Devadatta’s Poems (2014)

devadatta's poems=


Devadatta’s Poems was published by Giramondo in 2014.

On this page you can read the following three poems from the book:

  • Alms Round, Sarnath
  • Wanting Yasodhara
  • In Rajagaha


I smell ripe figs, dates, pomegranates; cumin and onions
sizzling in hot ghee. There are piles of sesame and honey cakes,
teas scented with cinnamon and cloves, but we must wait

along the town’s outskirts, keep our eyes downcast,
try to be grateful for whatever’s given. Mostly all I’m given
are scrawny parings of stalks, maggoty wheat crawling

in the centre of my hands. Don’t these other monks
want to look these folk squarely in the eyes and demand
mangos, melons and handpicked beans? Don’t they want

to stuff their mouths full of rice and roasted coconut,
with almonds, cashews and pickled beets? Aren’t they tired
of seeing their bowls as bare as their shaved heads?

I want to tell Buddha to chew his rules about patience
and frugality into a sloppy cud. I want to hold my bowl out
as boldly as a symbol and clang it loudly with my spoon.

I want to tell these miserable, skinflint, pinch-fisted folk
to stop tossing us husks, rinds, cores, thorns, rats’ tails,
roosters’ claws and— oh!—so many stinking lepers’ thumbs!


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I wanted to be the one to lift the sari
                from her nakedness, to smell her scent of myrrh,
                                 to offer her the dissolute bewitchment
of the tamarack wine. I wanted to be
                the one to paint her palms and feet with camphire,

                                 to hear the lissom sibilance
of her bracelets when they slipped up and down
                her arms, to see her dance and swirl
                                  her scarves about her head in dizzying
vapours, to give her jewels of pink corundum,

               to touch her hair, fine-grained as polished ebony.
                                  When the Brahmins lit the altars,
cut the throats of ten strong oxen, then poured
                perfumed ghee over hers and my cousin’s garlanded arms,
                                  I wanted to scour Siddhattha’s heart

from his body with my hands. And though it’s been years
                since the wedding, and though I’m far
                                  from Kapilavatthu now, I still want
to unwrap her sari from her body and lift her hair
                from her shoulders with my sorrow-worn hands.


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Sariputta and Mogallana are talking on the Four
Noble Truths. Men and women come out from the market
and bazaars. In the square, someone plays a veena,
someone else a sitar. The monks will talk well
into the night. I watch the sky grow cinnabar,

in the distance I listen for the call of the nightjar,
but I only hear the turkey buzzards and the koels.
From the crowd, a woman sings, her voice
is sweet as nougat. Sariputta and Mogallana
speak about the Eightfold Path, the woman is singing

of love, deceit, misery and desire; in the square
someone plays a veena, someone else a sitar.
Finally the buzzards fly off to the sycamores;
the koels are still fluting. In the street, a woman
closes the windows and cedar shutters of her house.

Buddha’s word is spreading now through Rajagaha.
But I grow sorrowful and I grow glum, wondering
if I’ll ever inspire anything but windy dissonance,
if I’ll ever bring to pass my coup d’etat? In the square
someone plays a veena and someone else a sitar.