Saturday, January 30, 2010

Guest poet: Carol A. Ellis - Kathmandu cycle

[Pashupatinath is an ancient Hindu temple complex in Kathmandu, Nepal. Bhaktapur is a nearby town that was once a separate kingdom.]

At Pashupatinath

monkeys steal the sacrifice. Grains and oranges
laid out at shrines honor the dead burned
over centuries, ashes upon ashes tossed on water.

Crowds scatter marigolds and rice from black plastic bags.
Sellers of bags and beads crowd bridges above the Bagmati river
where bright orange flowers mingle with ash.

Marigold garlands drift downstream, banana leaves, plastic bags,
the body of a dog long dead. Every ghat is occupied. Bodies laid out,
covered in flowers, burn before the gathered families.

Smoke of cremation rises in stagnant air. Old temples
are made new, lingams rubbed red, daily offerings
placed for Shiva and Ganesh.

A body burned here will step off the wheel of life,
enter Nirvana, stop the cycle of birth and death. Ashes
drift to India to fertilize the wide gangetic plain.

Today, cows snuffle gently at offerings and monkeys
groom each other in temple windows.
This ground holy for three thousand years.


The Kumari

As if in dream a four year old is taken from family
to be a living goddess. She’s the one who never bleeds,
who walks alone through a dark room and touches
the severed heads of buffalo without crying.

She has her own temple. She appears at the latticed window
dressed in silk robes, eyes marked in kohl, and waves to tourists
like a homecoming queen. On holidays they take her out to ride
in processions, garlanded in marigold.

A child’s life transformed, she learns only ritual and public adulation,
a model of purity and grace, until at twelve or thirteen she bleeds
and becomes the unthinkable, a woman, who will now be cast from
divinity, sent home to live a human life.

A once blessed child, she is cursed with biology, inhabited
by the moon, lost to sunlight and marigold.


In Bhaktapur

The chicken sacrificed to a local god
will be taken home and plucked and eaten,
meat to accompany rice and dhal.

The blood fades slowly to brown
in the small shrine where women go
to pray for lost things.

The god, rubbed red with powder,
garlanded in marigold, washed in blood,
sits waiting like a watchful cat. 

[Photos by M.J. O'Brien, 2009]