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.