"Conscientious Objector," "Empathy and Skepticism," and "Smolder"

Conscientious Objector

I shall not unclench these fists

if doing so means carrying destruction.

I have never close another’s eyes,

cut the twine that tethers him


to traditions and his native land.

I will not start today, and not tomorrow.

I’d sooner stand, your barrel to my ear,

than pull the pin on avaricious bloodshed.


True valor, platinum in purity,

does not cede its ground.

I toss your rifles on the fire,

stare down the tanks that crunch this cobblestone square.



Empathy and Skepticism (erasure after Anthony Walton’s “Dissidence”)

You have to be the pain,
             imagine loneliness,
             learn indifference to rain,
welcome noise like silence,
             sleep, trucks careening,
whines and sirens mapping
             splintered intervals, unafraid
             of dissonance, of resolution.
             with the path you climb, the journey.
             all you hear.



Smolder (after Claude McKay’s “The White House”)

From this broken goblet, I imbibe the sweet sap of your hate.
All men created equal- an ignored truth inviolate.
Calmly, I simmer my solitary discontent
While neighbors look askance, wizened skins draped on rigid suspicions, unbent.
Not by content of character shall I be judged, but by my face.
Calm, circumspect relatives, smelling of camphor, speak of grace.
Their singsong words resonate. I try to see the faint tracks of their feet
up and down the trash-strewn alleys, the overflowing street
where the crowds swell, push shoulders, elbows, squeeze through the narrow pass,
the hubbub interrupted by shrill, sharp splintering of glass
upon dispassionate cement at lunch hour.
I shall not fabricate a novel image, better to stay raw
as you shed my blood, cut sinew, take my power,
but know this: I will defy your arcane vestiges of law.



Mukund Gnanadesikan

Mukund Gnanadesikan is the author of the novel Errors of Omission (Adelaide Books, 2020) as well as the upcoming chapbook Petit Morts: Meditations on Love and Death (Finishing Line Press). By day he practices medicine in California and advocates for human rights causes.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Thursday, November 17, 2022 - 22:07