They were always there at the window
when I awoke, nostrils squashed
against the pane, gnarled fingers
tap-tap-tapping: macaques, threatening
entry. As if they were the gaolers,
myself in the cage of a foreign zoo.
‘Never look a rhesus monkey in the eye’,
it was said. But I caught a stare
that the Brahmin priests and sadhus
warned was a dervish’s glare.
Though a mosquito net hung over me
like an outworn bridal veil, holed
by paddies, threats, rages, it offered
no protection from the wizened faces
of these temple primates that overheard
my thoughts and climbed my nightmares.
Swinging from my fears, they fisted
the only nuggets of light I managed to save
in solitary confinement even by
my husband’s side. From some cave
in Pashupatinath I presumed they had come..
There, on stone linga, they masturbated
at teenage girls gliding by, wrapped
in smoke from burning pyres on ghats –
while the Bagmati’s brown waters lapped
against worn feet of washer-women
wringing out kurtas and saris, bodies curved
towards the Ganges for a new incarnation.
They were always there at the window,
older than time, as if I was their creation..
was it so terrible what you underwent
that you were unable to recover your song
stolen by the male that did you wrong?
No sharp, flat or natural, no decibel
to borrow from the winds in the woods
of your perches, no note to swell –
Hushed forever, how can you bear
to listen to arias from the virtuosos
of your kind, piercing, pure, and know –
from the thicket where your shyness hides –
your talent far surpasses what you hear,
yet stays day and night unannounced inside?
forget how you were raped and torn
in yellowed deserts, spiked downland dells;
how, never out of tune, you were accused
of croaking in a choir, the conductor’s baton
against your throat as blackcaps and warblers
whistled your name. Even when gone –
in your plain brown body, a laide-belle,
may you find cellos, tongues, feathered flutes
for the undertones winged on your spell.
Patricia McCarthy is half Irish and half English. Her collection, Rodin’s Shadow, was published in 2012 by Clutag Press/Agenda Editions. Horses Between Our Legs, headed by her poem which won the National Poetry Competition, 2013, was published in 2014; Letters to Akhmatova came out last year. Rockabye, a new collection will be published by Worple Press this year (2017) and Shot Silks by Waterloo Press. She is the editor of Agenda poetry journal www.agendapoetry.co.uk