Ravi Shankar

Ravi Shankar is a poet and critic and the editor of Drunken Boat. His first full length book was Instrumentality (Word Press, 2004). Along with Tina Chang and Nathalie Handal, he edited Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from Asia, the Middle East & Beyond (W.W. Norton & Co.). His work has appeared in the New York Times and the Chronicle of Higher Education, and on the BBC and NPR. He teaches in Fairfield University’s MFA Program and in the first international MFA Program at City University of Hong Kong. Deepening Groove was winner of the 2010 National Poetry Review Press Prize.


Urban Pastoral

Swarming cities,
          gorged with dream,
                    opaque to the spectacle
                              of the spectral trace

left by bodies in motion,
          in medias res, like after
                    a magician has left a pinch
                              of magnesium shaving

in the air to ignite
          then vanished off-stage
                    in a wake of white
                              light. Not like

the Brobdingnagian
          moment of monstrosity,
                    but rather the subtle
                              uncanny pushing out

gradually further
          and further into
                    the mind until buds
                              burst into no blossom

ever before seen nor since.


Bop with a Refrain taken from Jonathan Safron Foer

Half-past on the 9:07 local to New Haven, the Bronx
tenements pent in vaguely post-apocalyptic paragraphs
rushing past too fast to cohere into prose, leaving loops
of graffiti, marred and boarded windows, a hoops game
glowing yellowish in the mercury vapor of street lights,
a Pontiac Bonneville, tireless, jacked up on cinder blocks. 

Time waving like a hand from a train I wanted to be on.

Riding a train embodies democracy. Not like cramped,
dank seats of a bus or on the highway where cars mark
the demographic by make and model, here everything
is equalized, time and space included. The post-punk 
pierced girl, ears plugged with music, sits next to a man,
silk cravat loosened, fixated on his snuff box, providing
the grand illusion of temporal continuity, the centuries
stacked one on top of the other, a set of encyclopedias. 

Time waving like a hand from a train I wanted to be on.

Slouched in the seat, westbound, my forehead pressed
to the scratched up window, rapidly being carried away
from the city, something important recedes, something 
else coheres, but I can’t seem to conjure a single word
as to what these might be, why I’m filled with such vast,
implacable sadness. I just want to get home, go to sleep.  

Time waving like a hand from a train I wanted to be on.