Ode to Cement

Vivek Narayanan

(to Curt Gambetta)

No more than aggregate of settled dirt at spawn,fearsome churning poison-river sludge in the boatof days. Provenance undeclared. The oathof public service, taken on the hill but drawnquickly into the (meaningful) landscape shownbelow — secret equalising flower, spoutof the ordinary state. Cement is the realest moatto ring around the future. A castle to call my own.We are rough; cement is rough. We carry whatwe know in it. That night we learned to respire despitethe particulate air, you traced your long fingeron an inlaid design, a circle inter-cutwith lines: a mandala in a mandolin, an invite,watching it mould us in its slower, limestone cipher.

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Illustration by Dyuti Mittal

Vivek Narayanan’s books of poems include Life and Times of Mr S and the forthcoming AFTER: a Writing Through Valmiki’s Ramayana. A full-length collection of his selected poems in Swedish translation was published in 2015 by the Stockholm-based Wahlström & Widstrand in 2015. He has been a Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University (2013-14) and a Cullman Fellow at the New York Public Library (2015-16). His poems, stories, translations and critical essays have appeared in journals like The Paris Review, Granta, Poetry Review (UK), Modern Poetry in Translation, Harvard Review, Agni, The Caribbean Review of Books and elsewhere, as well as in anthologies like The Penguin Book of the Prose Poem and The Bloodaxe Book of Contemporary Indian Poetry. Narayanan was the co-editor of Almost Island, an India-based international literary journal from 2007-2019. He currently teaches at George Mason University.

New York

"American readers now treasure the Indian novel, but the subcontinent's poets have been slower to cross the seas; Narayanan's eclectic, exceptionally intelligent, sometimes stellar debut should change that."
Publisher's Weekly

"This is a remarkable first collection of poems. Narayanan's poetic voice, half riddle, seeking truth... often catching it, fleshed with fine detail, is often moving and illuminating."
—Anna Sujata Mathai, The Hindu

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