These poems were submitted by Vikas K. Menon as part of the 2015 PEN World Voices Online Anthology.

Vikas K. Menon’s event: Priya’s Shakti: Augmented Reality Comic Book and Exhibition

Raghead Rag

Dysmoored, my hands wandered
that sterile landscape

of black & white keys, searching

for my sound. Like shopping at Sears
for my traitor body:

all overspilt belly & male breast shame

I wore Husky jeans and slouched

at the piano as I did

in front of mirrors, a series of winces.

Where was Monk then? With his jabs & feints
between the staid steps
of equal temperament, like Billie skipping rope

all kneescrape & spit,
every step

precious in broken glass.

If only I could have heard his
capering, his

bumbling & humbled embrace,

flitting among the ruins. Because

back then,

I was a slurred roaring welt with anvil hands.

Trapped in my brown body, I sought cathode-ray
escapes, and found

unslakeable thirsts disguised as gifts.

You remember it don’t you?

When everything
you could not be made you want.

You were young.
I was young.

Did you hear what I did not?

What Monk heard:

our heedless

our fractured & lovely


& molting

scrambling for

any available light.

Brother, Stranger
for Brian Michael Donnelly

In your apartment, family pictures
crowd the shelves, a quiet host.

I open your grandmother’s copy of
Leaves of Grass and a handmade

bookmark falls to the floor.
In her hand is copied What

is the word we wait on,
why should we not speak?

Stranger, don’t pass us by.
She had told you how, as a child,

she had found her father’s
white robe and white hood

in the attic. How a schoolmate,
his skin like dusk, would trail

her home, watching over her,
though both knew not to speak.

In my home, my grandmother spoke
of men covering their mouths

with their hands, those who couldn’t
even be seen. Those, who,

after their first blood, were
trapped behind wooden bars.

Our grandmothers weaved
stories from silences

as I do now: there was
a heat that for years you

could not name, words
that for years I swallowed.

But Walt Whitman’s sweetly other tongue

always sang in us,

my Brother, my Stranger—

even as children, when
all we owned

were our silences.