Dried fishnets on the shore

and funeral ghats surrounded

by spectators and bursts of orange

marigolds. Who were these once-people 

displayed now so openly on 

funeral pyres for anyone to see

their last moments of earthly intimacy.

Flesh once like ours turned into black coal,

limbs once like ours turned into whispers of ash.

Dreams once like ours turned into eternal atoms 

recycled back into the waiting arms

of mother universe who will toss us

back out again. Atoms once like ours

encased in flesh, invisible to the naked eye,

reborn somewhere. Someday. 

The Harishandra and Manikarnika cremation

ghats flame day and night with bodies

wrapped in gold garlands. We peek

at the once-faces of the dead resting

on their smoke pillows and wonder at our own ends

and who will see our death face. But we are 

tourists and quick to move on. Quick to dip

into the Ganges for ablution that conveniently 

offers a lifetime reprieve of regrets. 

Tourists in our half-lives, 

we sit on the Harischandra ghat 

watching the river because we’re tired,

because Buddha sat near a river

and maybe we can learn an easy secret

or think a Buddha thought like he did. 

We offer jasmine petals and sandalwood incense

to flatter an afterlife we don’t believe in, 

listen hard to the sound of the Ganges 

like it’s a language we never learned,

hoping for a word or two we can understand. 

The Ganges River flows north towards

the North Star, but stars die. 

I don’t like rivers. They’re never alone 

and always move on. I trust the ocean

with its lonely waves reaching out for me.