from NER 40.4 (2019)
We lived downwind of a bakery,
butter sesame roasted black cumin.
From a mosque downwind drifted prayer
erasing the gummy hour of the wolf,
sleepy holler of a child muezzin.
We lived downwind of a temple. Incense,
synonymous with the clear earache of a gong
haloing a bell’s rim before withering to the ground.
Downwind of a cremation ghat, incense
another kind: cloying, rot-sweet, burning
flesh masked in clarified butter woodsmoke hunger,
all synonyms for the Lord’s true name.
From the butcher-shop, downwind musk of flensed pelt,
shit-gutted intestines, opaque green eyes on severed goat heads.
Downwind we lived, too, of the army barracks, once
a youth club, our lost tennis tables moonlighting
for the feast of soldiers.
In the night fragrant with the tea gardens’ first flush
we heard the pain-astonished men thrashing upside
down as a baton tore welts into their calves.
Our tall house stood downwind of a peaceful kingdom’s border.
Odor of fermented betelnut. What the Rimpoche once
bestowed to the cannibals in lieu of their blood-
rimmed thirst & craving of gnawbone.
Then one night, truck after stealth-green
truck full of families packed to the hull
like horses for the New World.
Downwind of the grimy brothels in the border town
we visited as boys, petrified we would run
into our own fathers.
Smell of talcum & attar
that bloomed at nightfall & withered by dawn
on a long Bhutanese street called Chinese Line.
And all the nameless villages in between
blurred into one another in the nightly music
that blared from crude speakers to scare
the elephants marauding the fields.
Downwind of the two severed heads of the Liberation
Front leaders hung from a branch of a guava tree
in the putrid summer of the old revolution
& the women marched in the gunmetal silence:
torches blinking in the rain, rhyme of old slogans
plucked with the long flab of their tongues.
Downwind blew kerosene & ragsmoke
in some young martyr’s evening.