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, www.joanlarkin.com 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.