Relay the phone to your mother, who will tell them about you in a dialect of

Sanskrit roots, using suffixes that are poems on their own; Hima-laya,

the house of snow. Each passing year they age more. You nurse guilt, trying to

undermine that barrier. In a dream once, a yogic breath opened each rib, and you

voiced round, solid, almost violent: I think of you both all the time and I

wonder at my worst moments who I would have been raised native, not

xenophile. I am almost an adult but I will always speak to you like a child. To

yearn is inevitable – and without words, a vacuum. Naught, the number

zero, traces back to Brahmagupta; to a book called The Opening of the Universe.



I can’t be a person because I do not want to die and I have not enough crazy


I use ‘person’ because ‘girl’ has too much meaning, and let’s forget about ‘woman.’ Between age thirteen and now I spent a lot of time playing the game ‘fuck, kill, marry’ with these options: excelling in one thing, trying to be nice to all people all the time, and disappearing. My dress is too short, perhaps because I am too tall for the world. I am smart but keep my mouth shut except when I’m drunk. I am not a sunburn, nor the white pressed opals where your fingers were. When people have a need to look at my body on the street, I pretend I am a kind, white, 57-year old man and wow, isn’t everyone proud of me. I will wear a snowsuit in the sun that will stop nothing. I sit on a hill and am happy. At every party in Seattle I am greeted by a roomful of people who have dark skin, black hair, and an immigrant history. Ha ha! I am really good at pretending. Maybe I am always looking for me. I will think all day long about the things you don’t want to so you don’t have to worry. I can hold a conversation about a new nice restaurant but I am truly very Do It Yourself, very anti-bourgeoisie. I’ve jumped off many docks and landed in seaweed, felt it curl around my calves like a shadow ladder, as secret as all the talk radio that has passed in your sleep. I want to look at your face for thirty hours straight to fill myself up before leaving on ambitious adventures. When I am sad I only aim to make myself sadder. When I think of some people while writing poems I sweat, right now I am sweaty. A xanga entry from when I was thirteen read: I cant be a poet because I do not want to die and I have not enough crazy.

Leena Joshi is an artist and writer based in Seattle, WA. See more at

Featured image courtesy of the author.

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