Patterns in Henna – eBook


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The three sections in Patterns in Henna contain poems from three parts of my life; most of the first two sections are set in British India in the thirties, forties, or earlier, an era and place gone forever.The poems in Section I are impressions from childhood with the point of view of a child or adolescent and reflect attitudes of the time.Section II is about my father and his family. It is because of them that I spent my formative years in India. Many poems are based on family stories.In Section III, I write in my adult voice about return trips to India and then move on to a group of more reflective poems.I give a poem from each section as an example. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.I.Under the Gul Mohur Tree(Jabalpur, Central India)A gul mohur tree dominated our back garden.Sun dappled through a thousand fern-like fronds,the series of planes like Nepalese temple rooftops.Here Chutan, the cook, fattened ducks,and a goose for Christmas,the former foragers resting like pashas in the green-gold shade,slurping fresh water, eating handfuls of fine wheat.Chutan prized the delicate spring leaves, pale yellow,humbly approached my father,”Huzoor,” hands pressed together,for permission to pick a few.His wife prepared the tight-curled frondswith wild coriander to make sabzi. Racemes of flowers appeared with the hot weather,resting above the foliage.Gul mohur–rose peacock– the Peacock-rose,gold mohur, I called it as a child,each blossom a shining gold,igniting into orange, vermilion, scarlet.Bright Indian sun sparkledthrough airy shadows shifting over leaf-strewn earthand the abandoned well,deep enough for drowning.White ants riddled the massive cover.Once throbbing with a three-day headache,(my mother blamed the Indian sun),I pulled a mat under the gul mohur.Air currents brushed leaf ribs,waved pink-gold shapes through eyelids,and I listened to insects,then my father’s footfall in dry grass.He sat beside me,coming between his classesto sit quietly on the lip of the welland press a wet towel on my forehead.II.CallingA lammergeyer vulturecircled cloudless Indian skyand from the lazy patternthere dropped a single featherveering in concentric whorlsuntil it dropped almost bythe hand of a young preacherpondering his messages.He fingered the stout quill,gripped it firmly like a pen,whittled a point. Having comeso far, started a letterto his sister half a worldaway on a Midwest farm.Dear Isabella, he wrote,then wondered what he could say.Indian women do not learnwith their brothers as you did.Their faces veiled, eyes cast down,knowing nothing of the world,they cry for teachers like you.A mustard seed dropped in loamsprings into a tree. To hissurprise a letter arrived.I come when the way opens.When the heart is ready, doorsswing back, as they did for her,founding a womans college.With unruly locks confinedbeneath a deaconess cap,and full figure cased in black,her life filled up with colorand generations of girlsfrom Lucknow, kingdom of Oudh.Such small things can shape


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