The Subcontinent
by Jay Passer

I drank Kingfisher and cheap bourbon in bars fashioned
from 15th century vaults
I gave my shirt to a 9 year old kid
I watched the sun chip silver off a tree
as a monkey rifled through my backpack
I got nudged by a bareback bull and
flew 20 feet into space
I was offered black tar by the Guru from the Mountain
marigolds drifted on the Ganges in funereal ceremony
as fighting kites skewered through the smoke
I negotiated a ride to the train station for 20 rupees
using hand language
a woman balanced bananas in a basket upon her head
she wore a sari burnished with saffron and karma
I was reborn on a beach off the Bengalese coast
the boats built by fishermen a thousand years old
I was told by the Guru from the Mountain
that I was a storybook yet to be written
I left the train station how many hours late
the sky the same slate as any mute planet
threatening rain and strife and multitudes
nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine
Gods willing to endure this incarnate being in lieu
of that other place
I asked for an extra towel at the hotel and
the dark boy grinned
a sinuous swivel of the head danced yes
how was I to know
I was born in California

PHOTOGRAPH: “Young woman kneeling in a temple with candles Varanasi, Benares, India” by Jorge Royan.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I spent December of 2004, as well as January and February of 2005, traveling in some northern parts of India. Unfortunately, I didn’t venture south due to the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that hit on December 26th. I took trains from Delhi to Varanasi, and from that wonderfully spiritual city to Kolkata. My last stop was Puri, on the Bengali coast. At the time I knew nobody in India. Now, due to social media and a penchant for scribbling, I have many friends there, and plan to return for an extended stay sometime in the near future.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jay Passer’s work has appeared in print and online since 1988. He is the author of seven chapbooks and three ebooks. His work was chosen in 2014 to represent the Tenderloin District in the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library Poets 11 Anthology. Passer lives and works in San Francisco, the city of his birth.