Okavango

by Pamela Newham

Lilies like watery stars.
The silent glide of the makoro
down narrow canals
water-weed dank
past frogs,
the size of fingernails,
clinging to slim reeds.
Papyrus high on both sides.
The crack and crunch of hippos
on the river bank.
In a clearing a lion, so lazy,
he can barely lift his head.

Hair of Crocus

by Cornelia Rohde

Lay a saffron stigma on your tongue.
Watch it bleed deep golden, the glow of Cleopatra’s
skin after diffusing pinches of it in her love-bath.
At Nero’s orgiastic bashes, cakes lewdly squirted
bursts of yellow when squeezed by bawdy guests,

and Pliny the Elder suggested ‘hair of crocus’
in wine to cure a hangover. It is a paradox,
that a thin red thread can provoke snorts
of raunchy laughter, yet too much of it
make the liver shrivel, or cause a costly Saffron War.

I want to drink it as pure, radiant ruby tea,
while I look out over a mantle of purple blooms
at Persian fields unfolding in the morning sun.
I will have reveries of amorous Krishna in his golden dhoti,
stealing robes of gopis while they bathe, and conjure up his home,

where I saw a blazing sea of sunflowers turn their faces
to the light, and meadows of shining marigolds
raised for offerings to the gods.
In that land I will be gifted saffron rice again,
and journey with its blessing.

Pistachios

by Pamela Newham

Cyprus airport one a.m.
Two women waiting for a flight.
Around us suntanned holidaymakers
stretch out on metal benches
as a tinny voice announces again
our flight has been delayed.

Two dark-eyed boys with stubble chins
want to buy us red wine.
We say no but they tell us
they are Iranians no one wants
and have been in transit for days.
So we let them buy us wine
and when they come back
they pile pistachios on the table.

They tell us they are taxi drivers
and we pretend to believe
their wild tales and they
pretend to be shocked
when they hear
they are half our age.
We laugh and flirt tasting
the saltiness of the pistachios
and the roughness of the wine
until finally they call our flight
and we hug like old friends
or maybe lovers.

An unexpected adventure
so many years ago and yet
whenever I slide my nail between
the slick shell and crack open
a pistachio I recall a hot night
and boys nobody wanted.

 

 

Overnight to Beijing

by Elizabeth Trew

In the top bunk I listen to sounds in the dark –
voices far-off and the sleepers’ breathing
over the wheels clickety-clack on the tracks.

Waking at dawn I look down and see the old woman
sitting still by the window
after she opens the blind to check herself in the glass.

Back home I look out at another day
and picture the grandmother
utterly composed in her stillness, nourishing her light.

In Old Rangoon (1970)

by Cornelia Rohde

We squat on wooden stools outside crumbling
Scott’s Market, cupping steamy bowls of mohinga
from a street vendor: chunks of river shad,
lemon grass, tender core of banana stem, chili,
pungent shrimp paste, onions laced with rice noodles.

Shafts of light chase shadows from the open stalls.
I watch slanting sunrays burnish
the golden lacquer of a Hintha bird,
teasing glints from its faux-jeweled wings.

“The Hintha is said to eat only pearls. To us,
this bird means love and faith in marriage.”
His tapered fingers offer a slim green cheroot.
The taste is smooth and mild, as clement as his smile.

I savor soup and a smoke with him,
and bring a sacred swan to you.

A Memory

by Elaine Edwards

On the road
somewhere
between Agra and Jaipur,
we stopped for lunch.

The journey had been long:
red roads, donkeys, bicycles,
buses, camels, dust, horns blaring,
cows, legless beggars, naked Fakirs,
on a truck a giant statue of Ganesh, elephant head bobbing.
Paul’s face shone with sweat.
My thighs were sticky on the vinyl seat.
The marigold garland around my neck
reeked of cat’s pee.
The restaurant was a jewel set in a circle of greenery.
A softly- spoken woman seated us
on couches under waving fans.
I smelt: anise, turmeric, cardamom, chillies,
cumin, ginger, curry.

I can’t remember what our dish was called,
whether it was lamb, or even goat.
What did we drink I wonder;
Who was at our table?

Others recall the wonders of the Taj Mahal,
Red Fort, Pink Palace or Humayan’s Tomb.
My memory of India is this: the curry that I ate,
in the jewelled oasis,
on the road
somewhere
between Agra and Jaipur.

October Moon

Thailand

by Lise Day

In our huts
mosquito-nets shroud sleeping bodies
humped in slatted bars of light
Outside men coiled in sweet poppy-smoke
puff on pipes stained beetle-juice red.
This, the village of the Hill People
who share their homes with foreigners.
I shuffled around a fire
to learn their dances in the jangle
of silver discs from nose and ears;
shared a meal of unknown origin;
swallowed rough drink when the cup was passed.
 
Now I stand alone in a tangle of moonlight
the dark bulk of an elephant down-stream
silver bamboo stalks ready to be bound
into flimsy rafts for tomorrow’s journey.

You were with us then

You were with us then
in Turkey, as we stood
in the amphitheatre,
came through the Arch
of the Gladiators
and heard the cheering
of the crowds.

You were with us then
in Turkey, as we climbed
to our places high
above the arena
and witnessed the chariots
in our mind and choked
in the dust of flying hooves.

You were with us then
in Turkey, on the highest hill
and marvelled
at the skills of Hittites
and Romans
and bathed in their
sophistication.

Yes, you were with us then
in Turkey.