breathing.

bagmati river.

coughing.

unwilling to cover my

face, though i’m

breathing in someone.

it somehow seems disrespectful

to cover the

holes through which

i breathe, as the

smoke of the

dead surrounds

me.

i’ve been here.

when you were

breathing.

five years ago.

watching a fire

burn for the

first time,

we covered our

noses, our mouths,

not knowing what

to do.

instead of watching,

we found ourselves

retreating.

then two years

later, just me

here again, still

unable to feel,

yet seated,

unmoving for hours,

for reasons i

didn’t yet understand,

the fires they

burned around me,

and i,

i tried not

to breathe.

and now.

five years later.

i watch the fires,

and the clouds

that rise from them,

and i see the

families tending

to the fires they

themselves set.

i stand here,

today,

watching those fires,

different fires

than those i watched

five and two.

different, because this

time, i

breathe them

in.

and now, seated,

unmoved, i watch

it, from the beginning

to end.

this time on

the royal ghat,

this man,

no commoner.

the crowd huge,

yet there’s no

one around me.

the wood stacked

four high,

covered in

garlands of gold

and orange,

the body on a stretcher

held high above

the pyre, spun

clockwise six, or

was it nine times?

(somehow i lost count).

the body, wrapped in

white, now on top

of the wood,

his socks removed,

thrown into

the river below.

his face now

revealed, bottled

water poured into

the hands of the crowd,

then dripped

upon him.

he wears the hat,

the hat that i wore

five years ago,

when we were

here for that

other reason.

a handful of straw

now lit, a man

circles the body,

lighting.

wood below, now

wood on top,

sticks, logs placed

there by the family

and friends.

pyre now lit,

the crowd

disperses, and the

man, now

completely covered

in straw.

a man, apparently

uncommon in his life,

he is now

no different than

all of the dead;

an object in

need of disposal.

the smoke, it billows

toward me,

as more straw

is added to

the pyre,

a man with

a stick,

the man tending the

fire, uses that

stick to push

the dead man’s foot

back into the flames.

i wonder where

madeline is,

and if she knows.

much time

passes, but how much

i don’t know,

madeline is

awake and now in

my arms,

and we watch,

watch the smoke

and flames,

and now,

ash.

standing now, here,

watching,

still unable to

move.

and now i think

of you, and remember

how we

reacted to this

five years ago,

and i look at

the non-hindus,

the non-buddhists

standing around us,

wearing the same look

we all wore

then,

eyes clenched,

trying not

to breathe,

disturbed not by

the smoke

or the body burning

before them,

but by their

own mortality.

and i remember

that day,

when i had

to make the hardest

decision of

my life,

and even now

i wonder if

i made the right one.

but this.

this is not

a reminder,

for we all know

we will die,

but this,

this place, this,

the death of the

man before me,

and the next body

being prepared

up river,

and all of those

burning down river,

they are an affirmation,

one of the

reasons that we can

carry on…

we

breathe him

in, breathe them in,

and now.

we breathe

you in.

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