Winter in a Whole Other Place   Monday, December 22, 2014

I return this week to my Dispatches series. The last piece I posted last week was number 29  in the series. I begin this week with number 30. I don't know what anyone who has not read the first 29 will make of these continuing pieces. In the briefest summary possible, I can just say that the earth has been overtaken by mysterious invaders. The pieces are a first person account,  presented in short vignettes, of a survivor, from the beginning  of the war. At this point, humans have pretty clearly lost the war and the narrator is struggling, surviving as he can.

Nothing unique in the concept, I'm hoping I am presenting  a new approach to it. Anyone interested who might not have read the first 29 pieces can do so by going back to the previous two  "Here and Now" posts, Winter in the Hills and Winter in the Hills II.

I will devote the first "Here and Now" post in the new year to a complete presentation of the series. I have no plans at the moment to try to publish the series beyond that post, making it will be the first, and most likely, only presentation of the whole series.

Update: Today,  December, 18 - I just finished the series, 48 pieces on 48 pages.

Instead of anthology this week, I'm going feature poet Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. The poems are from her book Black Candle, sub-titled "Poems About Women from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh." The book was  by CALYX Books, originally published 1991, my version, a second edition from 2000.
An Indian-American, the poet and author was born in 1956 and is Professor of Writing in the University of Houston creative  writing program. I had never heard of her until I picked up her book at a half-priced bookstore and I suspect most "Here and Now" readers haven't either. Turns out, I  like her very much.

One of the pleasures of doing "Here and Now" weekly is the many fine poets I find that I never knew about before.

And, as usual, there are poets from my library.

I am straggler...

Chita Banejee Divakaruni 
The Room

I am blazing a path... 

e.e. cummings

A child...

Chita Banejee Divakaruni 
Bengal Night

I cannot decide...

Bharat Shekhar
City'ing Ducks
Partition Peshawar, 1984, Gugart Gaia

We approach the edge of the forest...

Chita Banejee Divakaruni     
My Mother Tells Me a Story

Boy and I have traveled...

Verses from Naked Song

We are climbing the steep rock face...

 Chita Banejee Divakaruni 
 The Makers of Chili Paste

We  are on the last downward leg...

Stephen Dunn

Boy saved me...  

Chita Banejee Divakaruni 
In the Hinglaj Desert  

It is spring again...

Vandana Khanna

For hours I sit alone under a tree...

Chita Banejee Divakaruni 
Living Underground: Dacca 1971

I am the path I walk...

Wislawa Szymborska

I am following along a river along a seemingly endless prairie...

Chita Banejee Divakaruni 
Family Photo in Black and White

I stay with the old man through three seasons

Boris Pastenak
From Theme and Variations

Before he died the old man and I talked far into the night...

Chita Banejee Divakaruni 
Song of the Fisher Wife

If this was a story in one of those magazines... 




from Dispatches

I am a straggler...

    I am a straggler, not part of the few remaining groups that continue  the  fight. they are easier targets for the Floaters, any congregation of my kind are easier targets.

    So I avoid my kind, remain a passing, solitary shadow, hard to find, hard to see.

    I am a cockroach, living in the dark corners of this Earth I used to call  home skittering away under the light.

First by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni from her book, Black Candle.

The Room

I have walked this corridor so many times
I no longer notice
the gouged floorboards, the brown light
washing the peeling walls, the stale
childhood off curried cabbage.

I am looking for the door,
the one whose the striated know
matches perfectly the lines of my palm,
which opens without a sound
into a room with milk-blue walls.

On the sill, a brass bowl
of gardenias in water.  Peacocks
spread silk feathers against cushions.
The white cockatoo on its stand
knows my name. Sun filters
through the sari of a woman
who rises toward me. I am caught
by the lines of her bones, the fine
lighted hairs on her held-out arms,
your eyes, mother, in her mouthless face.

from Dispatches.

I am blazing a path...

    I am  blazing a path through  thick brush under dense forest cover.  Roads and pathways already established by past travel are too dangerous, too  easy to be seen.

    I have been hiking through this forest for three weeks now, walking during the night,sleeping at night
without a fire that might be seen from overhead. There is game and I have become a very good  trapper so I have eaten well, considering, better probably than many who still survive. The taste ofraw mean was hard at first, and hard to keep down, but hunger makes savages of us all, pushing us back to  our long-ago pre-fire ancestors and distant cousins.

    As I walk, I hear a noise overhead,  something heavier than a bird, something fearsome I am afraid that might leap down on me.

    I  walk back a step or two and peer  through the leafy branches.

    A  child straddles a high branch, A boy, a girl, caked with mud and grime, it's hard to tell - twelve years old,  maybe,,  also  hard to tell. Twelve years old, childhood, obsolete concepts after the past four years.

   Whatever this child, however old, boy or  girl, or maybe in this world, neither, boys/girls,another obsolete concept. he or she is bound to be wild as any animal in these  woods.

    And possibly just as dangerous.

 Here's some fun by e. e. cummings, from is 5, originally published in 1926, reissued many times until my edition from 1996.


it is winter a moon in the afternoon
and warm air turning into January darkness up
through which sprouting gently,the cathedral
leans its dreamy spine against the thick sunset

i perceive in front of our lady a ring of people
a brittle swoon of centrifugally expecting
faces clumsily which devours a man,three  cats,
five white mice,and a baboon.

O a monkey with a sharp face waddling carefully
the length of this padded pole;a monkey attached
by a chain securely to this always talking
individual,mysterious witty hatless.

Cats which move smoothly from neck to neck of bottles,cats
smoothly willowing out and in between bottles,who step smoothly
and rapidly along this pole over five squirming
mice;or leap through hoops of fire,creating smoothness.

People stare, the drunker applaud
while twilight takes the sting out of the vermilion
jacket of nodding hairy Jacqueline who is given a mouse
to hold lovingly,

our lady what do you think of this?     Do your fingers and
your  arms tremble remembering something squirming fragile
and which had been presented unto you by mystery?
...the cathedral recedes into weather without answering

from Dispatches

A child...

    A child high in a  tree  over my head.


    Watching me with feral eyes...

     I don't know what to do.

Here's another by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.

Bengal Night

When foxes sing  out behind
the bamboo grove and cranes'  wings
whip the black air white,
the child stops  her games
and fills a bucket at the pump
and washes. Water flows through
her hot fingers like moonlight,
leaching away the salt.
She plunges her face into it,
opening her mouth
to its cool, rusty taste.
On the verandah the aunt
cleans the lanterns, polishing
narrow chimney-glasses with a blue rag.
The child waits, breathing in
the kerosene smell.The aunt lights
the first lantern. The child sets out
to bring he grandfather home.

One lighten lantern into the night
swings great curved shadows on a path
red as the messy hibiscus on every side
where the child dreams green whiplash snakes
hanging like tendrils, their jeweled eyes.
The claws of night lizards
skitter over rocks. Vapors rise
from the pocked  phosphorus skin
of the mosquito swamp.Water insects
cry into the hearts of elephant-ears.

The child sets down the lantern,
its oval shell of light,
throws out her arms and whirls
around and around  in the blue
breathless air. Her skirt
flares hibiscus-red to touch
the world. In the wheeling
sky, star-studded bats hang
motionless of great leather wings.

from Dispatches

I cannot  decide...
    I cannot decide.

    Unwilling to kill the boy, unwilling to embrace him, I let  him follow behind, his wild, hungry eyes all the time on my back.

    I  know a choice will have to be made. I hope he will do something to help me decide.

 Next, I have two poems by poet-friend and free-lance writer from India, Bharat Shekhar.

Even though it doesn't seem I have the knowledge to understand the context, the second poem grabbed my attention because while in the military I spent almost a year (mid-1968 to mid-1969) in Peshawar. Also, whatever the connection the text to title, I think it's a very good poem.

City'ing Ducks

As  our shadows walk us,
nostrils crawl out
of eye sockets,
to become
lizards that sniff the air,
and inhale in fetid delight,
the comodo breath
of the city.

Night has to be smuggled in here.
For on the border between light and dark,
thousands of watchtowers have been installed,
who, at the first hint of  evening's mellow mingling,
switch substitute-sun beacons to arrest the entry
of all things indistinct and thus inherently suspicious.

The day's dominion
describes us,
de-scribes us,
for in the ever presence of light
pens  halt  their drams
and start composing memos.

The severity of seasons
severs the link in-between,
and like chameleons,
we mimic their heat and cold,
in bi-polar swings
of pressure explosions and deep freezes
that leave no trace for each other.

Partition Peshawar, 1984,Gujarat, Gaia

As the age of gods
approaches annihilation,
it  passes its divinity baton
to humans,
who, in any case
had built the gods
in their own image,
while believing
that the gods
had built
in their

And in this error of mirrors,
where the self comes to believe
it is its own reflection,
we kill and main,
in words, deeds
indeed words-
create craters in the name
of causes and creators
whose creators and causes we ARE.

from Dispatches

We approach the edge of the forest...

    We approach the edge of the forest, toward a  wide meadow, the results of a meteor that crashed here millions of years  ago, flattening everything was below it, burning away all signs of  life around it.

    But that  was then, cataclysm at the long-ago moment of hellfire.Now the soft  meadow is green with grass, yellow with waist-high  sunflowers. A herd of elk graze in the peace of this high pasture.

   All is quiet; I imagine I can  hear birds;  the slobber cud-chewing of the elk.

   And  then the keening sound of a Floater approaching, I crab-scuttle back under the trees, the boy crouching at my back, huddled  against me.

    The Floater makes its slow jellyfish-like glide  over the meadow, blasts the meadow, scorches the grass and sunflowers, incinerates the elk, turns them into smoking hulks of burned meat. The  boy cries and I weep with him.

    The Floater flies on,  no reason for this destruction, this murder of innocents,except to practice, like when I was a child, shooting tin cans with my BB gun. So few of my kind left to kill they must use any animal that moves to maintain their  deadly skills.

    The boy and I remain where we are, huddled in the trees, another fire-less  night.

    In the morning,when we are sure the Floater has moved on, we walk cautiously into the pasture. With
my stone knife, we take as much meat as we can carry.

    Neither of us has yet spoken. I've no reason to believe he is able.

Back again to Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.

My Mother Tells Me a Story

First you were
big as a mustard seed,
sputtering light,
then a star apple, tart-shining,
a persimmon
with the blood's own glow,
a pomelo, green and growing
as breath.

The large as the musk melons
behind eldest cousin's house,
you pushed against  my heartbeat,
the invisible frost mark of your sex
already on you.

It was Diwali night in my father's house,
everywhere firecrackers,
lamps and demons.
I felt the water explode
in me like a fear.
I screamed for your grandmother,
all  the lights went blue.
The ayah was waiting with the knife.
The women chanted loud
to keep the demons away.
The hours flowed  out of me,
they were bright and sharp as glass.
They drained out of me,
pale and flickering.
When they were all gone,
someone put your on my breasts.
they covered us with a yellow quilt
for luck,
they called the men.

My father came to see me,
my three brothers came,
they tucked coins into your fists,
they said you had my eyes.

No  one could  find your father.

For days afterward the house
would smell of blood
like the birth rags burning.

from Dispatches

Boy and I have traveled....

    Boy and I have traveled together now  through the passing of six moons. I do not know and do not know his  name. Nor does he seem  interested in mine.

    Talk between us is rare, but I have learned he was  apparently the child of a survivalist group before the Floaters came, and because of that he is  much more adept at woodcraft  than I. For the years recently past, I  have survived mostly on plants I found and pulled along the way, with occasional meat from small animals I have trapped as I passed, mostly those slower  than  me, like possum. As I have passed through the ruins of small towns I have found quite easy to catch, as they have grown slow, stupid and hungry in the absence of people and their garbage.

    But it is still mostly vegetation I have survived on,without knowing hardly anything about what was safe to eat and what was not. Many nights I  have lain in misery from a wrong choice.

    Boy,whatever else his other value, has  saved me from such nights, suffering now only rarely from the  shits.

    For that, at least,  I am glad I did not kill him.

 Next from my library, verses of  Lalla (aka Lalleshwari) translated by Coleman Barks and taken from the collection Naked Stone, published in 1992 by Maypop Books.

Lalla, who lived  from 1320 to1392, was a mystic of the Kashmiri Shaivite sect. She was creator of mystic  poetry called vatsun, literally "speech." Her verses are the  earliest  known compositions in the Kashmiri language and, as inspiration for  some of the later Sufis, an important part of the history of Kashmiri literature.

I have chosen several verses from the book at random.

That one is blessed and at peace
who doesn't hope, to whom
desire makes no more loans.

Nothing coming, nothing  owed.


Just for a moment, flowers appear
on the empty, nearly-spring tree.

Just for a second, wind
through the wild thicket thorns.


You are the sky and the ground.
You alone the day, the night air.
You are all things born into being.

Also, these flower offerings
that someone brought.


I saw a wise man dying of starvation.

Leaves fall in the slightest
wind in December.

And  I saw a wealthy man beating his cook
for some mistake with the spices.

Since then, I, Lalla, have been waiting
for my love of this place to leave me.


The soul, like the moon
is new, and always new again.

And I have seen the ocean
continuously creating.

Since I scoured my mind
and  my body, I too,  Lalla
am new, each moment  new.

My teacher told me one thing,
Live in the soul.

When that was so,
I began to go naked
and dance.


Wear just enough clothes to  keep warm.
Eat only enough to stop the hunger pang.

As as  for your mind, let it work
to recognize who your are,
and the Absolute, and that
this body will become food
for the forest  crows.


Dance, Lalla, with nothing on
but air. Sing, Lalla,
wearing the sky.

Look at this glowing day! What  clothes
could be so beautiful, or
more sacred?

from Dispatches

We are climbing the steep rock face...

    We are climbing the steep rock face of a bald dome mountain, rising  alone, some kind off geologic aberration in the middle of very thick, snake-infested brush for miles around, cactus and thorn trees making passage through difficult and prickly.

   It was my decision to go over the dome, rather than through the brush.

   Boy doesn't  like it and I have come to agree with him.The climb is hard than I though it would be the two of us on this bare rocky surface are like flies waiting to be swatted. After several years, the two of hiding in deep forest, beneath trees and anything else that could shield us from patrolling Floaters overhead it is gut-twisting to be so exposed. But once started I don't want to go back, no matter how bad the idea was to begin.

    It's the snakes overrunning the brush I most don't want to face.

    But, halfway up the dome, we have seen of evidence of Floater on the horizon - it could be Fifty Cycle considers the clearing of this region is complete and no longer thinks there is a need to patrol.

    Halfway up the dome, we are beginning to feel safe.

Here is Chitra Banerjee Divakarui with another poem.

The Makers of Chili Paste

The old fort on the hill
is now a chili factory
and in it, we
the women,
saris tied over nose and mourn
to keep out the burning.

On the bare brown ground
the chilies are fierce hills
pushing into
the sky's blue.Their scarlet
sears out sleep.
We pound them into powder
red-acrid as the mark
on our foreheads.

All day the great wood pestles
rise and fall,
our heartbeat. Red
spurts into the air,  flecks our arms
like grains of dry blood.
The color will never
leave our skins.

We are not  like the others
in the village below,
glancing bright black
at men
when they go to the well for water.
Our red hands burn like lanterns
throughout solitary nights.
We will never
lie breathless
under  the weight of thrusting me,
birth bloody children.

We are the makers of chili  paste.
Through our fingers
the mustard oil seeps
a heavy melted gold. In it
chili  flecks swirl and drown.
We mix  in secret spices,
magic herbs,
seal it in glowing jars
to send throughout the land.

All who  taste our chilies
must dram  of us,
women with eyes like rubies,
hair like meteor showers.
In their sleep forever
our breath will blaze
like hills of chilies
against a falling sun.

from Dispatches

We are on the last downward leg...

    We are on the last downward leg of the granite dome, when we the familiar keening. As a Floater begins to edge over the mountain's crest. Boy and  I jump into a nearby crevice in the rock.

    With our heads down, we stand  on a narrow  ledge beneath the surface, barely wide enough for our feet to catch hold.

    Boy's grip is secure, but the part of the ledge I am  on crumbles and I slip  the rest of the way down the crevice, into a cave, a winter den for snakes of all kinds,  draped around the cave on small  outcroppings, snakes entangled like twisted twine sleep  in piles on the floor. The edge of my foot touches one and I hear the quiet button-whisper of a somnolent rattlesnake. I stand petrified, afraid to move, with no place to move  to  without stepping on a snake in the dark.

    Boy sees me from his hold at the top and  sees the snakes around me. Slowly he leggins to descend into the cave, carefully and gently picking sleeping snakes off the outcroppings where the nest and placing  them somewhere they will not be in my way. Slowly, as I sweat, he clears a path for me to climb again to the top. The Floater is gone but it makes no difference to me, ready in a heartbeat to take  a Floater over a cave of sleeping snakes.

    Into the fresh, cool air,  I dance and scream, my cheeks puffed, blowing all the air in my lungs, trying to purge forever the smell of a hundred snakes sleeping.

    Even doing the best I can, I don't think I'll ever clear the smell.

Next, a poem by Stephen Dunn. The poem is from his book, Loosestrife, published in 1996 by W.W. Norton.

Dune, born in 1939, is the author of 15 collections of poetry. He won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 2001 and received an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.


Yesterday, for a long while,
the early morning sunlight
in the trees was sufficient,
replaced by a hello
from a long-limbed woman
pedaling her bike,
whereupon the wind came up,
dispersing rhe mosquitoes.
Blessings, all.
I'd come so far, it seemed,
happily looking for so little.

But then I saw a cow in a room
looking at  the painting of a cow
in a field - all  of which
was a painting itself -
and I  felt I'd been invited
into the actual, someplace
between the real and the real.

The trees, now, are  trees
I'm seeing myself seeing.
I'll  always deny that I kissed her.
I  was just whispering into her mouth.

from Dispatches

Boy saved me from the cave and the snakes...

    Boy saved me from the cave and the snakes, as he has continued to save me through  this winter,  even colder and longer than the last one.

    We huddle together by a fire he builds and I know that had it not been for his skills at survival this is the winter that would have finally killed me.

Back again to this week's featured poet, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, with another poem from her book, Black Candle.

In the Hinglaj Desert

Sand blows, coarse camel
hair against a blistered thigh.
Over the dry lake bed, heat
walls and wavers. Shrunken,
lizard-skinned, the old man
leans on his shovel. Each day
he digs in the same spot.  The
hole is not deep. Each night
the Lu wind rolls the grains
back. His face is desert-
colored, his eyes flat as the
yellow horizon. Under  the
lake bed, he says, lie the girl-
children, curled like fists.
When the water started go-
ing, they were given to the
goddess. Still the lake dried
up. The people who did not
die went to the city. The
children are not far, he as-
sures me. On windless nights
he hears their voice trickling
up like light. Soon he will
reach them, the clean, bright
arcs of jaw  bone, the amaz-
ing white hollows of the 
sockets,the slivered ribs fused
into wings  colored like rain.

from Dispatches

It is spring again...

    It is spring again and Boy and I are again traversing  rolling, wooded hells.

    There is much Floater activity in this region and we cannot see anything that suggests what they are doing and why they are here, the same question, why are they here, that perplexed us in the beginning and has not been answered since. They are the same mystery, the same existential threat they have been since the first on appeared in our skies.

    We keep our heads down, trying to stay unnoticed, like insects under a log.

    I consider the boy and the number of times it has been his strength and mastery of the elements of survival that has saved us.

    He is about sixteen years old now, the age I was when the human extermination began. War was new to me;  for him, war has been the most important constant element of his life for all of his  life.

    Because of that we are different creatures.

    I am "old  human," while he is an evolved form, "new human."

    Old human will not survive this, I know, and I know it means I  will  not survive it.

    He, a new kind of human, forged in the fire of his everlasting war,  might.

    I decide that for his sake we must separate; he must be rid of me and all my old human weaknesses.

    I tell him we must go different ways and try to explain why. He does not understand, but over out time together he has come to respect me and follow my lead.

    As we  did much earlier in our time together, we both weep as he sets off down a  separate while I stay behind.

    I am satisfied that is the best thing, if not the only think, I have done for my kind since the war began.

The poet Vandana Khanna won the "First Book Award" from the Crab Orchard Award Series for her book Train to Agra. The book was published in 2001 by the Southern Illinois University Press. Here are two poems from that book.

Khanna, born in New Delhi, has lived most of  her life in the Unites States. She received her M.F.A. from Indiana University where she was a recipient off the Yellen Fellowship in Poetry.


Our house in America overlooked the neat grids
of the parking lot, the tired sycamores, ring stained
pool. A one room apartment with a fold-out couch
for my brother and me. The hallways were always dark
with the smell of beer, chili powder, and fried bananas.
Voices scraped down the walls from each closed door,
reminding us of some where we had once  been.
That's where we found replacements for everything,
where my mother lost her accent, spent hours every night
pressing saris into  place,straightening their indigo
and marigold.She spent years in night school
beating out her life with each stroke of the typewriter,
the quick  click of the egg timer reminding us of months
we had spent eating boiled eggs and soup, no money
for frying pans, for rolling pins. She always said we had
a big house on Green Park - lemon trees out front, a stone
wall blocking out the sounds of motor-scooters, cabbage
vendors,camels. I ruined my mother's one chance
of going back  home.I was  a dowry ready to be spent.
Here, the train's tumble through town rattles the windows
She says it sounds like sugar cane rustling, except louder.


All  summer I'd wait for the brown to  spread
over  my skin like dusk.We were fifteen,
sucking on plum pits till  they were stones rattling
our mouths. There was the Christmas pageant
where we  danced down the aisle to the  Hail  Mary,
and there was the avenue where boys would ride
on the back of pickups, and that was all there was.
They'd call out to us in Spanish something
that must have meant kiss our hips, something
that was soft on the lips and behind the ears.
We didn't understand  the words or the thrust
behind them, just thought of dark corners
of a room. Something  smoky and smooth
on the radio. filling our lungs with honeysuckle,
with the smell of summer, smell of something
we thought was sex. At home my mother wrapped
her body in silk scarves that were heavy with the musk
of a far off land I had only heard stories of, a skin
she was trying to push herself back into
with all its dust and diesel, sugar cane and spice.

 from  Dispatches

For hours I sit alone under a tree...

    For hours I sit alone under a tree atop a hill and continue to weep for my lose.

    From my high vantage I can see the wave of rising and falling hills in the direction taken by Boy, my hope for human survival.

    From behind a hill near the horizon of my sight, I hear a great explosion and the familiar brilliant burst of Floater fire.

Here again, another poem by this week's featured poet, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.

Living Underground: Dacca 1971

The sky was a rusted lid
at the end of the tunneled night.
We learned to  read
by the light of bones.
In our dreams the trees
drew in their branches,
shrank into seeds. The air
was the thin color
of smoke,  frayed wings.
We pressed our ears
to the ceiling,  listening
for sounds dragged off
like heavy sacks.

Each day we asked each other,
are the clouds studded
with the diamond-eyes of bats?
Are the dogs calling our names?

from Dispatches

I am the path I walk...

I am the path I walk and the path is me.

It is so hard to remember when we were anything else.

Next from my library, Wislawa Szymborska, Polish poet, essayist, translator and winner of the 1996 Nobel  Prize in Literature. Born in 1923, the poet died in


In the town where the hero was born you may:
gaze at the monument, admire its  size,
shoo two chickens from the empty museum steps.
ask for his mother's address,
knock, push the creaking door open.
Her bearing is erect, her hair is straight, her gaze is clear.
You may tell her that you've just arrived from Poland.
You may bear greetings. Make your questions loud and clear.
Yes, she loved him very much. Yes, he was born that way.
Yes, she was standing by the prison wall that morning.
Yes, she hard the shots.
You may regret not having brought a camera,
a tape recorder. Yes, she has seen such things
She read his final letter on the radio.
She sag his favorite  lullabies once on TV.
and once she even acted in a movie, in tears
from the bright lights. Yes, the memory still moves her.
Yes, just a little tired  now. Yes, it will pass.
You may get up. Thank her.  Say goodbye. Leave,
passing by the new arrivals in the hall.

from Dispatches

I am following a river through a seemingly endless prairie...

    I am following a river through a seemingly endless prairie and have not seen a Floater in weeks.

    I  come across a hut, built against a bluff beside the creek. It is made of grass, covered with mud
as to be invisible from overhead.

    I  find a rude grass bed on the floor inside and, in the center, a fireplace, embers still glowing - the first  human sign I've seen  since Boy.

    I don't know if I should run or stay. It is hard to know what you might find in someone new. Driven mad by isolation, murderously protective of what little they have, or welcoming another of their kind. It is dangerous to assume anything.

    As I consider this, an old man walks up from the creek, barefoot, naked, stoop-backed, very thin, on wobbly, knobby legs, tangled white hair down his back to his ass, white beard covering his chest and belly. He holds a homemade wooden spear and writhing on its tip, a fish, still wet and gleaming from the river.

    We both stand frozen in the moment, each waiting to react to whatever the other does.

    Finally, "hungry?" he asks.

Again,  from Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and her book,  Black Candle.

Family Photo in Black and White

The photographer has crowded us together
onto his one overstuffed sofa,
give us exact instructions
how to smile. You could
mistake us for a happy family,
except our spines stiffen
away from the sofa as
from a wall of ice. Mother
at one end, Father, at the other,
between them, my brothers and I,
hands cupping our careful knees,
bodies gathered upward
like wounds.

The camera's flash on his glasses
obliterates his eyes. Black butterflies
are trapped in the print
of her sari. In two years
he  will leave us, his flight
taking off for America
while she lies sedated
in a surgical ward with green walls,
the tumor inside her
like a burning seed.
Her face is as water,
still,with a dark accepting,
turned slightly, as though looking
toward the day she will wake
to a bleeding that refuses to stop,
and find him gone.

Against the backdrop,
white as a sheet of fire,
our five shadow are splayed
like fingers thrust out blackly
to ward off something:
a sudden movement seen
from an eye-corner, a splintered sound
whose meaning is not yet known.
I search that blank brilliance
for a hint, a sign which might have,
correctly divined,
made all the difference.
I look and look
till discs like blind  suns
dance across my eyes,
till the  children in the picture
are finally faceless.

 from Dispatches

I stay with the old man through three seasons

    I stay with the old man through three seasons, until finally his  age our our harsh living conditions do him in. He dies  in the very late night, asking me to take him outside so  that he can die under the stars, "The only thing that  has not changed, all in the sky just as they were when I was a child," he whispers as he takes his last breath.

This is my last piece from my library this week, a short poem by Boris Pasternak. It's from Selected Poems, published by Penguin Books in 1984.

The poems in the book were translated from Russian by Joe Stallworthy and Peter France.

from Theme and Variations

Slanting pictures, steaming in
From the candle-snuffing street,
I cannot teach not to fly off
Their hooks and fall on to rhyming feet.

What if the Universe wears a mask?
What if no latitudes exist
With lips they would not seal with putty
Against the winter's blast?

But things tear off their masks,
Lose honor, lose control,
When they have reason to sing,
When rain has occasion to fall.


from Dispatches

The  old man and I often talked far into the night...

    The man and I often talked far into the night, sitting on the ground around a small fire.

    He was a wise man, spending many years thinking in the quiet of his solitude,coming to understand, he thought, the mystery of our destruction, the why of it.

    We are vermin, he thought, despised by all the universe for our stupid, greedy ways and our arrogance our refusal  to accept  our place as part of a whole not made for us, we, only poor hitchhikers on the higher purposes of creation. "Floaters," he said, "are just exterminators sent to cleanse the universe that we defiled. "Justice," he said, "is hard on the unjust."

    After he died, I thought about this, tried to get my mind around it.

    What does it mean to be vermin, despised by all the pure and just, seen as good only for extinction through the quickest, most efficient means possible?

    What can vermin do, I thought, but struggle to survive.   

For the last  time in this post, here is a poem by featured poet Chitra  Banerjee Diakaruni.

Song of the Fisher Wife

He pushes out the boat,  black skeleton
against the pale  east. His veins
and blue cords. Sun scours  the ocean
with its red nails. I hand him
curds and rice wrapped in leaves. Sand
wells over my feet, rotting smell
of seaweed. I sing with the  wives

            O husbands,muzzle the great wave,
            leap the dark. Bring back boats
            filled with fish like silver smiles,
            silver bracelets for out arms.

All day I dry the fish, the upturned eyes,
the dead, grinning jaws. How stiff
flesh feels, the flaking layers
under my hand. Salt has cracked
my palms open. The odor crusts me.
My eyes are flecked with sand
and waiting. How well I learn
by the dryness of my mouth
to tell the coming storm.

             O husbands,no fear
             though the sky's breath is black.
             We line the calling shore, faithful.
             Lip and eye and loin, we keep you
             from the jagged wind.

They say all heard the crack and yell,
the boat exploding into splintered air.
Search for hours. They strip
my widowed arms, shave off my hair.
Thrust me beyond the village walls.
Nights of no-moon they will come to  me,
grunting, heaving, grinding
the damp sand into my naked back,
men with cloths over their faces.

             O husbands, sent  by my evil luck
             into the great wave's jaw,
            do you ride the ocean's boiling back,
            of shell-studded skin, to see
            my forehead branded a whore?  

(Author's note:  In many coastal villages in India,, it is believed that the
wife's  virtue keeps her husband safe at sea. Widows are often
outcast and forced into prostitutes in order to survive.)            

from Dispatches

If this was a story in one of those magazines...

    If this was a story in one off those magazines they used to see in supermarkets before the Floaters, a scrawny old yellow dog would come loping in now with a big bone in its mouth to become a loyal companion to me in these days of misery.

    But hungry as I am right now, I'd probably steal the bone and eat the dog.

As usual, everything belongs to who made it. You're welcome to use my stuff, just, if you do, give appropriate credit to "Here and Now" and to me

As always, I am Allen Itz owner and producer of this blog, and diligent seller of books, specifically these and specifically here:

Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBookstore, Sony eBookstore, Copia, Garner's, Baker & Taylor, eSentral, Scribd, Oyster, Flipkart, Ciando and Kobo (and, through Kobo,  brick and mortar retail booksellers all across America and abroad)

New Days & New Ways

Places and Spaces

Always to the Light

Goes Around Comes Around

Pushing Clouds Against the Wind

And, for those print-bent, available at Amazon and select coffeehouses in San Antonio

Seven Beats a Second

Short Stories

Sonyador - The Dreamer

at 1:47 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

as usual - the photographs are phenomenal- why are n't these picked up on the national level? or the texan level (i know why- there is too much to be considered)

as to the poetry- little music, little of the startling voice we need re poetry-0 please- do not listen to me-

"When the student askes- the teacher will appear".

at 10:46 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

liking the photos in this "Dispatches" one- expecially the ones w all the colors

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