I last saw my darling friend Meena about a year and a half ago. We had made a date to meet up at the Poetry by the Sea conference and sit together on the bench overlooking the ocean, and that’s exactly what we did. Meena was in the midst of surgery and chemo treatments; she was frail and fatigued but glowed with gentle beauty. Our conversation that afternoon was different from our usual passionate and opinionated discussions. This time we talked gently, our words tinged with mortality, grace, gratitude.
I am so happy, now, to remember the intimate beauty of our talk that afternoon as the shadows lengthened over the waves lapping the shore of the beautiful old convent where the Poetry by the Sea conference is held each year. Later, when Meena forwarded me the selfie we had taken, she named the email after the building: Mercy by the Sea.
Meena’s heart seemed full of tenderness that day, and her always sweet and refined voice sounded relaxed, no longer in a hurry.
It’s easy to feel regret for all the missed opportunities to connect again since that day, but I prefer to feel grateful for the great gifts Meena bequeaths to the world. I feel that she was content with her legacy, and that her legacy will last a good long while. I am especially proud to have recruited and edited her book of essays, The Poetics of Dislocation, as coeditor of the University of Michigan Press Poets on Poetry Series in 2009. May all Meena’s beautiful brave words continue to shine.
From “Water Crossing”
I was born into a house where music didn’t matter,
But now I know it is the one thing that counted –
An earthly music scraped from root and rock.
Stones stirred when no one was looking,
The house with its courtyard started to float.
Limestone quickened into fists and thighbones,
Handprints flowered on bedroom walls
Thumbs cut off, ancient marks of mutilation,
Wrists the color of glaciers before they split
And water poured into the open fields.
Then came the scents of wild lavender
Flung from the other side of the globe,
Thickets of it, sprung here and there
Making a rare sound — a single note torn open
And lengthened, as far as it would go —
A violet sound no one could have missed,
Even at sunset as far west as we were going
Up the Red Sea with its blunt sandstone cliffs.
From Birthplace With Buried Stones (TriQuarterly Books, Fall 2013)