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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, May 15, 2018.
About this Poem 

“It feels like there is something smoldering in me when I think back to my teenage years in Khartoum, where I spent awhile when my father was posted there. The banked up emotions of that time, and all those impossible loves, feel so much more chaotic than the balance I keep trying for with words. From my childhood in India, I was familiar with the tale of Majnoon, who went mad with his love of Laila. As for Hunayn Ibn Ishaq (809-873 CE), he was a celebrated Christian physician and translator.”
—Meena Alexander

Stone Oven

Kasr Avenue was where the birds lived,
In a mud silo millet seeds flourished
All winter long and through the dry season
Laila was in my soul, also Majnoon’s madness.
I was a girl growing up and you, crossing the
Nile—yes a flat boat is all you had—
Came in, trousers wet and flapping,
Sat down with your back to me.
Hunayn ibn Ishaq the great physician
Thought of the heart as the oven of the body.
In the Grand Hotel the waiters wear
Cummerbunds, always maroon, over tunics, white
I asked for a lemonade with crushed ice.
Majnoon lived with his goats in the desert north of here
On a mountain of sand, where the sky turns dark
The color of millet burnt in a stone oven.

Copyright © 2018 by Meena Alexander. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 15, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets

Copyright © 2018 by Meena Alexander. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 15, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets

Meena Alexander

Meena Alexander

Meena Alexander was born in Allahabad, India, in 1951. Her poetry collections include Atmospheric Embroidery (TriQuarterly Books, 2018).

by this poet

June already, it's your birth month,
nine months since the towers fell.
I set olive twigs in my hair
torn from a tree in Central Park,
I ride a painted horse, its mane a sullen wonder.
You are behind me on a lilting mare.
You whisper--What of happiness?
Dukham, Federico. Smoke fills my eyes.
Young, I was

Snails circle
A shed where a child was born.

She bled into straw—
Who can write this?

Under Arcturus,
Rubble of light:

We have no words
For what is happening—

Still language endures
Celan said

As he stood in a torn
Green coat


The periodic pleasure
of small happenings
is upon us—
behind the stalls
at the farmer’s market
snow glinting in heaps,
a cardinal its chest
puffed out, bloodshod
above the piles of awnings,
passion’s proclivities;
you picking up a sweet potato
turning to me  ‘