Versions of the Undefinable Other


“Versions of the Undefinable Other” by Shannan Mann was awarded second place in the 2022 Love & Eros Prize, selected by Carl Phillips. We’re honored to share this dynamic poem.

“This poem, though laid out as a list of versions, feels more like a fever dream meditation—not so much about as around ideas of intimacy, divinity, the carnal as divine, the elusiveness of satisfaction, the irresistibility of the elusive. Vulnerability as a form of holiness.”  —Carl Phillips, guest judge


Versions of the Undefinable Other

  1. Holding you is like holding water.
  2. Krishna, in the Bhagavad-gita, defines kama as a fire that engulfs each of the body’s senses.
  3. Ka: to desire
  4. Ma: to create.
  5. Last week, I walked across a bridge and stopped by a bundle of worms flowering in the grass after rain. They looked blue under the noon sun. Wind whipped against the spirals on their shoestring bodies. I wondered if it is true — if cutting a worm in half will create a new worm, a third creature, othered from the worm, from my hands — a spindle of summer ash blown out like glass into the air.
  6. To engulf is to destroy.
  7. Thomas Aquinas revealed four ways to overcome lust. The fourth is essentially to keep yourself busy.
  8. Somewhere, a switchblade kisses a thorax. A hand, lonely as a hyoid bone, scaffolds an arm. Voice: an arroyo. Water: missing child. A mouth tears a piece of raw liver, the frozen blood like red glaciers on the alps of your ribcage. Where is the animal, asks his faceless voice.
  9. Parasmani Devi was the last lover of the black laughing Lord of the Universe. She danced in the Balisahi of the Jagannath Mandir before Garuda, the gold bird carrier of Vishnu. She would lullaby the deities to sleep with songs of divine lust from the vault of Jayadev Gosvami: the Gita-govinda.
  10. vasati vipina-vitāne tyajati lalita-dhāma || luṭhati dharaṇi-śayane bahu vilapati tava nāma || tava virahe…
  11. Renouncing his marble palace of sapphires that could rival moonshine, Krishna now resides in the depths of the forest, where no light reaches. || He rolls on a bed of dirt and stones, uttering your name — Radha — over and over. || This separation from you…
  12. I am not trying to remain in illusion. I accept myself as a small creature, a turtle perhaps, trying to crawl through the tangerine riverlight. The day has worn a robe of silence. Outside, the sky canaries through the seasons. I am left with echoes of a ticking clock blowing through my bones.
  13. Shiva, the Immortal Lord of Dance, the Lord of Serpents and Skulls, the Supreme Ash-Smeared God, the Blue Tombstone Below Kali’s Soles, I offer you my obeisance.
  14. Shiva, anger lengthening through his eyes, beheaded and cindered the head of Kamadeva, the god of lust.
  15. The small god teetered in the cold galaxy like the skeleton of a star.
  16. Lord, I am frothing at the mouth. Poison has possessed my belly. My lungs are a screen of smoke and bile. I am left songless, as naked as a temple in wartime, as a ghost among believers. Dispel my doom. Or behead me, too.
  17. Holding you is like holding water. Where are you in the desert? Where is water? I see swirls of flowing flares in the distant horizon. My crown of solitude. My blood is thick and hot with your memory. The ocean is a rumour around here. Tell me the soft truth, beloved. When will you come back?
  18. Where are you now?
  19. Holding you is like drinking water.
  20. Holding you is like watering the arid ginger threads of the cracked and beaten earth of July.
  21. Even with a stillborn, the woman becomes a mother.
  22. Lover, hold her hand. Fingers of water. She is as cool and round as rainfall through sunlight.
  23. Here, a sheaf of prayers. Here, a mala of your name. Here, the ax to scrape the sin from my limbs.
  24. No man need forgive me.
  25. I kiss azaleas. I kiss your feet. I live in the space between burn and salve.
  26. But the constant desert.
  27. Rilke, who in his infinite wisdom, said we only need love to soon never need love, was not kneeling like us.



Shannan Mann