cunny matters logo


Summer 2002
CUNY Biologists Cultivate New Medicines
Remarkable June Grads Break the Mold
Major CUNY Response to Nursing Shortage
Harlem Hospital Leader a Role Model for Salk Scholars
"Votes Rebuild New York" Campaign Launched
Goldstein “Closeup” On Honors College Governors Island, High Schools
CUNY ANNOUNCES 9/11 Memorial Competition
CCNY Engineer Honored by the Nation

Seminar-in-a-Book Ponders 9/11

From "Ground Zero" Rapper to City Council Candidate
Turning Anger into Literature
Model City Council Planned in the Fall
Highlights of 2002-2003 State Adopted Budget
Two New CUNY Trustees Appointed
Biomedical Engineer Wins Guggenheim
City University Leading Producer of Hispanic Graduates
The Challenge of AIDS in Africa
Bilingual: College French, Scientist's Latin
Presidential Appointments for Queens and York Colleges

Queens College Artist Adds New Passion to His Palette

El Diario-La Prensa Editor Honored at Model Senate

Intel Chief Plunges into Memory

Dual Citizen of the Pen

"Opticals" for Woody Allen, Illustrations for Mother Nature
CUNY Faculty Experts on Post-9/11 Response Listed on Web Site

Dual Citizen of the Pen

In novels, several volumes of poems, essays, and a memoir, Fault Lines, Meena Alexander has explored a life lived between two worlds. One is that of her native India—she was born in the north-central city of Allahabad and her mother tongue is Malayalam, which is spoken in the southwestern state of Kerala. The other culture is that of New York City, where she is a Distinguished Professor of English at Hunter College and the Graduate Center.

Alexander continues to explore the experience of exile in her latest collection of poems, Illiterate Heart, from Triquarterly Books, an imprint of Northwestern University Press. It has already won a PEN Open Book Award.

I was born at the Ganga’s edge.
My mother wrapped me in a bleached sari, laid me in stiff reeds, in hard water.

I tried to keep my nostrils above mud, learnt how to use my limbs, how to float.

This earth is filled with black water, small islands with bristling vines afford us some hold.

Tired out with your journals you watch Mira crouch by the rough stones of the alley. Her feet are bare, they hurt her.

So much flight for a poet, so much persistence. Allen Ginsberg, where are you now?

Engine of flesh, hot sunflower of Mathura, teach us to glide into life,

teach us when not to flee, when to rejoice, when to weep.

teach us to clear our throats.

— from “Indian April”
by Meena Alexander
The draw of two cultures is apparent in the Malayalam words scattered now and then in her lines—and also in the moving “Elegy to My Father,” which is dedicated (as is the volume itself) to Kannadical George Alexander. In fact, the poem was composed in two worlds: “As I finish this poem, a warm rain falls. There is lightning in the air. The makings of a storm. My father loved storms. He called them ‘nature’s glory.’ I began this poem in New York City, and now exactly a year after his death I am in Pandan Valley, Singapore.”

Presented here is the second part of a four-part poem, “Indian April,” composed in memory of another CUNY Distin-guished Professor and an enthusiastic embracer of Far Eastern culture, Allen Ginsberg, who visited India in 1962. The April of the title is in fact a Central Park April. “As Ginsberg lay dying I was reading his Indian Journals very carefully,” just after arriving back from participating in “Poetry Africa” in South Africa, “and that April I would walk through Central Park on the way to my Hunter office.”

“Mira” refers to the mystical poet/ princess Mirabai,book tittled illiterate heart born at the end of the 15th century. She is a great favorite of Alexander, perhaps because, as Alexander notes, Mirabai “left her home and roamed across borders to sing love poems to Krishna, the dark god.” The Mathura mentioned in the poem is said to be the home of Krishna.