Oliver Rice

Here, when the age of anthropology had begun
across the rolling expanse
formed by millennial geology and climate,
the flora and fauna knew exactly what to do,
the webwork of Amerindian trails
knew exactly where to go,
the grasslands blue with flax in bloom,
locusts buzzing in the cottonwoods.
These are ruts, still visible,
left by wagon trains across the wilds,
buzzards tearing the cadaver of a gopher,
shadows of clouds drifting across the hills.

They were incomprehensible,
says the former companion of the trader Doran.
Never out of sight or mind.
Cold, gray, remote.
That was her exotic episode.
Her unravelled era.
Confronted, reclaimed in Nepal,
in Katmandu, at the Yak and Yeti Hotel.
Doran had worked those ranges before,
Islamabad to Thimbu to Kunming.
Or so he said.
Doran. A big man. A busy man.
With only one recreation.
No, two.
The iciness, she remembered.
Altitude sickness.
The questionable sanitation.
The litter in the markets,
wares spread on ground sheets,
the chatter that utterly excluded her.
Rickshaws, bicycles, oxcarts, limousines.
Temples, pagodas, shrines along every street,
Hindu or Buddhist,
beneath tiers of overhanging roofs,
guarded by statues of lions,
dragons, elephants, peacocks, demons,
facades elaborately carved
with religious and erotic images,
lotus flowers, swastikas,
treasures secured by chains against theft,
holy beggars squatting about the approaches,
grotesquely clad, faces painted like savages.
She cannot explain her empathy for the women.
perhaps nearly unaware of her,
vivid in their traditional dress,
their nose jewelry,
or beguiling in Western clothes,
toiling on a street-sweeping crew,
hanging laundry from a balcony railing,
bearing firewood, cabbages, infants
in baskets slung on their backs
by straps around their foreheads.
Yet, isolated by language,
by obscure cultural barriers,
she had a sense of sorority,
of inevitable commonality with them—
arts and disinclinations,
fantasies and wounded mornings,
rituals and obligations—
and thus became her own therapeutic study.
Saying wait, but wait, likeness is not sameness.
Saying nothing is stranger than a human.
Doran away for days in Lhasa or Calcutta.
Tin slums around the airport.
Tourists roaming the souvenir stalls,
exclaiming about Annapurna and Everest,
the base camps, the Sherpa porters.
The constant threat of attacks by Maoists,
every other male in the streets carrying a gun,
every second youth with a transistor
blaring American music.
Prayer flags hanging from their poles,
monkeys scuttling through the trees.
A patina of decay shrouding everything.

Oliver Rice has received the Theodore Roethke Prize and twice been nominated for
a Pushcart Prize. His poems have appeared widely in journals and anthologies in the
United States, as well as in Canada, England, Austria, Turkey, and India. His book of
poems, On Consenting to Be a Man, has been introduced by Cyberwit, a diversified
publishing house in the cultural capital Allahabad, India, and is available on Amazon.



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