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