Crossing into Tamil Nadu is based on a journey Mara Bergman made with her daughter in India, with the loose narrative taking a dramatic turn in the title poem
FLYING TO INDIA
for Caroline Price
It was Caroline who said that flying doesn’t scare her anymore
now that her life was full and she no longer felt greedy, that flying
was joyful, a way to leave your life for a while and aim
for something new, a chance to be spontaneous and incredibly carefree
so that by the time she turned fifty she actually loved it – dared
to look forward to it – and instead of the pills and the vodka
could sit back among the endless blue and immerse herself
in that lighthearted feeling you get when nothing much matters
or matters so much there’s nothing left to worry about, or lose.
As we clear the land, the end of the wing is tipped with light
so far above thick drifts of cloud, a child’s vision of heaven,
neither here nor there, past or future, but this
continual present that stretches on and on, following the light
as we enter evening, now and earlier all in one, and like an echo
our voices chiming, This might not be a bad way to go.
CROSSING INTO TAMIL NADU
If only I hadn’t seen deer by the lake
and our guide hadn’t stopped, and we hadn’t started walking
to the edge. If we hadn’t driven extra miles
to glimpse crocodiles, lumpy in their prehistoric sunning,
mouths open and tongueless; if the day hadn’t dragged on and on
winding through plantations of tea, sandalwood, cardamom,
our mouths dry as dirt roads; if we hadn’t stopped for drinks
of coconut. If only a vanload of children
were not feeding monkeys, or one monkey hadn’t lingered
to grab all it could, or if you weren’t so intrigued,
especially by the babies clinging to their mothers,
pointy eared, hungry eyed; if you had resisted
taking that photo, wanting so badly to capture that baby,
not knowing adults can be jealous, vicious –
that they will attack. That a monkey bite can leave a hole
the size of a bullet’s. The hospital was far; elephants
cause roadblocks. That to stitch an animal wound
is against the law in India.
As we drove through the streets of Kochi my last day,
a speck of soot, a drift of smoke, a mote of dust
flew off the road, caught in my throat.
I tried to clear it as we spoke and yet it stuck.
I coughed, and then again, to dislodge something
insignificant. I took a swig of water but it dared
to hold on stronger. I had a meal down by the beach –
a plate of rice, a hill of prawns and one tall glass
of fresh squeezed lemonade. I watched the sun go down
behind the Chinese fishing nets; the air grew cool,
the night was calm and nothing moved.
I flew eight thousand miles, resumed my life;
returned to work, slept in my bed.
Still it burns with every word. It’s never left.