Joshua Gray

A native of Washington DC, I now live in the Western Ghats of Tamil Nadu with my wife and two boys. I have been published in many American journals, and my book Beowulf: A Verse Adaptation With Young Readers In Mind is available through Zouch Six Shilling Press. I was honored to read and present at the Mussoorie Writers Festival in September 2012, and I invite people to read my blog Poet of Indian Origin. My Web site is


The beggar with a borrowed baby followed us

from the taxi into the restaurant.

One of the oldest in the city, recently renovated,

we sat down at a window table.

The air conditioning was a welcome relief from the hot sun

that drilled down into the open air taxi.

Water was quickly consumed as lattes and chicken croissant sandwiches

were ordered and served.

I wish I had paid more attention. Was the pale floor

marble? Was the waiter gentlemanly polite

or tiredly irritated? Did the doorman sport

a candlestick mustache? Maybe

I was too busy looking out the window,

as poets do, concerned that my son still wasn’t hungry,

as parents do, to notice the burning smell

coming from my sun-fried sandals.

The renovation had divided the city:

It’s so much brighter, more open, more exquisite.

It’s horrible: memories are ruined, its comforting aromas vanished forever.

The doorman let us out into the street.

We passed the beggar with the borrowed baby

And hailed a taxi; we didn't know

an hour later the restaurant would burn down

or that seven people stranded on its roof

had jumped to their death.


We drove away from the flat where we stayed,

from the corner stand where flies swarmed the squash,

from the sidewalks where Bengalis slept but two hours before,

from the streets where stores and residences crowded themselves

like the people who stirred within them,

where there was no place to put anything but the trash

you clutched and dropped from your palm,

and rode into the city, past the Queen Victoria Monument

as the dome’s statuette scaled the sky,

our taxi driver falling asleep at every red light,

having turned the engine off before nodding off and then

back on again, his eyes opening from the cues of the horns honking around him,

wanting so much to be our guide, and took us around

the National Library, so white and colonial,

with it's intricate metal doors, the large lawn of uncut grass

in front of it, the enormous Banyan tree,

older than the American Civil War, large limbs taking root

so it seemed so many trees were there, and rode

back into the piercing traffic and baking sun, rode past the crude

sculpture of a lion, the symbol of the National Library,

around the walls of the royal horse racing track, which was threatened

to be torn down, down the road, a train chugging on our left, on it's way

to the station, splitting us from the Hugli River,

into colonial Kolkata we went, old English architecture

at every turn, famous state buildings here, famous hotels there,

the Governor’s Mansion, as mustard as the local cuisine,

resting beyond a lawn and a great gate, climbed out of the taxi

in downtown, a scooter rickshaw blazed passed us,

a beggar with a borrowed baby chased after us.

‘What about the Hara Bridge?’ I asked.

‘Achha,’ said the driver, ‘we will do that tomorrow.’


In the Himalayan hills where the fog eroded my eyes,

I could not see the winding road,

The drop-offs where tree tops should be:

As I drove, I eluded death and hid in gray humidity.

When the monsoon arrived it appeared barely alive;

The fog rolled in and rolled out with little rainfall.

Thunder kept its shy distance and rumbling persistence;

Even so, umbrellas were employed by us all.

Once the rains and fog moved north

The sun grew warm, and clothes were destined to dry.

I remained unsettled, my skeptic mind,

My bruised eyes looked to the sky.

But now the monsoon’s back and the southern retreat

Grew reckless; the thunder, the wind, the rain

All came with an extra dose of strength.

I would not force the function of my timid feet.

And yet, after that drive, I chose to walk about,

Cold and weary, drenched, faint as a stone

Under the scent of my recently unpacked rain poncho,

But still the thrill made me everything but alone.

And now, it’s night; the rains pound the skylight above

Me; electricity lost the fight and candles lead my way.

Somewhere deep around these fog-filled hills,

I can picture Krishna and Radha coiled in their sweet love.

Generally speaking the heat and drought is hated throughout the living --

So I do not deny the need to bleed the sky;

As the rain and thunder continues to play their song,

The blood spills around me; the clouds decide to die.


In the early morning fog before the dim light fully lightens

I sit on the steps of my porch sipping tea

And watch the mountain open its eyes on the other side of the valley.

I cannot see the more distant mountain; it is hidden by the fog. Nearby,

The call to prayer has ended, and all I hear

In the deafness of my ears is silence.

I cannot hear the mourning birds in their own pitiful prayer.

The neighborly dogs pay me a visit, as if it’s been years,

And take interest in the tea that keeps me warm.

I sit in peace, waiting.

One of these mornings, a herd of Indian bison will walk by

For their breakfast. They will be the late risers.

The lone bull will hang back and chill, deep in the trees.

These bison are like cattle, grazing and gazing as they eat.

They are fat and healthy, huge and fast.

Their fierce eyes pierce my soul.

And yet, they never come then, as I sit; I only see them when

They make their midday rounds. The eyes of others widen,

As if they’ve seen a ghost. The others often shut their doors.

But I watch the bison fill their bellies; as I draw near, awed,

I am reminded of when I once rested

Under the dark sky, a canopy of clouds above me.

I saw the silhouette of six bison meander by me, unafraid.

And now I stand and shudder, shame-faced,

For these wild beasts migrate down the mountain to this new home,

Leaving a world they never wanted to leave, never wanted destroyed.


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