We step from the plane into tropical night.
The smell - of what? Spice, urine, incense,
Smoke - is a presence, harsh as the sight
Of shrouded, sleeping forms: essence
At first, of Bombay. For weeks I am ill
With fever, nausea, a piercing sense
Of exile. What had I thought to feel
For the ragpicker, the lame
Woman whose fingerless hands hold
A large-headed, silent baby? Ashamed,
I empty my purse. Don't touch me,
Don't make me look. It's I who's maimed.
Househunting, the first flat we see
Is full of crows, preening their glistening rags
On the rosewood screen and damask settee.
We find an apartment and the weather changes.
My vision clears. In the monsoon-rinsed air
The bitter scent's of home. The leper who drags
Smiling, after me, lives next door
In Gitanagar "The Place of Song"
Patched of sacking and tin and paper,
And she and I begin a long
Wordless acquaintance. My friend Sundari
Lends me a rough black grinding stone.
We engage a teacher of Hindi.
And as I struggle to form the letters
Or to hear four indistinguishable sounds of d
I think how nothing in my alphabet
Has prepared me to say
The thousand names of Brahma, or to write,
Correctly, "naked, the pilgrim goes his way."