V  P  R

Contemporary Poetry and Poetics





I followed a stream plunging out of the jungle
and spilling around boulders broken loose
from the great shade of the triple canopy
where screw-pines walked on hairy stilts below teak
and towering coffin trees, their blue-green trunks
festooned with yellow orchids. Leaf monkeys
hid in banyans as I went by.

A sandfly cloud seesawed the mudflat
and I turned to go the other way
through thickets splattered in sunshine
where green rollers shrieked and bobbed in bamboo,
the cool palms threshing above my head.
the earth, spongy; the air, damp.

A blue-tailed babbler screeched high up
above the nattering stream.  Downriver,
some women waded pools with dip nets
as their kids chased fish in the weirs.
I passed unseen behind the jungle wall.

Finally I saw them resting on a knoll:
My poor characters had been through a lot.
Roberts sat and rubbed his bare torn feet.
Rosie—in sweat-stained blouse from Portabello Road,
her neck and hands all raw with scabies—
leaned back to have her hair combed out by Mai
who shared her prison cell for seven months.
Rosie squinted into the healing sun.

Calling would have scared them.  I stepped out gently.
Mai yelped "hey" and Roberts slowly smiled.
I was awfully glad they were glad to see me.
When I left they said I'd never come back.

© by John Balaban



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