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Varanasi—Luminous City
by Ambika Talwar

Banks of ancient Ganga sing of before and after life;
ash and saffron flowers float, syllables sink to river
bottom amid silent wailing, ripples passing by.

One hundred meters away, funeral pyres release
violent flames, which disappear into crows' azure.
Thus legends lie still or vanish, but story of Shiva
is endless even if partly forgotten. Memory needs
not quietude... Walls are gouache of spit images.

Daily bathers cross the river, dip in its cold currents
as I did one winter morning with my father, while
mother and companions watched from a little boat
rocking in its karmic rhythm, stories of scriptures.

Sangam of Varuna and Assi, Shiva's luminous city calls
golden time of respectful order to lift us out from
anular confines, bitter nuance of broken columns,
houses of fussed music, sweet aroma of betel leaves,
as heart-full romance of beaten souls wander.

I write these words: city streets winding as mothers
in rags ache for fulfillment, not lost in hunger
nor destitute as mountains strip-mined of essence,
as rivers sinking into oblivion, as plants whose sap
forgotten lingers in glance of Mother's tears. Ghajini
posters on walls as cows die for plastic foods.

Despite this shattering, Varanasi smiles, sentiments
like incense swirls rises into clouds calling rain
in spring. May these be woven in silk, for gentle curves
of Parvati's bruised shoulders under an old banyan tree.

Bones of the burning dead float freely in fast currents.
Do not drink this water! Let dead dreams dissolve.
into liberation. Let them not haunt the living...!

First appeared in the anthology, Grateful Conversations, published by Moonrise Press in 2018.  

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