“This Moment’s Stain that Flows Out from Eternity”

— Tomas Tranströmer, from Island Life, 1860

The sun sets and rises as a salmon-colored disc
through a din of haze, exhalations of engines
and drying tropics, incense, prayers,
simmered curries and burning dung,
the air itself a sepia wash the color of time
over market stalls heaped with apples and guavas
which, against the undisciplined traffic
of footsteps and cars, are muted and somehow
perfectly arranged, objects in a still-life
that holds, in its moment, the history
of currency the spirit honored in its
first dealings with the gods.

Plentitude is a private bus spinning past tin roofs
beaten by rain into shreds… a house made
of mirrors… a mosque’s marbled
dome gleaming peacefully behind Shiva’s
sandstone arches… a henna-painted
hand raised to shade eyes which stare frankly at
pale visitors from twelve time zones away, who
adjust and readjust the view through zoom lenses.
Horns speak the one language everyone
understands: here first, give way, my intent
is non-negotiable
. The drivers — all men —
urge their cars into any sliver of space, high
on fumes and adrenalin, while women

line the streets in every possible color, some
bearing baskets atop the columns of themselves
and all bearing the weight of dowries their very births
required. They are a crush of blossoms, expensive
and dispensable. Their hems and scarves
flow behind them, ripples of silence
that mask the curve of breast and hip but not
a greater, unspecified promise. Even as they
laugh, parting for a moment the bowed,
sensuous lips of their Mughal forebears, their
deep-set eyes remain lowered, patient, still-points
in the accelerating rush — there, on the corner,
her cheekbone a sculpted curve, a jewel
pasted to her brow, a young girl
gathers her gold-threaded silks before
crossing, taking her place in line,
in history, for the future her father
will choose for her.

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