Poem: “Dakshina

Here’s another odd one that showed up out of nowhere one morning:


On the long road, I met a man
next to an old shrine
to the monkey-god Hanuman

He stood not before
the colorful painted statue, but
alongside the dusty rightward wall

There, a lush rose bush flourished
in soil I would have thought
too poor to sustain even weeds

As I admired the fabulous blossoms
the bearded man, with arms muscled
like braided ropes, bade me stand back

"You would not want to stain
your fine, fine dress," said he
as he drew forth a curved dagger

I started, afraid he meant robbery
but no, instead his swift slash
opened a long rent on his forearm

Glistening blood, the precise same hue
as the red, red roses welled forth
gathered and rained upon the ground

For minutes, he fed the bush thus, long enough
to see his arms were enmeshed
in a dense network of scars, old and new

Eventually, face pale and sweating
he relented — wiped and sheathed the knife
and wrapped his arm with a roll of fresh cloth

"Why do you do this?" I cried
"The river is not half an hour walk
the way I came.  Why this?"

He showed yellow teeth behind his beard
"The soil here is poor — and so am I
My blood is all I have to offer to such beauty"

"But it’s just a rose bush,"
said I.  "Surely there are hundreds
just as beautiful, in more clement places"

"Only this one grows near
this Hanuman statue, which is enough
I am amply rewarded"

He showed me his arms
so thickly laced with scars
they seemed embroidered

"With each cut, my skin becomes stronger,"
he beamed, stroking the thick lines
"Already, it is like leather"

A perverse impulse made me ask:
"What will you do, when your skin
is so tough it turns away the blade?"

He grinned more widely
"I’ll find a sharper knife
and bear down harder"

"What will you do," I had to know
"at the end of days, when your hand
is too weak to wield the knife?"

Shrugging, he answered my question
with a question of his own:
"You volunteering?"

– 27 October 2006, Becca Morn

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