The multifaceted Ramanujan (see my earlier posts about him) is also a poet. This poem continues to explore many of the same themes as his essay, “Is there an Indian way of thinking?”


Chicago Zen

Now tidy your house,
dust especially your living room
and do not forget to name
all your children.

Watch your step. Sight may strike you
blind in unexpected places.
The traffic light turns orange
on 57th and Dorchester, and you stumble,
you fall into a vision of forest fires,
enter a frothing Himalayan river,
rapid, silent.
On the 14th floor,
Lake Michigan crawls and crawls
in the window. Your thumbnail
cracks a lobster louse on the windowpane
from your daughter’s hair
and you drown, eyes open,
towards the Indies, the antipodes.
And you, always so perfectly sane.

Now you know what you always knew:
the country cannot be reached
by jet. Nor by boat on jungle river,
hashish behind the Monkey-temple,
nor moonshot to the cratered Sea
of Tranquillity, slim circus girls
on a tightrope between tree and tree
with white parasols, or the one
and only blue guitar.
Nor by any
other means of transport,
migrating with a clean valid passport,
no, not even by transmigrating
without any passport at all,
but only by answering ordinary
black telephones, questions
walls and small children ask,
and answering all calls of nature.

Watch your step, watch it, I say,
especially at the first high
and the sudden low
one near the end
of the flight
of stairs,
and watch
for the last
step that’s never there.

A. K. Ramanujan