growing up, she spent days aboard ships that
took her from Kerala to Sudan, where her father
worked, and back again.
My sweet father: who held me high
above the waters of the Red Sea when I was
Who saw a white ship docking at Port Sudan
Whenever I read that poem, Port Sudan, I will
myself into it, onto that dock, seeing that ship.
The faculty lounge is an institutional cave —
she is an English professor at Hunter — with a
couch and a soda machine. We make ourselves
as comfortable as we can in this place designed
seemingly for no more than five seconds of occupancy.
Robert Hirschfield meets Meena Alexander
We are walking past lengths of glass on our way to the Hunter College faculty lounge. Meena Alexander and I. The New York City-based poet writes about the flow of newly-migrated shadows across this city,
where she arrived at age 30 from Hyderabad to marry. (She
is 59 now, and the author of six books of poetry.) I love her
poetry because she throws worlds at me: Coconut groves in
Kerala (She was born in Allahabad to Keralite parents), the
desert of Sudan, Lorca in New York:
I met you by Battery Park where the bridge once was.
Invisible it ran between the towers.
We talk about New York like two junkies who find them-
selves addicted to the same drug. “I am living in a metrop-
olis,” she says, “where different parts of the world often
come together in extremely vivid, recalcitrant fragments.
There are people walking around with ethnicities no one
else has heard of, with languages inside them that no one
Reading her poetry makes me long for places. As a girl
Alexander speaks of how
strange it is — the juxtapo-
sition of places in her poet-
‘India is already a superpower’
tradition of accumulating wealth. It’s in
direct contrast with the United States where
everything is built on credit. The Chinese
government is buying US treasury bonds
and financing the debt. But in China people
cannot speak freely. In China people don’t
have the tradition of speaking freely.
Whether you go back to Confucianism as a
doctrine or whether you look at Maoist
Communism or their idea of loyal opposition, the idea where you can freely debate
different views in the public space is absent.
That means interviewing people in China is
a very different process. People are much
more restrained and careful about expressing an opinion.
In India, everybody has an opinion... five
opinions. Everybody would express what
they have to say. My impression is that peo-
ple in India are at more peace with them-
selves. It’s just the feeling that I have. In
China after the Cultural Revolution many
traditions and practices were destroyed. It is
very difficult to recreate it. So you have to
borrow it from elsewhere.