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From The Lacunae

What will you do with these pearls he has given you?
Can you eat them? Can you grind them into honey
and return them to the water, sweeter than they were?
Your neck is not a graveyard for the sea.
So don’t become a ghost
that scares away
the fish you must catch for your parents. 

(Amarusataka 8.9, Sanskrit)



Who are you going to meet tonight
in the tall grass
where even snakes cannot find each other?

Your bare feet
will be the safest part of you.

(Gathasaptasati 10.95, Prakrit)



I want to boast
around you, like a horse rearing straight up
in the stars.

But I have nothing to say.
Like the night
when the moon is out.

(Amarusataka 1.12, Sanskrit)



My tigers have left me.
I wake too late in the day,
after a heavy rain
has played its notes on my roof.
I don’t even tie them to anything.

(Gathasaptasati 18.46, Prakrit)



Between kisses the air is quiet,
like trees after a snowfall. Talking softly, after,
a branch is shaken loose.

(Gathasaptasati 7.38, Prakrit)



The moon has gone farming at night
in the soil of your dreams. Tall trees
are growing there, for you to climb,
and the flower I gave you during the day
can barely break through the ground.

(Amarusataka 30, Sanskrit)



You disappear beside me in a forest. Walking, I cannot hear
the moment when fewer leaves are crushed, and I speak to you
as if it made no difference that the forest listened in your place.

For you I learned
that what is near us is never what is near us.

(Amarusataka 30, Sanskrit)



Do not let the thought of her fill your nights
and the stars
pieces of her.

we will walk through the streets, and find a table
that doesn’t even look like her.


(Amarusataka 32.2, Sanskrit)



Like wooden planks from a broken ship
dashed against great stones,
my words you made into a spectacle
for the whole village to attend. I only meant to tell you
I love another.

(Amarusataka 30, Sanskrit)



Your lips are as full as the wound
guarded in battle. Your skin is the color of my eyelids
when the sun passes through.
The sea takes my shape as I float in it,
your hair falls all around you, like the paths of gravity
made visible.

(Amarusataka 30, Sanskrit)



The wave has come to collect the little ports on the coast
but it will take forever, since we are laughing.

Near the twilight the dust settles in a cavern above the rocks,
and a shawl conceals the purpose of the first heat.

The air is filled with feathers, and our skin
with shadows. Shall I say they are still?

(Amarusataka 1.12, Sanskrit)

These texts are imagined translations of poems that do not otherwise exist. They are intended to fill invented or actual lacunae in manuscripts of first- to eighth-century CE classical Indian poetry (Amarusataka, originally in Sanskrit; Kuruntokai, originally in Old Tamil; and Gathasaptasati, originally in Maharastri Prakrit). 

The excerpts above are from Daniel Nadler’s longer project The Lacunae; other selections from that work are forthcoming in Lana Turner and Boston Review. Nadler is the CEO of Kensho, a Google Ventures-backed technology company; the director of research for financial technology at Stanford University’s Global Projects Center; a PhD Candidate at Harvard University; a visiting scholar at the United States Federal Reserve; and the financial technology columnist for Institutional Investor. His research and work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Financial Times, and CNN.