To hear the poet read "Benares," click
We floated on that skiff at day-
break. Down the Ganges to the ghats.
The joyful dead bumped against
the bow, their faces attentive.
Now that I understand the similar
nature of our claims, I realize
what they were trying to tell us.
I am not a woman of the law, but
a dumb lover of shapes. That's the
way the river works, spinning its
strong lines, a rapt circle into which
the dead can fit. I watched you standing
near the smoking black cribs, your arms
wrapped round yourself, set in your own
embrace. The ones who burned became wings
lifting into dawn. The ones who chanted
became eyes. Then the bearded holy man appeared,
walking through flames, straight to me, pressing
my brow with his dirty thumb. Baksheesh!
he cried, smearing the single red dot: sunrise.
Carol Muske-Dukes is professor of creative writing and English at USC and the author of eight books of poems, most recently Twin Cities.