A poem by Madhuri.
There were these orderly little bungalows
in a lawny clearing;
laid out each at the end
of its own white path;
and over all the tall
and fragrant Himalayan pines.
The compact colonel’s little living room
was from 30’s England: photograph of Queen,
fire in grate, mantelpiece, layered rugs;
His mustache was a lively thicket.
A pair of 7-ft. soldiers served us,
little brushes on their turbans sticking up.
We had tasty curries
from proper china
so that it was easy to think
soldiers make the best housemaids.
Panzer, the wrinkled square-made
whuffled and smacked his lips
around to all the diners.
The colonel spoke of a baby bear
his men had raised in the mess
until it got too big.
The colonel’s voice was rich, made of
deep curry and well-bred port.
The broomstick waiters handed round
with impassive faces a strange sweet:
acutely minty, white, like lozenges of porcelain
from a cold toilet. I did not want mine
as it was sugar, but the colonel did not allow
shirking. And so I put one in my mouth
and, when he wasn’t looking,
slid it out into my palm
where it remained – cupped – sticky -.
Finally it was time to go
and I pulled my glove on over the thing
as I stood up amongst the jolly risers.
Panzer insinuated his bulk close to me
and began to importune my glove
insistently. Why, I wondered,
would a dog want weird mints?
But his muzzle pushed with a
at, at, at my glove –
until everyone noticed.
Luckily we were out, now, in the fresh
and radiant pine-fizzing evening
and I was able to slip off the husk
and shed the candy
into the grass.
Panzer was at it, but nobody saw
for there was a little knoll to climb
to a long chain-link fence
beyond which lived…creatures.
A spotted leopard looked over his shoulder at us.
My companion, tall as a soldier
but glowier by far
got out his camera and pushed
the lens like pouting lips
through a fence-hole.
An angry flying leopard
smashes it back through
with his body’s whole side!
(Starry cat-beasts hate paparazzi.)
My friend reclaimed the gadget
with startled laughter.
And then we had a long ride
back to Palampur on the Enfield
with one icky palm
and a camera with PTSD
and that night I dreamt of infantrymen
dancing cheek to cheek
with tall, insistent bears.
Hebden Bridge, November 2016
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