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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, January 1, 2018.
About this Poem 

“I wrote ‘Enlightment’ because I was thinking about the state of the world, which people do these days more than they used to, I suspect. I can’t say, of course, that the poem adds anything to our understanding. It was the feeling of the thinking that I wanted.”
—Vijay Seshadri

Enlightenment

“It’s all empty, empty,” 
he said to himself.
“The sex and drugs. The violence, especially.”
So he went down into the world to exercise his virtue,

thinking maybe that would help.
He taught a little kid to build a kite.
He found a cure, 
and then he found a cure 

for his cure.
He gave a woman at the mercy of the weather 
his umbrella, even though 
icy rain fell and he had pneumonia.
He settled a revolution in Spain.

Nothing worked.
The world happens, the world changes,
the world, it is written here, 
in the next line,
is only its own membrane—

and, oh yes, your compassionate nature,
your compassion for our kind.

Copyright © 2018 by Vijay Seshadri. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 1, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2018 by Vijay Seshadri. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 1, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Vijay Seshadri

Vijay Seshadri

Vijay Seshadri was born in Bangalore, India, in 1954 and came to America at the age of five.

by this poet

poem

Even though I’m an immigrant,
the angel with the flaming sword seems fine with me.
He unhooks the velvet rope. He ushers me into the club.
Some activity in the mosh pit, a banquet here, a panhandler there,
a gray curtain drawn down over the infinitely curving lunette,
Jupiter in its

poem

Orwell says somewhere that no one ever writes the real story of their life.
The real story of a life is the story of its humiliations.
If I wrote that story now—
radioactive to the end of time—
people, I swear, your eyes would fall out, you couldn’t peel
the

poem
We hold it against you that you survived.
People better than you are dead,
but you still punch the clock.
Your body has wizened but has not bled

its substance out on the killing floor
or flatlined in intensive care
or vanished after school
or stepped off the ledge in despair.

Of all those you started with,