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Ava Leavell Haymon.
“Festival of Lights.”

© Ava Leavell Haymon.
Used by permission.
All rights reserved.

Pottery saucers with wicks and butter blink

against the dark, a dark that evaporates

from every threshold. Along the gravel beds

of the braided river, cremation pyres burn on.

High above the city, on gold walls, huge painted eyes

slit open with first light: the Great Stupa

curls its nose at the smoke from below.

Eleven men, brothers

perhaps, chant their way toward the river,

bearing a doll bundle wrapped in gauze.

They stack costly firewood into lattice mandala,

lay the tiny body straight, straighten it

again, cover tenderly with straw.

We watch from a distance, foreign women

only just arrived, squint-eyed

against disbelief and the first flare of sun.

It is the Festival of Lights. Since before dawn,

prayer wheels whirl uncounted OMs

into the warming mist. Marigold necklaces

enchant the Cow. This second day is hers

and yesterday the Day of Crow,

the Messenger of Death. Wailing father

leaves the limp bundle to his brothers.

Uncles push lighted sticks at the straw.

Ghee-soaked rags address the sky

with smoke white as prayer flags.

From the old stupa, temple gongs call us to attention.

The Buddha thunderbolt: the radiance of immortality

shines only in the opaque passing moment.

Small girl with one blind eye carries her baby sister

tied piggy-back in a shawl. She squats with her brothers

around a trash fire scraped together in the dirt street.

Bare heels inch away from brown sewage water

running behind her.

Above their heads,

at the end of the canyon street, morning pours off

the cold massif of the highest mountains on earth.

The girl feeds a shred of scavenged newspaper

into the flame. Her face lights up. Her hands uncurl.

In doorways along the street, flames of butter lamps

go transparent in full daylight.

Text prepared by:


Haymon, Ava Leavell. "Festival of Lights." Poetry Magazine Jan. 2003: 219-20. Poetry Foundation. Web. 14 Feb. 2015. <http:// www. poetryfoundation. org/ poetrymagazine/ browse/ 181/3#!/ 20606000>. © Ava Leavell Haymon. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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