Reading: Breaded Fish by A.K. Ramanujan

The Indian poet A. K. Ramanujan (1929-1993) wrote in English and Kannada, a rich language of South India. He considered himself to be the hyphen in “Indo-American” and was a respected teacher and a wonderful poet, as you can see here, that in my imagination has a specific Indian ring to it:

Breaded Fish

Specially for me, she had some breaded
fish; even thrust a blunt-headed
smelt into my mouth;
and looked hurt when I could
neither sit nor eat, as a hood
of memory like a coil on a heath
opened in my eyes: a dark half-naked
length of woman, dead
on the beach in a yard of cloth,
dry, rolled by the ebb, breaded
by the grained indifference of sand. I headed
for the shore, my heart beating in my mouth.

A smelt is a small cold-water silvery fish; migrate between salt and fresh water (is that significant?) When I hear fish ‘n chips I think of Britain, Ramanujan’s former colonizer. Who was making the breaded fish for him? It could be a fishmonger, it could be his mother. And which memory distracts him from eating? The dead woman (length of woman is poetically secure) on the beach, looking like a breaded mermaid. What is gained by the crude analogy between the breaded fish and the dead woman? Was she molested and left on the beach? And when I remember, why haven’t I notified the police? Why was I at the fish restaurant? Or perhaps the memory is years old and brought up by the breaded fish, just like a face and a song brought up the memory of terrible events in Netflix’ recent series Sinner. Is the lyrical I the perpetrator, or a witness?

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