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Sample Poems by Lavinia Kumar


Plain as a Nose
I. Great Harem Conspiracy
Ramses III, 1192-1166 BC


They know that I was one of them.
My brother, once a renowned archer,
told them of his own young sister,
that she be punished, too. But he
will die. They will slit his throat. And I
might prefer that to my punishment
later today. Even after I had invited
two of the judges to consort with me.
Now their ears and noses have been
cut, though they were not part of our
work to help our queen. If my ears
and my nose are removed, then who
will I be? My nose has been the subject
of poetry by many men who have
enjoyed me - it is straight, it complements
my eyes, and my mouth that kissed
so many passions. After tomorrow
no-one will even touch me, and
I will be sent away from the harem
to my village. And there I will be shunned.
That is why the our servant Pebes killed
himself - he could not bear the shame
after the knives cut. The starvation.
And in one hour it is my turn.


Inca Surgeon

Asiri lay quietly, her head too painful
to move. Her husband had brought
Watuk and Hanpeq who had looked
at her life for a cause of this illness.
They mixed herbs from high hills
to reach bad spirits and treat her soul.

But now the Sancoyoc has been called,
and she must drink jugs of maize beer
and chichi, until she cannot sip
another drop. Her head spins, and Paqo
talks loud and long with her soul, though
she thinks it may now have reached

the underworld. Her shaved head sears
with new pain, her skin is peeled
back. Then all goes black. But then again
she is awake, hears the sound of the tumi
scraping bone. She knows a circle
of bone is being cut, taken from her skull,

and with it her mind is snatched.
Forever. She lives but a few more days,
her wound healed where the Sancoyoc
burned her skin, treated it with boiled
pepper-tree bark. He shows his son their
effort's near success. Soon a patient would survive.


Dew of the Sea

Pliny era

He sinks to his knees as he sees rosemary gathering
her leaves to ring his head. And he knows death
is coming. He counts his ancestors, he sees well-known
masks singing at his funeral, the long procession.

How he wishes he were near the sea, but that is where
rosemary gathers dew, and he smells and smells her,
closer, closer, and wonders which is the better pain.
Gone is hope that his putrid warrior wounds will heal.

He sees a light shimmering. He hears incoming waves.


Achilles

Battle of Troy (1250 BC)

Concerned commander, he bade his soldiers
carry yarrow in their packs to slow
the bleeding after enemy arrows.

Dedicated soldier, he killed Troilus even after
a funeral truce, and was ready to take
the hand of the sister as gift for new peace.

Unaware lover, he made sacrifice
at Apollo, though did not see the rising
bow of brother-in-law Paris who slashed

his weak heel, and despite yarrow
our near hero died a slow poisoned death.


Hariti
I. Cannibal
She loved her children, fed her children,
had more than five hundred on earth,
five hundred in the heavens. Gods feared
these demon kings. But she loved
her own,

though she ate children of men and women
that lived on the land, she ate hundreds
of them, thousands - the blood of flesh
dripped from her mouth, and bones crunched
in her teeth as she roamed fields and villages.

II. Mother
And Buddha loved children and all citizens.
And he took hers and hid them under
a stone. She shrieked and moaned, beat
her breast, sought them in towns, pulled
out her hair, searched under trees.

But could not find them. She had cried loud,
long, and was unable to eat. It was Buddha
that came, he gave her pomegranates till she
opened to compassion. She felt the grind
of seeds, the juice drip from her lips.

III. Goddess
She grew into a healing mother goddess, she crafted
the pomegranate juice into a new river of fertility
for all women. Then she released her own children
from the habit of demons. Buddha gave them names
as they became protectors of all men.

Now the goddess is worshipped at each shrine
by all women, and sits with a child by her feet,
at her back, in her lap - guardian of all children,
healer of disease, preventer of evil omens.
Pray to her for abundance of fertility.