The Joss-sticks at Cadell Road

Near the sea behind Cadell Road
They burn as joss-sticks
The poor men’s bodies
Those dark, thin corpses
All bound with strings of tuberose
And the brilliant marigold.
We saw them bring one, last Sunday
An hour after our
Tea-time, scented up
To smell like a low-paid
Street girl, while some crones followed
Wailing flatly and
As only the poor
And the absolutely
Hopeless know how to wail. When
They fed the body
To the fire, the fire
Leapt high, snarling beast-like. Then
The corpse-bearers threw
The garlands into
The sea. A queue of
Sea-gulls rode the waves.
My husband said, I think I shall
Have a beer, it’s hot,
Very hot today.
And I thought, I must
Drive fast to town and
Lie near my friend for an hour. I
Badly need some rest.

-- Kamala Das
(from Nine Indian Women Poets: An Anthology)

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