A sampling

The Exile Speaks of Mountains

In the Himalayan foothills during monsoon
the electricity once stayed off 
for fifteen days. Every morning there was chai

with sugar cubes and buffalo milk, delivered 
to our kitchen door in tin carafes
strapped with thick ropes to a mule.

We kept warm by feeding the stove
log after log and entertained by watching
our spit sizzle on its tin top.

My brother held my hand on the trail
to and from school, scanning for leopard scat
or for thieving langur monkeys in the trees.

I write this from my brick colonial in Baltimore, 
decades removed, drinking black tea
with thick cream and sugar—

the heat of exile churning in my blood.
I drive an SUV, shop at Target, and fight tears 
at random moments, like when I open

the door and enter the Punjab store 
down on 33rd, suddenly and viscerally at home
among the turmeric and cardamom,

the Neem soaps and steaming samosas
under foil on the counter, while the kind owner 
offers a mango juice box to my daughter.

Only if I embrace this life as a perpetual pilgrim
do I find solace in remembering
the terraced cemetery in the Himalayan pines

where the mute woman and her donkey
guard the graves, the distant beat of tabla drums,
the bounce of our flashlights on the trail

walking home at night, thrill of leopards
in the dark, the high peak of Bandarpunch
to the north, glowing in moonlight.

Published in Little Patuxent Review, Summer 2018

It Wasn’t Odd

Last night I dreamed my elderly neighbor
sought me out, found me upstairs in my bedroom. 
Miz Dinty — her trademark black baseball cap, 
gold-crowned teeth flashing a grimace this time, 

not her mischievous smile — climbed into the bed 
I had just vacated in surprise, remarked 
on its warmth in the early light. I’m dying, 
she said, shivering. It’s coming now, baby.

I hovered, then climbed in beside her,
wrapped my arms around her, whispered 
how do you know? Maybe I didn’t ask 
her aloud. She just breathed in, then out.

Because it was a dream it wasn’t odd 
that the two of us lay there warming, 
silent, unafraid. That I wanted this 
to be how she was ushered on.

Published in Relief – A Journal of Art and Faith, Summer 2018

You hold a ready lens to each scene and verse
waiting for yourself to come into focus: you’re Joseph—
Judases for brothers, final recompense for your hurts—

or Moses — eyes searching watery walls you’ve stepped between
for shadow creatures, fissures, but on you walk, aware of trust,
scanning for evidence of God in the seams—

or perhaps an exile returning from Babylon — the crust
of years falling from you, the shofar sounding its jubilant note
as the last foundation stone settles in the dust.

Yet what if you are not the favored son, but one who woke
from dreams, number twelve in line for daddy’s attentions,
trafficked for debt or indifferent profit, smote

by an obscure hand, no dancing exodus;
rather, death by your stripes in the shadows of a limestone
mausoleum, born one generation too early for deliverance?

What if exile makes such bitter work of your bones
and brittle heart, the others must kiss you and depart
to witness the stones’ rebirth, while you remain alone?

The initial taste of meekness is tart
as you adjust to your bit part.

Published in St. Katherine Review, Volume 4, No. 3
Speak Like Rain

      Kikuyu farm youth to Karen Blixen, after she
      recited verses of poetry to them 

Speak like rain, sister,
those smooth, plump drops that beat
water-rhythm on our chests—
words shaped like the curve
of an ear, the cup above the lobe—

fill it again.

Speak again, the rain
has been too long in coming
and this scorched sod waits; 
words flew on wings and
summoned the plovers hunting

for new grass.

Speak like rain, play 
those tricks with light and clouds, 
hope and dry craziness; 
words that smell far away 
like the sea drifted here just now—

tasting of salt.

Published in Tiger’s Eye Journal, Summer 2013

		Sichuan, China

In the lean-to kitchen the farmer’s wife
juliennes and crushes, shivers of onion
flying from the blade, steam hitting 
cold mist at the open door.
I thrust booted feet at the tin 
of hot coals under the table outside 
and wait, wondering how many 
spontaneous meals have serviced me 
in my wanderlusting? How much 
ambrosial heat, sear and spice, 
plumping bulgar and pitted peach?
It seems to be our needful thing
to forage for the magic within our reach—
the translucent rice grains,
the flesh of all creatures griddled or charred,
the way we wonder if nourishment exists
in snapdragon, the cathaya’s winged seed—
all the tastes we haven’t dared.
And we wonder if the damp earth still 
has secrets to disclose that could remain 
wondrous and unstained even by our knowing, 
our prodding and splitting 
with the knife or the tongue.
She emerges balancing three dishes
on outstretched arms and sets them 
on the table, shrinking back in pleasure 
and gesturing with a gentle turn of hand. 
Eat! It’s just a little something.

Published in Pen in Hand, 2017