Issue 8 – Mulligan


J. B. Mulligan

Torches

           (“The last member of an ancient tribe that has inhabited an Indian
island chain for around 65,000 years has died, a group that campaigns
for the protection of indigenous peoples has said.

Boa Sr, who was around 85 years of age, died last week in the Andaman
islands, about 750 miles off India’s eastern coast,
Survival International said in a statement.”—Cnn.com Feb. 5, 2010)

The quote in the poem is from the article is from the article in which Boa Sr talks
about the tsunami in 2004.

Say it ain’t so. There ain’t no Bo?
Cry me the River Styx – they have us
to toast them into the shadowy past,
the underground cavern, torch-lit,
with vanished ancestral arms
open to scoop the womb-spill
and cherish and sing to it as it
looks around startled, hungry
for meat that is gone forever
before it settles happily into
whatever is wherever it is.

Permanent joy in a world of change?
“While we were all asleep,” she wrote
in a language now sucked from the air,
“the water rose and filled all around.
We did not get up before the water rose.
Water filled where we were
and as the morning broke
the water started to recede.”
All the large and small waves
and the holes of sand crabs
like the crying mouths
in a nest that was washed
from a tree, one small wreck
in the landscape of disaster –
but huge, but all, to creatures
tumbled in water, sucking
at the precious absent air.

All that is will be no more.
Suits me fine – though I’ll kick
and scream and cling to the tree –
in all the large and small revolutions,
tumbles and swirls of variation,
disruption and shattering sow
the crops in time’s spreading field.
Your bones and mine will nourish
the nosing, industrious worms,
or we’ll scatter ashes in wind
or keep them in a box, hand them
to hands not yet here, until one day
a house will be torn down, the box
will lurch and tumble and break,
spilling ashes, startling worms.

Loss? Certainly. That’s needed.
It’s the afterbirth of having been.
So sing her tribe,
our cousins washed
away by a wave
before the waters that will
come in a thunder and whirl
to tumble us into the river.
She’ll raise the torch, shivering
blade against the shadows,
and light a trembling passage.
That day, we’ll stand beside
her and her vanished tribe,
taking the torch, the sacred
light of the nourishing past.

You went 65,000 years?
That’s running the race.
I’ll hoist a beer to you
and our kind, but mourn?
Celebrate and smile,
knowing who will greet us
in the distant looming dark.