KATHMANDU 2003


By Sam Yau


summer heat soaks the air, rickshaws and

cars meander along the dust-clouded streets


drivers cuss, beep and blast their horn

cows, unmoved, block traffic, lay more dung


stray dogs bark amidst toxic haze

riders spew sputum from clogged lungs


brilliant colors of spices on a wheeled cart dart my eyes

exotic birds for sale in wired cages flutter their wings in vain


a monkey perched on an overhanding tree branch swoops down

to snatch a half-eaten apple from my astounded palm


an old yogi with roped hair and a toothless smile stands on one leg

charmers on stone steps play flute to lure slithering snakes to dance


a young mother-beggar clasps her deformed child with big sad eyes

pungent sewage and sweet incense pierce and startle my breath


the embalmed in flamboyant clothes burnt in open air

between wood piles on the banks of the Ganges


ashes scatter in the river where children play

vultures feast on floating singed remains


as the pyre releases the smoke of death

the eternal soul is liberated, heaven-bound


devotees bow under giant eyes painted on temple walls

Shiva, Shakti, Ganesh seem to materialize all around


blue, white, red, green and yellow prayer flags flap

rows of golden prayer wheels swirl


surrounded by towering ice-capped mountains

the plethora of color, sound and smell overwhelm my senses


I float between the silent snow and Kathmandu’s bustling ground

a tapestry of heaven and earth, mundane and sacred, in perfect harmon





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