Travelers Welcome

Travelers Welcome

Sunday, June 8, 2014

General Strike anywhere matches
Funeral Ghat, Varanasi

by Miriam C. Jacobs and Unisa Asokan

                      A red box of matches,
                      a ten pound stick of butter,
                      a 20 pound sac of sugar, the river.
                      The body covered in yellow cloth, embroidered
                           with a gold pattern.

Down to the river we carry you,
by holy Ganges’ ghastly rush.  Bathers in sun
flame, at sunrise, rub their skins with ash,
press hands to foreheads dotted
with bright pigments, bend into water –
no waiting for a reason to let go.

                        Flies. More flies.
                        The family touches the skin of the dead
                             for the last time.

Here, to the ghats, we bear you on our shoulders –
bier tented in swaths of red,
tented in fire, hands pressed to your navel.
When we tilt you into the water, flame
rises from your open mouth like prayer – press
of current, chimera – rush of nothing you need.

                          The fire negotiates an exchange of light,
                          A crew of the cremation caste sifts through
                               the ashes and remains.
                          Fingers find a wallet chain, a septum ring,
                               a flask of whiskey,
                          an anchor made of copper.

Holy city, where temples shoulder one another
under an ashy sky and bodies drift in the flood,
your mourners, idle now, lower hands,
stand and brush clay dust from trousers,
opening mouths to paper cones of puffed rice.
Holy water, holy river, carry me.  Let me go.

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