The full moon’s bright as an owl’s eye
for luminous dreaming on a night
like this. Turn out your light. Ease into
sleep. A magic mountain beckons
you to journey along its winding cliff
- edge enhanced by drop-dead views.
Far below, a river slices rock
with dream’s incredible precision
while a storm of wings gathers above.
With an eye made quiet by its
power, the eagle stares down from its
aerie. Its eye is silver-golden
moonlight. By its logic the wing-storm
transforms to clatter of moon-scree
blocking the trail ahead and behind you,
not quite slamming the dream door shut.
On the shoreline, a large dead bird.
Lucy came this way, a pleasant spring walk
beside the lake, before she’d disappear
into pine woods on the far dark side, and there
my dog would find her, safe as a child
in fairytale. A swan-princess feigning sleep,
rubbing her eyes, ruffing my dog about
the neck. Lucy would tell me how she’d seen
a swan floating its sweet dream offshore.
But this transformed the morning:
on shoreline, a large dead bird, sprawled
unlovely, neck and wings unnaturally awry.
Was it taken by surprise, a gust of wind
plunging it free-falling out of sky? A heap
of feathers. Sun’s light coated it with gleam,
buried it in glisten. My dog sniffed once
in its direction, turned away. Birds are
not his business. He resumed his trail, led
me to Lucy, safe in the deep pine woods.
A GREEN BEYOND
I’m stirring lime juice into a slaw, mechanically,
contemplating while you sing Sweet dreams
baby a little louder than the radio, Toscanini
conducting Beethoven’s 6th, a green pastoral to
ease my heart. I wish you’d leave off singing.
I’m thinking of a history someone told me,
the green slope above an almshouse, patients
suffering from life beating their wings against
the windows. At last, each one lies under a
numbered metal marker, not a name, on a green
rise sacred as any of God’s creation. Music
beyond our words.
ON THE HILLTOP
Up here, the woods are full
of ghosts of trees; game-trails through
the brush like a map to mysteries
rooted in the bones of people too poor
to pay for their lives. These
are the ghosts, or else it’s the fog,
mists that inhabit the hills
behind town, closer to heaven.
Sun rises first here, and sets here first
as well. l find no headstones,
the dead can’t afford a stone. Miners
moved the rocks around
and cut the trees for shoring,
for beams and shingles, and ended up
here penniless. We’re left
with the aching of place. Shall we try
to mine what sparkles
in the stars? There are an awful lot
of stars. This is how
the mysteries go on without us.
(sister-in-law to Rabindranath Tagore)
—Tom Goff, Carmichael
You married a noble talent, but played with genius.
Girl fingertips drummed him a tabla beat; your part,
to shock into dream the handsome young abstemious
voice of East Bengal. Song like the point of the dart.
Playmates too richly dressed to romp in sand,
you capered across grand vistas of literature,
a solemn young India, yet never too grand
to distill rough laughs into raucous caricature.
Your flame licked out its crackling tongues of fun,
raged red, white, extinct, so ardent the desire.
What comes to a girl who orbits—this feminine sun—
that masculine star? Your heart pulsed blood-red fire.
Soon that fist clenched tight on one white spark of girl.
Clamped shut, the dark oyster admits no sand. No pearl.
A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.
We've removed the ceiling above our dreams. There are no more impossible dreams.
The complications ensue for anyone trying to understand her from an outsider's perspective. I wrote the poem and only then learned, looking the matter up, that there is only one woman tabla player accepted into the ranks of men. And that other women who do play it can only do so within the narrowest circles: family, or the smallest and most intimate gatherings. (This from Maha Mussadaq, writing for the Tribune Express. Oddly enough, then reader comments poured in correcting, naming this or that woman tabla player. Still, probably a tough gig for women to aspire to.)
So the image of Kadambari playing tabla is all wrong, and in a way right. It's really metaphor. I have no idea how musical she was, though she was educated and an intelligent friend and critic to Tagore. Apparently, though, she is the figure most often mentioned when Tagore's enlightenment about women's issues is the subject...I see her, too, as the "playmate" she's often called.