THERE WERE DEER BARKING IN THE HILLS
When was it—
in between the bridge’s planks—
the river winked at me from below?
Not that blue
I’d seen from the porch,
but a sharpening of knives,
the way, stealth-footed,
dawn opens the doors.
Whistling, stropping your razor,
you were the father.
Mother slept late.
spilled over the tile roof,
bougainvillea, trumpet vine.
Soon the light
Kishan served us
early breakfast—toast and tea
and half a grapefruit picked
from a tree in our garden.
Oh, it was sweet!
Just the two of us
on the porch at the wicker table
set with knives and sugar.
Still in bathrobes, sandals flapping,
we walked across the Jumna, the bridge
not yet crowded, the river far below us,
Allahabad, City of God,
creaking awake on its wooden wheels:
bullock carts, hoof clops, dark leather blinders,
the slow bells of oxen.
I skip-hopped beside you.
Soon the sun would rise,
crinkling the river to a maze of gold,
hiding deeper currents
where snapping turtles scavenged the dead.
Mother planted blousey sweet peas, marigolds,
larkspur bruised and iridescent,
colors she cut and carried indoors.
I wanted her to hold me.
Mahatma, intransitive verbs,
the students adored you.
Their saris and homespun
tied at the waist, you pitched them
basketballs, ran with the javelin,
its shaft shuddering
upright in earth.
I climbed the leathery limbs of the banyan
or watched from the game field, munching chunna.
Afternoons, I found you
at home at your desk, scribbling notes
on student papers, coaxing
sermons onto the page.
You lit a hand-rolled cigarette, pet crow
on your shoulder, mongoose
asleep in your tucked-in shirt.
Under the ceiling fan’s
paddle of flies and sun motes,
I climbed into your lap.
When was it, you found me, still asleep,
slipped into my pajamas, insistent,
the way the deer’s short barks,
hunted, came breathless?
Always, the day began again,
as if nothing had happened—
the ghostly netting,
the hard wooden bed frame
I climbed over to the floor.
The way the sun bore down.
“There Were Deer Barking in the Hills” is reprinted from Ghandi’s Lap (The Word Works).
Charlotte Warren’s poetry collection, Gandhi’s Lap, won the Washington Prize and publication by Word Works in Washington, D.C. Her second poetry manuscript was a finalist in both the Phillip Levine and Ashland national contests. Warren’s poems have appeared on Seattle buses as well as in journals such as Orion, Calyx, The Hawai’i Review, The Louisville Review, and Kansas Quarterly. Warren’s recently published memoir, Jumna: Sacred River, chronicles her childhood in India during its fight for independence from Great Britain in 1947, and her coming of age in the United States as it entered the turbulent sixties. She received her MFA in Writing from Vermont College, and taught part time at Peninsula College in Washington State. She and her husband have called the Olympic Peninsula home for over forty years, have two grown sons and two grandchildren.