Issue 29 – 2018 – Amit Majmudar

Amit Majmudar


I Carceri

after Giovanni Battista Piranesi



I like to rest my wrists, he said, like this, on the crossbar, so part of me hangs outside my cell, in the hallway, because that is freedom, right there, and when my fingers touch it, they are trailing over the side of a sailboat, unzipping a depth I can daydream hiding in, though I know that plunging anything more than a forearm into the water is impossible,

cat’s-cradled in the complex rigging as my body is back here, with loops of rope around my waist and arms and one loop more around my neck, this origami sailboat folded from a deposition the district attorney produced from his briefcase, this river the length of a sentence, this sentence the length of a life



Because his mother, who stared too long at the sun, covered her forearms in the bright red Braille of fire ant stings, that untranslatable text the closest she came to tenderness, he spent his boyhood waving his arms, trying to be seen by her, or anyone really,

but then those arms of his, bumping a brown kid in glasses, turned out, to his surprise, to have fists at the ends of them, fists that could connect with anyone at all,

the fight progressing rapidly to a waistlevel arms-out charge-and-lunge that was his first embrace, the ring of fourth-graders that watched him beat me up the first eyes to see him, this new thrill of visibility so addicting him

that fourteen years later, he found his way to a house of watchers:

two guards, thumbs in belt, who oversee his shuffle through the slop line, his spotter on the bench press, suitors yearning through the shower steam, closed-circuit cameras in the corners, this home that will never neglect him, this family that will never let him go.



Even if you could slip out of your cell, a cell irregularly polyhedral, as if your captivity increased with the number of walls, even if you could race through that Piranesi prison where you were fathered by a warden upon a madwoman in mismatched sneakers, even if you could tarzan the ladder-thick chains toward a rumor of daylight, and stab the oxycodone-groggy guards and gargoyles where they sprawl,

your wraithlike body would go poof at the first touch of raw sunlight, its fistful of talc cast on the breeze, and the prison’s intake vents would swirl you back down into the very air of the prison, incorporated, part of the odor, one more thought in that giant unkillable brain


Casus Belli

            Words have
            and atmospheres

            cause interference.
The more


            distortions happen
just below our
            hearing, where


            a war
of words can
            warp into


            a war of
wars—on the high-
            horse-crowded road


            to which our
one true Gods are one
            more goad.




Amit Majmudar’s most recent book is Godsong: A Verse Translation of the Bhagavad-Gita, with Commentary (Knopf, 2018). His forthcoming volumes are a poetry collection, Kill List (Knopf, 2020), The Sitayana: A Novel (Penguin Random House India, 2019), and Soar: A Novel (Penguin Random House India, 2019).