© 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:
- Bruce R. Magee
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.