The hanged man sings Kathmandu

by Manan Karki

I


A nation cursed by the Sati
.

– Popular Nepali saying.

 

Neither with a bang, nor with a whimper,

But with the cries, the shrieks, the curses

As of a woman by fire being ravaged

Will you go down, Kathmandu,

City of ruins and shadows,

Where the dead lurk in the eyes of the living

And thicken with cries their tongues.

 

II

Kathmandu – through a cold drizzle grey,

The colour of loss,

Of blindness in the eyes of old women

Greedy for succour and for lies,

Of froth on the floods of foaming rivers

Grown turbid with hate.

 

As in a dream I see you now

Smug in your corruption as vermin in their filth

Sprawled like a carcass upon whose skin

Abominations suppurate.

Your mud and your gold are one,

Are one and the same now, Kathmandu,

And the yellow stain upon your widows’ brows

And the crimson upon your brides’

And the fires that consume the flesh of your dead

And those in which your living go down

Like drowning men – arms flailing, fists

Clutching air, desperate eyes distended in

The impotence of rage.

 

But once those very eyes had sought the heights

Where now in a frenzy of grief the sky

Lurches downwards

To impale itself upon your golden pinnacles;

From there a god had once descended,

And captive among them had lived,

Who long had sung your graces...

 

But who will sing you again, mother?

Your lays have all grown tuneless now,

And that proud breast that once had suckled gods

Is now no more than a pair of shrivelled dugs

From which none again shall draw sustenance,

None, save this – this aborted foetus

Crowned with a wreath of nettles,

Lying still, grinning,

Hideous in your leprous arms.

 

III

Down at the bottom of a dry gulch

An old sow gorges on her feast of farrow,

And sated lies upon her throne of mulch

Belching with grunts a reek of flesh and marrow.

 

Proud empress still, even though her empire be

No more than a rubble of tares and stones,

And every porcine heir to this debris

Nothing but a pile of shit and bones.

 

IV

A bitch upon my canker feeds, a dog upon my bone,

A curse of whelps upon my knees howl and moan;

 

All the dry summer long the men stabbed with a daggered hope,

And amidst caresses the women noosed me with a rope;

 

And hung me out, oh so high, my shame for all to see,

Now a dead rat my leprous pride eyes enviously;

 

Father to a bastard son, mother to a whore,

I’ve played my parts, and now I’m done, the devil’s at the door.

 

V

Over a city choked with soot and ashes

The sky in a frenzy of funeral fires seethes.

Seethes.

Seethes and burns.

This is the hour when

In my memory

Everything burns.

 

Note: This poem was written well before the earthquakes that have devastated Nepal and its capital, Kathmandu.

From Griffith REVIEW Edition 49: New Asia Now © Copyright Griffith University & the author.