Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Poem: Decorative Figure On An Ornamental Background

Time almost up, Ravana climbs the tower
to survey Rama’s army ranged at him,
a sea of fur, teeth, claws, and seething blood
ready to dash against daybreak, or smash
the stronghold of the demon king, and save
Rama’s beloved Sita, the loyal queen.

The play is almost done, Ravana thinks,
the silly ploy to catch the girl, the sweet
talk to fool her he’s ravenous for sex,
the sub-plot to give Rama’s monkey spy
run of his private rooms—all to entice
the jealous lover to the jailor’s island.

Ravana checks his irony, relief.
He can still smell her fear when his hand clamped
over her mouth. Her voice, rejecting him,
rings in his ears a distant temple bell.
Even the monkey’s conscious courage throbs
beside the immense calm of his great heart.

And when Rama runs his sword through him,
the demon king, the kidnapper, the god-
killer, and realizes who Rama is—
Lord Vishnu, the Preserver, nothing less—
the human coming into the divine
will strum and strum the raga down the blade.

Ravana shivers slightly. That’s to come.
For now, the tower, its purpose-fitted stones
losing their strength, dissolving in the night.
Only his unshod feet can see the tower,
making a tabla of the stony air,
moving to some strange music from below,

above, around, inside his ten fierce heads,
high scholars of the holy scriptures, while
his twenty hands, that smashed the lesser gods,
and crumpled Indra’s dreaded thunderbolt,
open blindly like the petals of a flower
to the sun rising from beneath the sea.

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