Potcake Poet’s Choice: Amit Majmudar, ‘Eyespots’

Caterpillars build their bunkers out
of terror. Transformation hunts them, haunts them
as oak leaf peepholes open underfoot
to bare the air, the emptiness that wants them.
I have a measure of infinity
inside me. A is no and mit is measure
in an ancestral tongue that haunts me, hunts me.
I’m half in love with what I have to be.
The other half is looking for a razor
to make of me the Amit who was once me,

my yogi’s beard a clump of Spanish moss
limp at my feet, a piece of furry roadkill.
I’m no ascetic. Half in love with loss,
I’ll seek out beauty, or at least my ode will,
night-blooming jasmines dooming my samadhi,
scenting, resenting my hermetic dark
because they know a yogi, breathing in
his first girlfriend’s perfume, unarchives her body,
and drives her, after dusk, to the vanished park
where memory of sin cocoons the sin.

Caterpillars ravel bunkers into
bodybags—no way for them to know
the moment that they poke themselves a window,
the rebirth they were hiding from will show:
Two stained-glass windows mounted on my back,
two earshaped eyespot petals I can flex
and fold, a flailing that transforms to flight
while all the darkling jasmines that I lack,
past loves that called me onward to the next,
unpetal in the bodybag of night.

In love, or half in love, with mere aesthetics,
I’ve daydreamed Himalayan caves, a hive
that hums with “Aum” from ninety-nine ascetics,
their senses hibernating, half alive.
No one has ever scaled Kailash, the peak
where Shiva sits in bud, in shut-flytrap samadhi
with ashes smeared across his chest and arms.
But that’s just not the changelessness I seek.
I want my language, shapely as a body,
to weave and rive cocoons, enchantments, forms

with giant wings inside their ashgray berries.
I want my transience to live in speech,
if only as a resonance that carries,
like jasmine scent, beyond my voice’s reach.
I tell myself: Old soul, don’t be afraid
of changing. You are old enough to know,
whenever something changes, something dies,
but the dark you flowered in won’t let you fade.
A crack in this cocoon admits a glow.
The blue moon butterfly will wear your eyes.

Amit Majmudar writes: “This poem, ‘Eyespots’, is what I think of as a Keatsian ode, borrowing its stanzaic form and (I hope) something of its musicality. Yet the poem incorporates Hindu religious imagery throughout and sings of self-transformation in a way that isn’t to be found in Keats. This hybridization of Eastern and Western traditions in the poem feels idiosyncratic. There remain elements still opaque to me about it; so I never really delved into the metaphysical significance of the title’s false eyes, these seeming sense organs that are not actually sensing anything, but, given the focus on ascetic imagery, there seems to be something in that. Maybe in another essay? Or another poem….

I feel as though there are poems I have written that someone else could conceivably have written. But not this one; even ignoring that my name hides caterpillar-like inside the cocoon of the poem, I feel that the range of influences and ideas is simply too idiosyncratically “me” for this to have come from any other poet’s hand. Will everyone like it? Probably not, for precisely that reason. But I know that no one else could have produced this sequence of words, so I confess a certain fondness for it. It’s the one of my literary children who most resembles me. And it’s as good a way as any to get to know me as a writer.”

Amit Majmudar is a diagnostic nuclear radiologist who lives in Westerville, Ohio, with his wife and three children. The former first Poet Laureate of Ohio, he is the author of the poetry collections What He Did in Solitary and Dothead among other novels and poetry collections. Awarded the Donald Justice Prize and the Pushcart Prize, Majmudar’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Best of the Best American Poetry, and the eleventh edition of The Norton Introduction to Literature. Two novels are forthcoming in India in 2022: an historical novel about the 1947 Partition entitled The Map and the Scissors, and a novel for young readers, Heroes the Color of Dust. Visit www.amitmajmudar.com for more details.

‘Eyespots’ was first published in Measure Review.

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