I flung a coin into the bowl the beggar kept beside him
while he raised both hands to explain they once had fingers.
I am not certain in whose name I had done it.
I pretended I did not hear the doorbell a man with matted hair
and drums slung on shoulders rung for I knew he wanted a rupee
or two. I am not certain how I felt when I saw him walk away
to open my neighbor’s gate.
I sing and offer spiritual advice to calloused men and women
who live and die by a river that dispenses sand and stone
and dismal hope every week outside a city that has decided
to leave the poor behind. I am not certain
how much I really love them.
I watch structures rise in gardens where the outcasts once collected
tealeaves before they sent the police to chase them away. The city is changing,
suburbs metamorphosing, but love, I am not certain I want to dine
in that restaurant serving global cuisine there.
I watch two madwomen strolling daily on highway of jerks
and bus drivers ignorant of mercy, one lost in an alternative world
and ropes she had tied around her shoulders, the other with eyes
I could not interpret and tattered blouse that could not contain
a perfect breast below a neck ravaged by a disease I knew nothing about.
I searched my heart and I am not certain whether I found compassion
or coldness there.
Gaudy eunuchs slap my face inside trains and threaten to lift their saris
if I refuse to give in to their extortion. I rush to hide for centuries
in reeking toilets and emerge to find shelter in the wings of a prayer
my love prays for me. She holds me in her arms, my strong lover, while
disembarking passengers pull their bags to the door of the slowing train.
It happened sometime in spring this year, before the Indian sun began
its ritual of anger, before floodwaters of dirt and disease overran huts
in low lying plains. Last week, the eunuchs returned to a train
that was bringing me home, yanking bed sheet, clapping hands,
thickly made-up, stubble showing. The nausea returns and I am not certain
I want to forgive them.
I heard a wise man say he’s made a declaration of dependence on God.
I flirt with darkness and drink turncoat wine, dragging a cart of tears
along the way. After all these years of knowing you, I am not certain
I know what dependence really is.
Image courtesy: http://kirikou.com/b_w/india/gente/gente17.htm
This poem also appears in the e-book Sleepless that Tim Wallis and I brought out last year. Check it out in http://www.speekeezee.com/shop/sleepless .