Krishna’s Mercy

A Fibonacci

by Cornelia Rohde

Down
holes
among
the pipul roots
great hooded snake gods
live in rich underground cities
built of precious gems
whose brilliance
lights up
the
world.

Some
like
dreaded
Kaliya
with his hundred hoods,
vomit poison, destroying all
near the sacred river
Jumna’s banks
that flow
deep,
broad.

Heads
rise
fearsome
from the depths
engulfing Krishna
when he dives to retrieve his ball.
He becomes so huge
the demon
is forced
to
yield.

Released
child
now dances
on those heads,
but he spares the brute
when his lovely Nagini wives
beg for his pardon.
Playful Lord
forgives
vile
rage.

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Rescue

by Cornelia Rohde

At full moon’s morning tide
we swim across the flats
above baby conch
settled in soft turtle grass.
At each receding ebb
their pink-shell lips gape,
vulnerable to greedy scavengers.
You rescue them in weighty bucket-loads,
stagger through the shallows
to hurl them into channel’s depths
where they can safely fatten.

I imagine shiny shell faces
beaming with relief.

Yellow Snake Spirit

by Cornelia Rohde

“He is upon the Wheel as we are—a life ascending or descending—very far from deliverance. Great evil must the soul have done that is cast into this shape,” said the Lama to Kim.
Rudyard Kipling, Kim
 

No meat on him, nor in his mouth.
Skin leather-tough, scaly as a turtle.
On his head an old palm hat
Miss Ilma’d plaited out of pity.

No wife nor kin to share
his crooked clapboard house:
privy out back, no pump,
dirt floors and vermin.

His neighbors pinch their noses.
Kids taunt him. His harsh curses
send them scattering. They call
him a curmudgeon, or call him worse.

His watermelons ripen
on his Crown Land plot.
He piles his skiff with weighty fruit,
rows back across the channel.

Makes fast his line; readies to hurl.
One by one, heads smash on the dock
in shattered bleeding shards.
That un’s Ole Pot, that un’s Crazy Boy, that un’s Jack.

The church takes his land for a parking lot.
He hides in the bush in a makeshift hut.
His slingshot drops a bird to eat.
But that bud is a yellow snake.

De bud is a speerit.
De bud sings,
Go carry me home.
So he takes him out.

Go an’ make up yer fire.
Come an’ cook me now.
He done eat. One bone lef.
Go lay on yer mat.

When they come, he is
stiff as a mast, down and dead.
They find a yellow snake
coiled under his bed.

 

The Elephant and the Moon

by Cornelia Rohde

Our house has an elephant in every room
made from brass, marble, clay or papier-mâché,
missing one tusk angrily hurled at the moon
who had spied Lord Ganesha fall off his rat
when he leapt to avoid a snake crossing his path.

It made the moon laugh in helpless mirth,
when, stuffed with devotees’ gifts, Ganesha’s
belly burst, strewing sweets all over the earth.
He tucked them all back, then killed the snake
and wrapped it around his massive girth.

The world went dark when the moon was struck
rousing a chorus of pleas from the gods,
until a compromise was reached
for her to wax and wane each month.
When her light is out, Lord Ganesha
gorges on whatever he wants.

The Summer She Died

by Cornelia Rohde

On soft summer afternoons with the press of work over,
we sat together on the flagstone terrace Father laid,
looked out over the old orchard and let the day slip quietly away.
Do you hear Mrs. Wren? she’d say.

A long, joyous, rush and jumble voice would bubble
in the stillness. I’d spot the rufous brown chest,
the same rich hue of my mother’s hair, bustling round the garden,
zipping through tangles and low branches,
forever bringing food to young mouths stretched
hungry in their wooden house hanging from an oak limb.

Feisty for her tiny size, her abrupt scurs and scolds
warned off any predator threatening her domain.
Yet she paused often to deliver cheerful trilling songs
with complex notes– for one so inconspicuous.

Let’s sit here a little while more and listen.
There won’t be many more days as mild as this.

A Dog, A Dove, A Derelict and Dylan

    by Cornelia Rohde

A guitar player sings Bob Dylan into
the arms of a weeping fig in the park:
Come gather round people wherever you roam
and admit that the waters around you have grown.
 
Striking match after match,
a rheumy woman who sleeps rough
huddles in a mound of grey blanket.
Lord, I ain’t got much more to lose.
 
A man with a beard like sea foam
lightly balances a placid dove he’s
trained to do tricks for children.
I got a bird that whistles. I got a bird that sings.

Alert to hurtling traffic, they wait in a pool
of stillness, her hand on his harness.
He guides her off the curb on trained paws.
I’ll be fine if you just let me follow you down.
 
A white-eye thrills the Waterberry tree;
a cloud feather tickles the pate of Lion’s Head.
Throw my troubles out the door.
I don’t need them anymore.

Well, it ain’t much use to sit and wonder why Babe.
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

Stalkers

by Cornelia Rohde

The heron’s keen beak and
the bone-fisherman’s rod poise
like divers before a plunge.
Their feet lift without a ripple,
as stealthily as a bidder raises a finger.
Eager eyes sharply scan
fleet shadows in the draining tide.

The sportsman’s quick arm
flings his fly in a taut arc.
A silvery flash,
translucent as moonlight,
snaps the feathery barb,
fiercely twists, surges,
is caught by the lure.

Legs braced, arms taut, the hunter
pits his wits in pursuit,
steadily reels, yields,
pulls with a sure grip.
Calmly triumphant,
he admires his sleek catch,
wrenches the hook from her mouth,
watches her streak away,
then resumes his slow slide
through the receding tide.

Close by, the heron swoops,
grabbing her prey
as swiftly as a comet flashes,
but she follows no rule
of catch and release.
Her dinner drops
head first down her throat,

bulges and wiggles
along the slender, dark tunnel
of her neck. She wastes
no time savoring her skill.
Her hungry clock set to the tides,
she must snare more
before the flats lie dry.

Fakir

by Cornelia Rohde

In the snaking gullies
of Nizamuddin,
a cochineal-robed fakir
moves softly on bare feet,
winding his way
through pungent smells
of moradabadi biryani,
dahi butter chicken,
stalls of sweets: kheer in earthen bowls,
virulent orange squiggles of imarti,
hawkers of jasmine garlands,
rainbow bangles,
ubiquitous paan wallahs.

Body hung with holy beads,
hair twisted wild,
holding a staff wound
with many colored ribbons,
strings of prayers
tied to his wrists,
his eyes present and distant,
still and volcanic;
a wandering ascetic
whose only demand
is to draw near to God.

I find his iridescent spirit
in yearning gawwals
sung at Dargah. 
I hold their longing
close within me.