Ba on the Ganges

This week's Poetry Thursday prompt is rivers. This is the last in a series of poems I wrote after my mother-in-law died.

Ba on the Ganges

When Ba was heavy and middle-aged,
she took her mother to Benares.
They sat side-by-side in a small boat,
posed stiffly for a photograph.
Behind them, temples, and stairs to the water.
Both faced the camera, smiling slightly,
together holding a small brass pot.
They poured a thin stream of milk into Ganga.
You are Himalaya's daughter.
You came from Heaven to purify the world.
You flow from Shiva's tangled hair.

One of the things set out in her bedroom,
with gods, liniments, spectacles, prayer-books,
was a small copper cauldron, sealed with tin --
Ganga water, last aid, to be poured into her mouth
as she was dying.
You purify those who bathe in you.
You contain the hopes of men for salvation.
You bear the burden of the dead.

When the family women reached the hospital,
each carried Ganga in her purse,
but Ba’s nostrils were already stuffed with cotton,
jaws tied with a strip of white cloth.
They poured the water over her lips.
Your waters bear half-burned corpses.
You enter into them.
Your bed is heaped with bones.

Ba’s brother took her ashes to Benares
in a clay pot garlanded with marigolds.
Bending over the wavelets which slapped against his feet,
he set her afloat on Ganga. She bobbed on the surface
for a minute or two, then sank to join
the assemblage of the dead,
given to the mercy of the river.

Other poems in the same series: Journeying, Uses for Wood, Sorting Ba's Things


gautami tripathy said...

THanks for writing this. Hindus have a such a relationship with Ganges that goes beyond any thing.

Ganges water purifies and takes us into a spritual world.
I could relate to this very well. We all follow similar rituals.


Colorful Prose said...

Yes, so beautiful! I started trying to integrate this aspect of passing into my poem as well, but it made it too complicated. You did it so much better than I could have. I hope to visit her some day.

Crafty Green Poet said...

I enjoyed the simplicity of your descriptions of all the details in the ritual.

twitches said...

This is just lovely.

pepektheassassin said...

This is a truly beautiful poem! It works very well!

sputnik said...

This is wonderful; the details make it like a small movie. I could truly see it all, and I reran it over and over. Thank you.

chicklegirl said...

This was so moving, a vignette into the sacred moments of a life.

bookbinds said...

The narrative quality of this poem flows really well and the descriptions of the rituals are moving and powerful. Thanks for sharing, I enjoyed reading this!

jim said...

So very detailed, reverent with the imagery--the paying of attention deepens the ritual.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the visit to a different world. Well done.

...deb said...


Remarkable telling, from beginning to end. I was particularly taken by the list of things set out in her bedroom. Thank you for inviting me in to witness this ritual, this life.

Clare said...

This is so beautiful and sacred. I could see and feel it so clearly and deeply in my soul.

Padraig said...

I also love those lines:
One of the things set out in her bedroom,
with gods, liniments, spectacles, prayer-books,

- it's much more than a list, it tells us to much.