I Used To Call It Benares



I Used to Call It Benares

Then there was the man
who made me want
to swim out into the Ganges,
though my first trip to Varanasi
had included a boat ride
by a floating dead cow, its ribs picked
to a flicker of flesh
by what I poetically want to call
carrion crows.

But he was cool (the man)
and I was not
and it was hot enough in Varanasi that visit, the smoke from the funeral pyres
something we black-coughed regularly, he wanting
to see, and other

that in the heat of even
the non-burning ghats, in the ochre orange
of the non-embered steps, the banks
of beggars and those
who could unclothe without revealing
anything, I swam out far enough
to reach ripple,
and though I pressed my lips tightly together
in a way that we were not
for long–or maybe, honestly, too long
for it was a relationship that ever
took me
to a brink–I have never
felt water so silky at any other time
in my whole life.

I still can feel
its caress on my lightly haired arms, the way the drops glistened
against a sky stranded
by heat, dust, smoke, and a pulsing
certainty, or will
for it–

how to survive this something one spends years
trying to learn, accepting too
a beauty–

Very much of a draft poem for Magaly’s prompt on With Real Toads, 

As a process note, Varanasi is one of the most holy Hindu pilgrimage cities in India; and the Ganges, a river that runs through it, is considered a holy river.  Ghat is the sanskrit/Hindi word for river bank, and is what the various parts of the banks of the Ganges in Varanasi are called; these include Manikarnika Ghat which is a cremation ghat, also called the burning ghat.   Photo is by my daughter, Meredith Martin. 

The poem has been edited since first posting and is still (probably) in progress; as I’m still not happy with the close–agh–but don’t want to “unpost” at this point.  

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18 Comments on “I Used To Call It Benares”

  1. Some events and places we must learn to appreciate, to really see just how deep their beauty runs.

    Love the vivid image you pain in your final stanza.

  2. Candy Says:

    this is simply beautiful in it’s feeling and description

  3. You’ve transported me! Wonderful imagery and sensory work…I love this portion:

    “its ribs picked
    to a flicker of flesh
    by what I poetically want
    to call carrion crows.”

    Thank you!

  4. Jim Says:

    One of the river outlets into the Gulf of Mexico is always like that, fine silt disolved in the water makes it very silky and slippery. It would be ‘clean’ to swim in if the water came from farmed fields. Trouble is that most runoffs aren’t but rather are from muddy, manures filled animal pens.
    Is this true? If so, how did the water smell?

    • Jim Says:

      The iPad is acting up again. This outlet and its beach delta are from. “Texas” river. Also it wants to put an “s” at the end of ‘manure’. I thought I had that stopped and corrected. Sorry.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      I think the silkiness is from a lot of natural lime, which is probably what makes it like that in Texas too, and also may not make it healthy, but I think in India did give it purifying qualities, which are now highly overrun by all that’s being dumped into it. This was so long ago, Jim. The water did not smell bad at all, but it may now. Also I have been in the Ganges–but the poem has a lot of made-up/fictional aspects! Thanks for your kind and interested comments–the auto correct drives me crazy!

      • Jim Says:

        Thanks. Yes, swimming in the pristine waters is best. Cold generally but exhilarating.
        This was a lovely poem and I should not have gone off here on the water qualities. Sorry.

      • ManicDdaily Says:

        Please–no apologies! Any one who knows about water would be kind of disturbed by the idea of swimming in the Ganges –as I am when I look back on it–and your comment made me re-think the poem actually this morning.

        I feel rather sorry for the Ganges as I think the original chemical composition was such (a lot of lime) that it did have disinfectant properties, but now I think it’s pretty awful. The times I visited were years and years ago–both at Varanasi and later up where it comes out of the mountains – Haridwar–and is a lot cleaner! I would not go into it now for love or money! k.

        On Mon, Feb 15, 2016 at 10:26 AM, ManicDDaily wrote:


  5. Kerry O'Connor Says:

    A poem like this is a gift to the reader in the sense of an experience shared, and a lesson perceived, as well as the simple joy of language used beautifully.

  6. The sense of devotion is palpable. Truly a spiritual experience!

  7. I remember the stories my father told me about a dead cow floating down Ganges when he visited… But he had none there to lure him into the water…. Love the story.

  8. It’s always fun to “step into” another world… as the fist stanza certainly does.

  9. There are many places I can only travel through the vehicle of thought. I love your journey in this one..so vivid I could see it.

  10. M Says:

    an engulfing pen, k. since it’s drafty… what do you think of dropping the last verse entirely, and ending with the penultimate?

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