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Contents Page: July 1, 2011, vol 7 no 2

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Paul Welch

 

Nepali

Kathmandu appeared out of the valley as orange and red rooftops, haphazard castoff fragments of some clumsy giant's pottery wheel. The streets narrow, unpaved, impassably mired in monsoon mud. Sour piles of garbage climbed medieval walls. Bicycles, cars, tuk-tuks, people and water buffalo crammed, pushing out from every corner like platelets through a runner's capillary maze.

Red melting candle
slipping through Shiva's fingers
Dusk in Kathmandu

I was constantly lost, laying a trail like Theseus, muttering "Dumpling stand–right, Vishnu statue–left at fork, go straight until massage parlor..." but invariably I failed. The dumpling stand turned into a jewelry store, the statue into a mango stand and some goats, and the massage parlor into a gaggle of rickshaw drivers demanding to know my plans. Neither maps nor magic sufficiently reconciled the transience.

Summer street mirage
Boy peeks around the corner
pulls back—thunderclap!

A guide from the city took me to a temple, nestled into terraced rice paddies. Storm clouds grazed languid fingers across the faces of green fields. The guide could only just understand the locals for they spoke an ancient, cloistered tongue. The temple is girded by statues of Shiva as archer. The guide tells a story: Every certain number of years a vagrant is abducted by priests who clean and pamper him, offer him every pleasure, tell him he is a prince who wandered beyond the palace when he was a boy, and now, praise the Gods, has been found again. They ply him with luxury until he remembers nothing but the ruse. On an auspicious night, he is fetched by men in robes, taken to a grand altar, where his throat is cut by firelight over a golden bowl.

A priest in saffron
white thumbprint on his forehead
Eating with bared teeth

 

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