Shankar Narayan

The Times Asks Poets to Describe the Haze Over Seattle

 No one asked me, but I would have said this apocalypse

looks like home.  The laureate

says a grey gullet has swallowed

a molten coin, another calls it powered cadmium

and cirrhosis, dystopian, grotesque, a crematorium.  Yes,


all of these describe my Delhi, and which

of my well-meaning friends will understand

that for a week now I have woken to the warm nostalgia

of exactly the familiar cataclysm that hangs

there every day as I imagine Hiroshima’s


mushroom cloud might have done before dispersing into that dead

silence?  Every sunrise and sunset so brilliantine,

and like the finest earth-to-table restaurant a new recipe 

daily for the fresh soup of toxins, the plastic mill, the pyre

ground, the matchstick factory where every day five year olds blow off


fingers.  There has been no blue

for years.  No, these are not things to be proud

of, and looking up at this brown smudge of a Seattle

sky I know I should look away, feel for evacuees and ashed

homes and bear and deer and antelope, but


in the confusion of entanglements holding my life

together I cannot say what’s catching

in my throat, am I now animal remembering how once I would run

in Delhi, laps around that little brown park

with its mongooses and illegally grazing buffalo, before the haze


pressed in, caught into its creep my blackening lung

and squeezed, or is my animal

brain transported to another home on days outside

those twenty-one per year I am allowed

to be my other self, exhale into just another no-different


anonymous body, or is my animal howling

to dam the forgetting when breathing clean so long feels like birthright,

blowing down all those accidental animals, of whom I

am one, whose water is hauled from Cascadian streams where no one

may so much as dip a grimy toe, whose children will never leach carpet-factory


mercury into their bodies, is my animal screaming

blue murder that if some can’t breathe

then none shall breathe, my asbestos lung rasping

to anyone in this town who will listen— this is how the world

lives.  And there is nothing that cannot burn.