Wednesday, November 4, 2009

"Processional" by Joan Larkin

In Tamilnadu

where it’s still morning,

where the mixed scent of

burning rubber, incense

and excrement hasn’t yet

heated to a thing you sweat

through your feet and tongue,

where day is beginning to burn

through the neem leaves,

a long string of men

snakes along a dirt route, chanting

and in their center like a gold bead

lofted on their shoulders

a man sits in a painted box

its canopy dyed bright yellow

and he, too, is clothed yellow

and his face upturned to the sun

is smeared with turmeric:

a man the color of saffron grain.

He’s leaning back in his high seat

and you see from your safe distance

his stiff posture and open mouth.

You stare as if you’ve never seen the dead:

Francis in his smeared bedding,

your father a waxwork

freakish in mortuary rouge,

all the young men in varnished coffins.

Each death its own strangeness,

a gold face tilted to the light.

Yet common to all. You’re

in this moving line. And he is,

the one you carry, the one you praise

and want to spare.

The line jolts forward

Jaya, jaya, Shiva Shambho

toward the wood and fire,

and you breathe the scent

of everything alive.

Joan Larkin is the author of My Body: New and Selected Poems, which received the Publishing Triangle’s 2008 Audre Lorde Award. Her website, has more information about her previous books including Cold River, A Long Sound, Housework, and Sor Juana’s Love Poems (translated with Jaime Manrique). She has edited four anthologies of poetry and prose and co-edits the University of Wisconsin Press memoir series Living Out. Now in her fourth decade of teaching, Joan teaches in Drew University’s Low-Residency MFA Program in Poetry Writing.

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