Poem of the Week | April 29, 2019

This week we are delighted to present “I Ride Upon a Tiger,” a new poem by Kirun Kapur.

Kirun Kapur is the winner of the Arts & Letters Rumi Prize in Poetry and the Antivenom Poetry Award for her first book, Visiting Indira Gandhi’s Palmist (Elixir Press, 2015). Her second book, Women in the Waiting Room, was a finalist for the National Poetry Series and is forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press (2020). Her work has appeared in AGNI, Poetry International, FIELD, Prairie Schooner, Ploughshares and many other journals. She serves as Poetry Editor at The Drum Literary Magazine and currently teaches at Amherst College. Kapur was recently a finalist for our 2018 Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize for Poetry.

I Ride Upon a Tiger,

my bones are made of whales,
and when whales die, their songs.

My eyes are pits
of mangos, scraped clean of sweet.

From my feet plunge fifty streams—
the rush, the cold

exposes underworlds of fear.

Four stomachs cannot explain my hungers.
I have devoured myself. I tread upon my loves.

I have been strung with a necklace
of hummingbirds, my hair

in braids, my braids are tongues.
Atop my head, a crown of forty

languages, spoken all at once.

My breastplates gleam and thrum,
two armies, marching on. You,

who extracts the marrow and the light.
You, who sucks the sun and leaves

the bone eroded colder—Demon, disease,

dear fated one. Do you hear? I will come
to you on the back of a tiger.


Author’s Note

Years ago, I saw a tiger in a game preserve in India. I’d been driving down a jungle road, when, suddenly, there she was, lying in tall grass, sunning herself on a bluff. Her size, her suddenness, the lush gloss of her coat, the way she radiated well-being and power have never left me. Sometimes, when I’m falling asleep at night, I see her again, just for a second. In Hindu mythology, the goddess Durga is often pictured with a tiger. As a child, my aunt would sometimes take me to the temple on Friday, Durga’s day, to say a prayer. I was awed by both lady and beast. This poem began with that mix of myth, memory and dream. I wrote it at a time when I found myself in circumstances I couldn’t avoid or control–it’s an effort to summon an interior ferocity and majesty. I suppose I wanted to imagine a way to ride right down the throat of fear.