India: Diwali by Jude Cowan Montague  

1. Preparations

The rows of earthenlamps, with their tiny little lips
to kiss the day are pulled off the tower of clay
by wet hands
and left to bake in the sun.

Sisters make conversation all their lives, one to spin,
one to cup the smooth sticky earth.
A married couple squat, chatting by their wheel, expressions shutting into
the after-down of long hours.

The diyas, dipped in water, drip dry, the slip plopping back
into the water in the bucket.
The potters, shirtless in the sun, cry to ANI.
Chinese electric lights don’t need constant oil refills.

Poor earth cups can’t compete with elephant trunks
flashing violet, twinkling Ganesh
promising luck in the centre of a dancing circle
or ranges of mountain emeralds burning peace into the soul.

When Lord Rama returns shortly to Ayodya,
he will be watched by jungle-eyes flickering
behind vines of bitter bulbs.
Will he have opinions on this business of his welcome?

2. Dhanteras

Together we go to buy the yellow metal,
bracelets, necklaces, earrings, chains
to dazzle the enemy with his own reflection.

Diamonds, coins,
for good luck, for good chat,
bestow charm on Rajkot city.

ANI’s mic collects auspicious words.
Listen to me my friend, I will tell you, ‘Silver is the ideal
metal for god,’ so buy a god’s idol.

The goddess’s footprints
unearthed beneath a fringe of marigold garlands
point bare toes to the open door of a Surat jewellers.

We follow her sign, ankles singing,
while negotiating Yama on his motorbike,
who phut-phuts around his dear yellow-sari, trying to grab her

but Shruti escapes. We cluster round the counter,
propping designer bags on the glass,
showing Dipak the shopkeeper we have money.

Neelja holds a string of heaven at her folding neck, her shy
smile asking, can this simple face
shimmer like a pearl?

Jude Cowan Montague is a poet and an archivist for Reuters Television. Her forthcoming collection The Wires 2012 will be published by Dark Windows Press in 2015. She is also a prize-winning printmaker and a musician/composer. She lives in London.

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