40. the ghats

Men carry white shrouded parcels,
Six feet long and hefted shoulder-high
past me, so close that I can see
the sunken socket valleys in the fabric,
cheekbones rising, forehead sloping.
We are inches from death here.

I get lost in the wood piled high to be burned,
splintering off; instinctively I try to count the rings,
cut short for firewooding, split.
The pandit lights the match,
the incense swirls, hours crumble
into ash beneath him.

Skulls crack, and
the soul drifts dancing upward
with smoky tree-years
of singing to nephews, rice pots boiling,
scrubbing sunrise from his collarbone,

of his wife’s penciled Hindi
back-of-receipt grocery lists,
the thickest tree-ring on his heart

and it is silent but I hear every second of it;
here, we are inches from life.


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