Love is a circle that ends when it ends.
I played the love I never loved so hard.
I returned to my lie, and I told it again.
Remorse revised while deadlines came and went,
While buses burned and onetime allies warred.
Life is a circle that starts as it ends.
My body was a cage where I was pent,
My bare hands holding bloody jaws apart.
I return to the lion, and tame it again,
But lust is a hunger only tongues repent,
And lovers stroke the skin where they were scarred,
Circles of pleasure that finish before they end.
I thought that I was better than other men,
That it wasn’t cheating, just a false start,
And now love is a race I cannot run again.
We never say exactly what we meant.
Flaws are forgiven less in love than art.
But if loss is a circle that starts where it ends,
I’ll return to this line, and I’ll write it again.
When he stepped out of the house that morning
to rake the leaves I could have raked,
the screen door clapped home against the house
so hard it echoed. The house was solid because he
was solid. Now the screen swings back and forth
endlessly swishing its net through the air,
more holes than door, like a father
more memories than body. If I step through
that screen door from his absence into his absence,
the other side is the same as this one,
and the only grass that’s greener grows
three months behind me. I make the sign
of the cross over my chest to x
myself out. I recheck all the light switches
three times before sleep, touching them
in every room like relics that will heal me.
I knew both grace and predestination once
in my father’s voice and my father’s hand.
If you’re wondering why the voice
doesn’t cry in the wilderness anymore,
the leaves have been laid to rest
and the voice laid waste to. These branches
are dreamcatchers, less scaffolding
than space between. Everything passes
through them. Everything passes. Everything is past.
ELEGY WITH VAN GOGH’S EAR
Van Gogh rattled his straight razor
in a basin full of water
and stared into his own eyes.
His graygreen irises
began to glow and swirl.
That’s when he took off running.
The pain that flamed through him
was flaming through the olive trees,
the whole landscape one forest fire
but everybody picnicking as usual.
He wrapped his ear in newspaper
like roasted peanuts fresh from the stall
and gave it to a woman at the Arles
brothel. Not a whore,
a maid named Gabrielle
who mopped the vomit, gathered bottles,
lifted the sacramental wafer
of a stiff kerchief off the floor.
She worked as a maid in the brothel
because she could not find employment
as a whore. A dog had mauled her
arms and chest too much for that.
They kept her from the clientele
at night because the drunks who saw her
fell silent and set down their glasses.
She had evaded rabies that savage June
but not July’s medical bills.
A white dog half her size had knocked her
body to the street and jerked atop her
like an epileptic rapist
until somebody shot it through the head.
The gunshot left her deaf in both ears.
The artist sought her out
that cold December night and gave her
this gift, this fresh and fullgrown ear
so she could hear the church bells welcome Christmas
to Arles. You were mangled,
and I am mangled, too, he longed
to say. You paint this brothel
clean again with soap and water,
I scrub the filth off God with brushes.
Her visitor ran off before
she could unwrap the present
dripping on her snowy threshold.
He could not hear her scream
since he was running to a church
at an Auvers of his imagination
where all the windows held the same blue
as the sky behind them. Even
after her police report,
the orphaned ear was left with her.
She buried it behind the brothel
where clients sometimes staggered out
and watered it. In time it grew
into a flowering tree that flowered ears
the bees found sweet, Arlesian honey
a deeper amber with a hint of rust.
Gabrielle was still a maid by then,
still paying off the interest on her debt.
Scar tissue glistened on her arms and nipple craters.
One summer night, the stars began
to chase each other clockwise,
and when she touched the flame atop her candle
she came away with her thumb smudged.
She tiptoed to the tree of ears
and whispered into one of them
the thing she wanted most.
The next day, a little after noon,
the whores woke up and found her
naked at the foot of the tree, her body
nineteen years old again and whole
and very cold, as cold as that December
night the artist tried restoring her.
Whines went up from all the stray dogs in Arles.
The girls admired her and stroked her curls.
Amit Majmudar is a novelist, poet, translator, essayist, and diagnostic nuclear radiologist. Majmudar’s latest books are Godsong: A Verse Translation of the Bhagavad-Gita, with Commentary (Knopf, 2018) and the mythological novel Sitayana (Penguin Random House India, 2019). A historical novel, Soar, is forthcoming in India from Penguin Random House in 2020, as well as a poetry collection in the United States, What He Did in Solitary (Knopf, 2020). His poetry has appeared in The Best of the Best American Poetry 25th Anniversary Edition as well as the Norton Introduction to Literature; his prose has appeared in The O. Henry Prize Stories 2017 and The Best American Essays 2018. He has served as Ohio’s first Poet Laureate. [Photo Credit: Ami Buch Majmudar]