Posted tagged ‘pilgrimage poem’

Tirupati (Hair-Cutting Temple Complex)

January 11, 2013


At Tirupati (The Hair-Cutting Temple Complex)

At the big temple – the one where the Westerner is allowed to beat
the line through extra payment–there are rooms
of rupees, tied stacks of currency fluttering
in the currents of standing fans–
as if money could overheat–while priests, strong-handed,
push the sweating pilgrims through.

Outside, she keeps
to the shade, angling for impossible
discretion, as she records, through metallic lens, rows and rows
of unwound braid–hair is for sale
in the dusty green stalls–still waved
from lifetimes of plaiting, fraying loose, and black
and black–though some
are greyed–each tail an unspooled wish
posited at the barbers’ temple (one she is not allowed to
enter, even for a fee)–

Though she feels awkward holding hands with her
camera, as before her on
the dry blown strand, fresh-rounded heads as smooth
as those of travelers from another planet, trudge
in familial groups, hiking up on hips, brown
babes, also shaved-headed but wearing now
smocked caps, kohl-drawn eyes transfixed by her
blonde aloneness.

She takes the pilgrims’ bus–the only
one–back down the mountain knots.  A woman
is sick–the driver stops–
they wait – driver, conductor, the woman’s friend companionably chatting,
then passing to the woman, as she bends over
a weedy gap, the driver’s rough

As the bus shudders to lurch, the friend helps the
sick woman bump back into their squeezed space, then holds
her pale buck-toothed head, which
shaved, shows oddly triangular below
its bristle.

But the friend–
the Westerner realizes suddenly–has the most beautiful
face she has ever seen–smile broad
as a movie star, cheekbones taut
as a ballet dancer, eyes the dark velvet
of a twilit doe.

Her hair falls gently about
the sick woman’s face, which is notched–the
woman dozes almost immediately–at the friend’s sari’ed
clavicle.  The friend keeps it there, still, through the
swerves of twisted brush, parched green, as the
Westerner watches, wondering at
the making of wishes and the unraveling
of fates.

This is genuinely a draft for the “Form for All” prompt on dVerse Poets Pub, hosted by Victoria C. Slotto who challenges to write an “imagist” poem. I am so sorry about the length. It is a poem about an experience visiting Tirupati many years ago. It is a temple complex, pilgrimage site, in South India, where people go and have their heads shaved offering their hair as a sort of sacrifice. At least some of the hair is then sold at the temple complex in an outdoor market.