Jungle Book

Once as we scavenged in the jungle I asked my friend
about sadness. "How will I know when it comes?"
He was up on his haunches, pulling at a leafy branch

I couldn't reach. "First learn about jackfruit," he said,
handing me a ripe one. It smelled heavy & delicate,
like my friend. "Break it. What do you see?"

"Only these seeds," I said, "& all exceedingly small."
My friend scratched where the trap had bitten him years ago,
& a steady stream of green ants carried a moth wing

across the footpath. It passed like a sail or a fin.
"Break one," he said. "Now what do you see?"
I split open a seed with the edge of my thumbnail,

cupped it in the palms of my hands & squinted
under the smoky light slanting downward
through the treetops. There was a very small tree

folded up inside, with one pale leaf on a stem
the length of an eyelash. It sprang to life
& put out hundreds of jackfruit blossoms all at once

but when I started to speak they blew everywhere.

Srikanth Reddy
Srikanth Reddy’s awards include fellowships from the Whiting Foundation, the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, and the Mellon Foundation. His poems have appeared in the anthologies Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation (2004) and Isn’t It Romantic: 100 Love Poems by Younger American Poets (2004).

Reddy is the literacy director for the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Trust in Bhimavaram, Andhra Pradesh, India. He teaches in the creative writing program at the University of Chicago.

He earned an AB from Harvard College, an MFA in creative writing from the University of Iowa, and a PhD in English literature from Harvard University.
Note: The poet explores ideas of displacement and unbelonging, while subtly complicating the idea of the simple-minded, "primitive" Indian as depicted in Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book.