*Published with awards
About this collection:
Katha means "story or discussion" and is used the the Bardic tradition of Hindu storytellers and sages. My poems are stories of Oneness and Its many parts. Whether it's a grandmother in India painting her prayers, or a ghetto boy wondering about the meaning of it all, there is within all of us, a Oneness that is undeniable. My poems tend to take two of these many parts that seem very different and weave them together into a common story.
In many cultural traditions, the white horse appears at the height of chaos, right before our world unravels itself. The white horse appears as the vehicle of Vishnu when he comes back for the last time, as the mount of Rhiannon, the mysterious Celtic goddess, and our pale friend also comes back in the book of Revelations in the Bible. Our white horse delicately steps between East and West, past and present, and reminds us that, at the root of it all, we are part of the One.
Many people find my poetry difficult to read and understand. This is intentional, as most of the meaning of my poetry does not come from the words on the surface, but from the memories and feelings it stirs inside the readers. This is a form of modern poetry, which is quite different from the poetry of the past that provided the security of rhymes and stanzas.
Modern poetry is poetry for a different age. The present age is full of uncertainties. Nothing is stable anymore, including our own spiritual evolution. Some say this is the age of Kali, and she is causing great movements to help us clean and remove those things from ourselves that are not important in the big scheme of things.
My poetry is usually built around two stories from different times or experiences that are woven together to make a common thread. Many are based on my experience with Hindusim and India, and others are based on my experience as an American. I do hope you enjoy them, and please feel free to write me with questions or comments.
All my poems are copyrighted in accordance with the copyright act of 1978. If you wish to use or distribute my poetry for anything but private enjoyment, please do the decent thing and ask me. Thanks in advance.
This page was created on 5/19/98. Poems will be added weekly until this online book is complete. Thanks for your patience.
She stands in the gutter among sweet-rotted fruits
The shade of the vendor's stand
slides down the walk,
crosses through the line of poverty,
and nips at the back of one of her heels.
She is not like the other beggars--
those who send their children's hard, brown knuckles
to knock at the glass of my car window.
This one is different,
made ageless with a white crust of street dust
covering her hair and face like a veil
as if she had been standing there
a thousand years.
Her baby hangs loosely sideways under one arm
with the same stoic expression as an old man
who is about to die
and knows it.
She captures me with her awareness.
As a passing bus of school boys
produces a hundred shiny black heads
that pop back inside
with one wave of my white hand,
she stands reaching to nobody
with all her heart--
reaching, looking deep into me,
past me, beyond me,
perhaps to the sari shop across the street.
There, young women bedecked with plaited hair
and strings of wilted jasmine
suck frozen mango bars,
look up at the sky, at me,
at each other with smiles,
then quickly back again
in a circle of giggles and amused stares.
But she is invisible to them.
She stares through them, through the back of the shop,
but her gaze does not rest there.
It does not stop at the alley that twists and turns
and opens finally to the sea.
It does not pause to wonder at the city of lights
beyond the sea,
but continues up
towards the noisy brightness of stars,
to the darkness where silence is deafening.
The giggles of schoolgirls brings my eyes
to rest on the four silver rings hugging my toes.
And I watch my feet step slowly past her,
hoping that as I pass through her gaze,
she might pity me,
reach inside herself,
and hand me a coin or two.
the farmers leave terra-cotta horses
to gods in roadside shrines.
The foreigner sees them
and asks the farmer,
"What is God to you?"
The farmer takes into his earthen hands
the clay of his rice and his children's bellies.
Then he walks back to his wooden plow
and his pair of deer-eyed cattle,
and leaves the foreigner with the empty hands.
And somewhere on a farm in Ohio
is a girl who sews rugs.
She is my grandmother,
but she doesn't know that yet.
She has a horse named Jack
who is her best friend.
I had one too,
but his name was Little Red
because he was red like the paint
of a ten-speed bike,
and his hooves were black like rubber.
I shot the girl's shotgun once
in my dad's arms,
and it kicked back and bruied my shoulder.
And Dad said,
"She wouldn't have cried like that,
she was tough, her and old Jack."
But that was long before she stopped her search
for fallen hooking needles
and names of faces and horses long buried.
Sometimes in India
the plows pull up old terra-cotta horses.
The farmer says they are gifts from God.
the grandmothers say
they are the prayers of ancestors.
And the foreigner--
he says they are just old terra-cotta horses.
The potter of horses
hums over his wooden wheel
and makes the farmer's clay
into legs, neck and tail.
And he joins them together
in fourteen days and the heat of the sun.
It costs about sixty cents in India
for a terra-cotta horse.
Then the farmer takes it home by shoulder
to prepare for thanks--
for the health of his wife and child,
or his crops that didn't dry up,
or other things
a farmer might be thankful for.
the women paint their prayers.
They paint with water and rice paste
and fingers that drip on clay
and dry white in the hot morning sun.
Sometimes they paint the ground
in front of the house.
sometimes they paint
their walls of melted dung.
the women paint their homes
before the sun does,
every day a new design,
a new prayer.
By noon the monsoon rains
or their children's feet
will have washed them all away.
The grandmother-girl in Ohio
paints with scraps of colored wool
on a burlap sack
with a hooking-needle
that drops from her tired fingers
every minute or so.
The needle makes prayers into rug-pictures
that tell of stories and dreams
of a girl long ago.
Always in the picture is Jack:
sometimes in front of a carriage
in London or Central Park,
Sometimes a smeared brown speck
in a field of distant snow.
But always there is Jack,
and always far from a farm in Ohio.
this grandmother will spread her prayers
to soften the floors for my baby hands and knees.
But I don't remember this,
or the faded colors of girlhood dreams.
In Indian homes,
the grandmother paints prayers
with words I don't understand
if I think about it too much.
Then the farmer gives the horse
to his god in the roadside shrine.
He sets it there
and pats it on the head one last time.
the spirit of the clay turns real
and runs to join the army of horses
that circle the sky like stars.
And God stands in the center of moving hooves
and forgets about clay in roadside shrines
that will tomorrow be thrown
to the banyan tree ouside
on a pile of empty horses
five feet high.
But the grandmothers know the end.
How the Banyan tree will take the horse
into its grasping roots
and lift it above the pile.
How the children will throw clods of clay
and laugh at the broken things.
And long after the children's children
have forgotten the meaning of things,
and the Banyan tree has folded into the ground
a farmer's plow
will pull up another terra-cotta horse.
The Northern wind blows strong today
with the promise of rain or snow.
High above me, Canadian Geese
reach their necks out and strain Southward.
The flock looks like a rolling thread
on the gray pavement of sky above me.
I cannot reach to see the end.
Yet their cries and chatter
reach down to me. And I wish them luck,
knowing they will journey past
boys with shotguns, who know them only
as felled dolls with black-button eyes,
someone's mate or gosling, naked,
carved at the head of the table.
Behold, the passing of boys into manhood.
This wind brings too much to mind--
November mornings in a school yard,
and children's taunts that reached
even into my corner and books.
with numbed fingers, I fought
the wind for the pages. I,
who had not friends
but what we had in common,
what the pages gave to me--
kings and wars and chivalry,
dark marshlands, a lamp and canoe,
or deep, to worlds only the animals knew.
But always, the children's stones
found their mark, and my books
would shield me but momentarily
from their world of no understanding.
Inevitably, their foreign hands
would touch and tear the pages,
releasing them to the winds
and to places I could never follow,
not even if I reached my soul Southward
and flew with my one good wing.
I hung in the branches monkey-like,
peeped into private nests,
tore leaves off with my hands,
staining them green with juice,
not seeing the skeleton-veined half-leaves
I left behind.
I rope-burned the elbow branches
with my tire swing
and stained the bark
with the taunting of a child's pocket-knife.
I could not see the age of it then.
it's branches naked under ice,
it creased the snow below with blue shadows.
I scorned its patience,
hung from brittle branches,
broke them open
to peel away frozen sap with my teeth.
Seeing the broken lines,
I felt somewhat ashamed.
The next year,
it threatened to break the roof
with its years,
or so my mother said.
I protested, saying,
It was here first.
It has always been here.
No matter. It had to come down.
In two days' time
sweating summer high school boys
and their chainsaws and daddy's truck
dismantled the tree like a child's concsience.
Load by load,
they took it away,
not even counting the rings.
I remember very clearly
that even after two days in the sun
that old tree refused to wilt.
I watched the shadowless snow
soften the stump to a small mound
like a gravestone in an empty field.
Seeing smoke rising from the town's chimneys,
I wondered which column was my tree.
I wondered if it remembered me.
When I was nearly a woman,
that tree would call for me in my sleep
to the depth beneath its rings.
And I heard then
the clapping of leaves
and the tinkle of children's laughter,
the creak of the rope.
Alone in my dream,
I saw the sap rise from roots
to thaw remembered branches,
uncurl its absent leaves
to the coming year of strangeness,
Some nights, in my dreaming,
I would step out of my slippers
and onto the sticky stump,
arms out at odd angles,
fingers spread wide to their webbing,
face to the ageless moon.
Perhaps, then, I wished
this half-woman and half-tree
could go back to the center of rings.
And in my dream,
only I could stop the sun
from aging another day,
to think about this thing
a little more.