The Bag(h)mati* River

— Haris Adhikari

terribly sickens, with its fetid,
black water. Dead
bodies being cremated…
a little above,
man is all smoke
and nothing.
Flies hover
above the oily water in it.
Half burnt bones
peep from below
the slimy sewage.
Plastic and
empty bottles
float to show their
dented look.
Just below the Lord’s
abode,
garbage slide
slowly
into the river
that goes—
just like the slow traffic— stinking
all across the Valley… Oh!
This sacred river!
Like a boa, it scares
the elite
people away
but not the scavengers
digging… the decaying garbage
deep… for a day’s meal.

**

On the way
back home, I heard people
talk about how
many reports, by many people,
were made about it, and how
sadly
nothing concrete
came out of them!

Now this gap
is what I’m thinking
about.

What will happen
when webs and
webs of
gaps determine
the course of our
life… and posterity?

______________

*A word play on the Bagmati river (which runs through the Kathmandu Valley); bagh (tiger) and mati (inclination; notion; tendency) speak of the terror created through the river

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O Pilgrims!

— Haris Adhikari

O pilgrims! O pilgrims!
Would you care to listen to my plea?

I fled to this place from a hundred hills away
losing my family in the wildfire
that smoldered for years in the villages.
Who can see the wounds I have?
Who can put some balm on them?
O pilgrims! I’ve haunting images in my dreams,
and I fear my mind will blast!
I fear not people but me.

Seeking solace, I sleep on this footway
and wake up to fuel my fury
in the midst of nights
I drink fire
and try to quench my thirst.
Oh, I’m burning in the belly, in my heart—
Can you see the flames?

My plight!
Ah, what a plight!
Life is a street dog
that barks at me as I try to love it.

Please, oh please,
convey my questions to your Gods. Ask them,
ask them why
they turn their backs on me.

O pilgrims! Ask them
what vengeance they took
on my family, and why,
and now, what they require of this boy that I am.

Uprooted, I was left to see
my origins dry. Ah, Poor me! I was just nine.
Now I do not have my sky.
I do not have land beneath my feet.
I’m a stranger in my own country,
walking in this stabbing void
among the sharp debris of my roof
blown off with cruelty
by the giants of the Age.

I know not where to go—
O pilgrims! I know not how to live,
carrying this
painful vista
of dislocation.

Please, oh please,
tell them
to move this way
and see for themselves
how desperately
a boy is looking for
Gods . . . in this Valley of Gods*!

________________

*Kathmandu Valley is well-known for its innumerable temples and stupas and is often called The Valley of Gods.

(First appeared in Of Nepalese Clay)

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Dirt of Nature

— Haris Adhikari
 

1.

I’m the dirt
of nature,

decaying—
every moment

I live
in the company of maggots.

2. 

Sickness
that I am

bestowed with—
from the very birth

I live
in your breath.

3.

I’m the death of yours
into who I am.

I corrupt you
down to your soul.

And you enjoy
what I do.

**

From ‘Flowing with a River’ (2012)

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If she were a witch,

— Haris Adhikari


I guess you wouldn’t be living.
There was no earthquake in her screams, she was nothing
but wounds all over – red, blue, brown, purple –
bleeding on the junction – a matter of extreme curiosity for kids around
peeping from below your hips, or running after your footsteps.

Perhaps her busted head was a football!
Perhaps your boots, canes and stones were not enough, so
she was yelling at you to drag and thrash her more!

If she were a witch, I guess you wouldn’t be living.
Either she would surely escape flying on her broomstick
or just vanish with a simple click of her fingers right in the beginning
or furiously hurl you into a dark cave where
she would avenge by forcing you to eat human feces
the way you forced her, or, she would hammer your hands and legs
and teach you a lesson by pulling out your teeth
with more force and fury than you used to display your bravado.

If she were a witch, I guess you wouldn’t be living
and your children wouldn’t die of dysentery or of fever. Possession
is what you did to her, not what she did or did not.

She – just a single finger, and you – an entire village,
what a mad swarm of bees stinging a life to almost death!
Neither she spoke scary words nor called a thunder down.
What’s black magic? Why would she only leave the marks of her teeth
on your thighs or arms when she could have the whole of you?

(First appeared in MadSwirl)

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Dreams in the Kingdom of Chaos

— Haris Adhikari

There was a man in the kingdom of Chaos. His name was Melodious Music. He contrasted with the warring elements of the kingdom . . . by their uproars, their thundering beats and plays. His silence pervaded among the syllables of coarse voices, and the passers-by believed him to be being-less . . . Nobody realized the weight of his predilections, his love.   

For decades no Columbus came. God took pity on Melodious Music and sent a poet called Plato-banish. This poet was so inspired by Melodious Music’s profundity that he started writing mellifluous lines that emitted the scent of wisdom and wit, while he learned, gradually, with amazing patience and hope, to not pay attention to what the kiddish leaders were swearing and yelling at, and to not zoom in the dirt and maladies but the cool spring drizzles washing them away and the petrichor pervading every rift and razor. He touched, without touching, every flower and thorn, every absence and presence, every tune and tone …     

The same poet came to me in eerie reverie. I was delighted listening to his illuminating insights, but then, I abruptly awakened hearing Chaos laughing loudly. He danced like a crazy shaman, beating a drum, drum drum humdrum, humdrum humdrum. What? Well, he was threatening the poet in my dream!  

He said: “You are a sinful spirit. You’re not welcome without my consent to sneak into a man’s dream in this kingdom of ours! You’ve stolen our captive Melodious Music, and that’s a crime big enough to send you to hell.” He chanted his chaotic mantras, lashing my body with what he called a yak’s hide-strap. I cried to deaf ears. Oh, I cried, and he said: “I’ll cure you of this evil spirit which you’ve so warmly welcomed within you! I’m not beating you, but that perky pesky poet!”

In my desperate effort to free myself from the maddening grip of Chaos, I threw myself at him. Collecting all of my guts, while feeling terribly sorry for Plato-banish who was so badly received and sworn at, I uttered the poet’s uplifting words soaked in Melodious Music’s mantra, and again kicked Chaos down to the ground, hitting, hitting, hitting him with a handy stone. With this pummeling, he finally bled to death. Then, I yelled so sharp that my throat felt heavy pain, veins swelling . . . and I awakened in a panic, sweating all over my body on bed. It was pitch dark, but I could see through the dynamics of the ubiquitous reign of chaos and conflict, my fury stranded in between, and the infinite universe of probabilities.

(First appeared in MadSwirl)

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The Absence of a Tree

— Haris Adhikari

i.

A couple of years ago
a tree’s decaying stump jutted from the ground; and now
there’s no trace of it.
The absence
propels my thoughts
speeding up and slowing down,
embracing the tree’s trunk . . . 

He-he . . . That was fun . . . for real.
Three boys acting out  
the popular   
pamphlet motto—  
“Save trees, save lives.”

But oh, my big brother
did cut it down … just as he was meaning to.
He said it cast shadows and shades
in the field, destroying the crops.

ii.

Now I wonder if there are
any of its roots remaining.
Are they still there—tightly held
by the cold—or warm soil?
Or just gone to dark, shrinking hollows?

Oh!
What comforting feelings they still bring!
Those roots will always uphold
that jamun* tree, and the tree
will always bear
small black jamun, with their rich smell
wafting along, with their astringent
yet sweet taste—with the color purple—
always on my tongue—until
my memory dies away.
He-he . . . They’ll live in me!
As long as I live with them!

iii.

That tall tree, a bit slanted,
was alone in the entire cornfield.
There were steps cut into its big trunk
but they weren’t my size.
And by the time I got to its first fork,
I always incurred those little scrapes
that gave a burning feel on my little thighs …
I didn’t care! I had to show
that I, too, could climb. He-he . . .
No complaints nor cries!  

I felt sad when I was unable
to climb up the second fork.
The upper part screeched and vibrated
if the day was windy.
That part was stone-dry
and forbidden. The bigger boys?
They didn’t care. They enjoyed
climbing higher up the trunk and shouting
with gusto into the big hole that was
a little above the second fork.

I’d gaze up and listen to the echoes—
not content with only my name
whittled on the bottom side bark
of the second fork, I wanted to grow
like Hanuman* in the Ramayana!
All these memories bring
a smile, a teasing smile, now,
to my disillusioned face.

iv.

The absence of that tree
left a clear vision across the horizon;
far too clear,
indeed, that’s what I realized
the last time I was there—

far away from this metro(polish!),
a relaxing retreat, an eye opener
to the wisdoms of all
that is … absent
and all that is present.

I long to go there again
I long to embrace
the tree that isn’t there!

_____________________
*Jamun—Jambolan tree
*Hanuman—devotee of Rama, the seventh avatar of Lord Vishnu, and his wife Sita; according to the Ramayana, Hanuman was invincible and could grow into any size and form he wanted. 

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