Exercises at Ten Thousand Feet

This Himalayan spring, before the mountain goats went back over the high mountain passes, I motored up to Auli (inside the almost inaccessible Nanda Devi biosphere) in the Garhwal Himalayas bordering Nepal and overlooking the vast Indo-Gangetic plains. I have been motoring and walking in these mountains for more than five years. The mountains and the river see you rather than you seeing them. These are the poems I composed while driving amidst this immense beauty.

I – Your Peak

above the last gondola stop
convex bowl
of yellow creamy milk
with raisin rock

your peak will turn
angry edible pink
as the sun sets

then what but one
or two scraggy pine trees
in silhouette

and mountainsides
of dark cactus
and brown lichen
that was yellow moss

II – One, Two

empty out
brown shark teeth mountains

with ice-white dentist caps
rain snow wind
from west to east

low comic book thunder
phantom hail sizzles
in low gear
tires engross slush
give up and empty out

not this not this
in late afternoon sun
not this not this
emerging from one more cosmic vagina
not this not this
black still river
dying into lively blue white froth

come come
not this not this
breathing in and breathing out

III – Nanda Devi – North West Face

dreams wisp up
your swept minor summit
then ridge saddle
your rock posts
one two
and a considerably higher three

finally the beginning
of your dome base
much seen
your spatula smoothed ode
to dreams that the sun dreams
spectrally exposed

above deep sleep
willful knowing active
in bliss ever in bliss

dream mountain
are you afraid of me
who stands spine straight
in your anonymous bio-sphere
hand in hand with a snow leopard
and an adolescent Himalayan bear

IV – White Owl

our handkerchief balcony
above the river
below an ambitious tenth day moon

auspicious stars in between
socially correct penumbral cloud

we see her wing span from below
milk white in shadow

two wing beats
then glide and swoop

she is a night predator

and we are
an old man and a woman
looking up
at a white owl hunting
below a tenth day moon

V – Elephant, Horse and Palanquin

from the eagle nest temple porch
at one-o-clock
twenty miles as the crow flies
first there was the ice-elephant
trumpet up
then an extended ridge
ending in a prancing white horse
until all the nameless peaks of blood
rose up into an elaborate rose grey palanquin
aligned south-west to north-east

and then blue sky
and sky and sky
and stars rising at the setting sun

when the lord was born
his father
gave away in joy
elephants and horses and palanquins
while in these fodder-less mountains
commemorative peaks
in stone and ice
were built by the poorer gods

VI – Our Woman

we’ve motored back down from the ski resort

before we meet the ‘pilgrim’ river
we must but stop
at this un-manned railroad crossing
because elephants from the sanctuary
have right of way

and the woman you see
head covered with mud-white sari
empty plastic mineral water bottle in hand
will stop by the stream beneath the abandoned foot-bridge
fill her bottle with water from the ‘Moon-River’
and squat on her haunches
behind those rhododendron bushes
to empty herself

modesty dictates
that this she can only do
at dusk
if no elephants are crossing
and before the snakes come out to prey

but this ‘our lady of the sanctuary’
can gather firewood
get leopard mauled
or cook leaven bread for the road gang
even as flies infiltrate between
her nipple and her baby’s lips
incessantly inevitably monotonously
all through the long sunny day

Ashok Niyogi was born in Calcutta in 1955. He has two published collections of poetry in India—Crossroads and Reflections in the Dark (both from A-4 Publications) and has one published book of poems in the United States—Tentatively (iUniverse). He has been published extensively online and in print in India, the USA, the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, and Holland.