DR. RAVI SHANKAR is a Pushcart prize-winning poet, translator and professor who has published 15 books, including W.W. Norton's “Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia & Beyond” and “The Many Uses of Mint”. He has appeared in print, radio and TV in The New York Times, NPR, BBC and the PBS Newshour. He has won awards to the Corporation of Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony, fellowships from the Rhode Island Counsel on the Arts, and recently finished his PhD from the University of Sydney. His memoir “Correctional” is forthcoming in 2021.
The Weight of Thought

Atop the snow-tinged massif of Monte Rosa,
some 9,000 feet above sea-level, there’s a lab
named for Angelo Mosso, a 19th century Italian
physiologist who invented a machine based
on a simple premise: all brains need more
blood the harder they work; he felt it possible
to measure the rate, even map it on the page,
like a topographer using elevation contour
lines to show the depth of the ocean bottom,
the height and steepness of mountain ranges.

Non parlo italiano but I do know the Nebbiolo
grape and Marcello Mastroianni taking a dip
in the Trevi Fountain in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita
and I know Satan, still buried up to his waist
and bat-wings from the impact of his comet
plummet to the lowest circle of hell in Dante’s
description from the last Canto of the Inferno.
If he was truly once as beautiful as he is ugly now,
when he raised his brows against his Maker,
well is it said that from him proceeds all grieving.

I’d like to keep you on my desk like a chunk
of red coral for a paperweight. You would feel
so smooth, cool and tonic against my forehead.
When we die, rather than float from our bodies
to the Bardo, or getting ferried off to Limbo,
we each just shrink into the superdense gem-
stone essence of our lives, our every choice
crystallized as inclusions. Then we live out
our afterlives on display in an intergalactic fossil
and mineral shop at the dusty edge of time.

Utter the mantra of pons and medulla, cerebrum
and occipital lobe, cingulate cortices and fossa.
Remove the slow linear drifts prior to the fast
Fourier transform, but don’t smooth out the data.
Serve it up in its raw form, neuronal stimulation
uncoupled from other signals such as respiration.
Āścarya in Sanskrit means miraculous; the name
Monte Rosa comes from an Aostian patois word
roëse, or “glacier.” Each mark that presses down
from behind my eyes shapes a singular luminosity.

From Mars the Earth Looks Red

Under the seams runs the pain—
I think that’s the autobiography of red,
Anne Carson, but being too lazy to fact-

check, I declare the allusion with confidence
nonetheless, because so much of truth
is in the telling like (and unlike) how much

of our eating is in the smelling or how little
of our movement is in our dwelling.
In this cortex color-by-numbers use beet-

root red…no firehouse…no rubicund…no,
the limitations of language writ large mean
no shade of syllables will flame ochre

as mineral hematite, as carmine as ground
up cochineal bugs, as definitive as a stop sign.
Mental magma bubbling up fissures of tissue

to issue heat, light, misunderstanding.
Seen from inside the skull, we are all the same
(and different) because there’s no veil of skin,

no history to distract us from the perpetual
motion machine. Until lub dub stops. Red
light / flat line / floating like a helium balloon

above the top of your skull, looking down
at yourself thinking again about how under
the pain run the seams. No, wait, the seams

run the pain. Rising lava underneath wobbly
beams distracted by too excitable tulips
imported from a country a lifetime away

from health. What’s red without Sylvia
Plath? Without Madame Monet in a Japanese
kimono? Without Mark Rothko, No. 301?

They are all dead now, but their chili pepper
flames burn on and sizzle the brainpan
with layer upon layer of connotation,

from the archetypal Paleolithic bison, 
to Chairman Lenin in Andy Warhol’s
screen print and inside a discarded tampon—

not to be menstrual flow but its meaning,
not to be the Russian Bolshevik Revolution
but a pop icon, not to be the trace of a hunt,

but to be the hunt for whatever trace, bones 
and ciphers our ancestors left on cave walls
to help us decipher our own topographies.