Like Day and Night
By day, the river’s for fishing.
No bodies bloat up to the surface.
But by night,
it’s a floating graveyard.
A carcass bobs against the banks.
An old man and his dog come across it
and call the cops.
Whole families come out for picnic’s
The guys guzzle beer.
The women make sandwiches.
The kids play.
Everyone in the family’s accounted for.
So who is it
that holds her head under,
once the shadows
bury the land with their breadth?
Or jumps from the bridge
as the cars splutter down
couldn’t be more different
than the shimmering promise of morning,
the relief of a red-skinned late afternoon.
Sure, there was a kid drowned once
around noon time.
But it was an accident,
You could sense the stream apologizing
as guys pulled the kid from the water.
Die after night
and it’s like the river
has achieved its purpose.
Take a look at the washed-up corpse.
No question that darkness was involved.
A camel up close and piled with goods and people.
Everywhere cows, as graceful as elegant, as bony sunken bellies can be.
Calves trailing in their wake, stepping in and out of baking patties.
Every moving vehicle with men and children clinging on its sides.
Fruit bats hanging upside down from eaves.
Persimmon smells, every spice known to man.
Golden, sari-draped women and turbaned Sikhs.
Canvas hats, fine silk raps.
Packs of wandering, wild dogs hunting for scraps.
Rickshaws kicking up dust and gray leaves..
Monkeys scurrying across the ground, leaping
into trees, bounding from branch to branch.
Every place stuffed with people,
some trying to squeeze out,
others forcing their way out.
Signs of the Raj. Signs of the new.
Air full of smoke and incense.
Fakir with legs coiled, sitting on the sidewalk,
repeating the names of his gods.
Young men and women at the outside café,
heads burrowed in cell phones,
Slow brown river of barges and bathers
Trucks stalled for miles on a dirt road
while a water buffalo stands it stubborn ground.
John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in That, Dalhousie Review and North Dakota Quarterly with work upcoming in Qwerty, Chronogram and failbetter.