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Small Towns and the River

Small towns always remind me of death.

My hometown lies calmly amidst the trees,

it is always the same,

in summer or winter,

with the dust flying,

or the wind howling down the gorge.

Just the other day someone died.

In the dreadful silence we wept

looking at the sad wreath of tuberoses.

Life and death, life and death,

only the rituals are permanent.

The river has a soul.

In the summer it cuts through the land

like a torrent of grief. Sometimes,

sometimes, I think it holds its breath

seeking a land of fish and stars

The river has a soul.

It knows, stretching past the town,

from the first drop of rain to dry earth

and mist on the mountaintops,

the river knows

the immortality of water.

A shrine of happy pictures

marks the days of childhood.

Small towns grow with anxiety

for the future.

The dead are placed pointing west.

When the soul rises

it will walk into the golden east,

into the house of the sun.

In the cool bamboo,

restored in sunlight,

life matters, like this.

In small towns by the river

we all want to walk with the gods.

© 2004, Mamang Dai

From: River Poems

Publisher: Writers Workshop, Kolkata