The Lost Girls
Sargakhet
for my guide
 
You bring me to see the new land. I
will have to manage now myself. There’s been
an accident, a sister, burned. You’ll go
down to the plains to tend to her.
 
Evening. The sun at angles on the paper-
white apple blossoms. The air taking the glow.
An old orchard, too-small trees, overgrown paths.
The pink-scrim twilight. What’s behind it now?
 
Crows swarm, dive-bomb, then land down in the thatch
or perch. You say you haven’t seen them flocked 
like this for months. I want them gone, but you
wonder out loud why people don’t like crows.
 
The sunset takes impossible dimensions
glowing white hot for too long on still clouds
until the silver linings etch on stone.
We leave before the day’s clear light is gone — 
 
down from the ridge, through nettle patches, brush
unclipped, then clipped, down past a cottage where 
smoke curls gauzy threads — the evening meal.
A child escapes. A thin voice pulls her back. 
 
                              *
 
People see signs. Crows, ravens, dark clouds. I
misread the too-bright outlines — like eclipses’
coronas we know to avoid or blind
ourselves, like shattered glass, spilled mercury — 
what seemed to be was not. I should have known.
I’ve seen the dead leave signposts on the sky — 
wrong colors, shadows where the crows have flown.
 
The woman on the path is angry
but I can’t tell at whom, or why.
She speaks, and in your face, the change — 
a page turned in the calendar.
 
                              *
 
                                                Go back.
Should I have seen a sign so many years
ago — when people told me stories? Then,
I wondered, but put the notes away, deleted
what I had written. It was fiction, and
I don’t write fiction — 
                                “In his house
            three sisters wait, invisible and silent — 
            the oldest too ... too everything: too tall,
            too beautiful, too smart, growing too old. ...”
 
or stories of story-ghosts. I should have asked — 
“Your sisters?” — How to phrase it?
                                                     Would you have answered? — 
“There’s nothing to do about it. It just happened.”
 
                              *
 
None of it happened. Meeta was real. She married.
 
Here now — 
                      translating word to spoken word,
your English almost fails, then doesn’t fail 
at all — what other phrase? She is no more.
 
                              *
 
Her husband wants to keep some of the flowers.
He pleads for just a few to carry back,
something he can hold on to. He has lost
so much already in the accident — 
a fire that never will seem just a fire — 
that always will arouse some speculation.
But if they saw him here tonight, they’d know
there’s nothing behind the story. Only this — 
 
a young bride ripe with child, a small, bare kitchen,
a burner on the ground, the fumes, her clothes
draped as if waiting, ever, to ignite — 
No intrigue. She lived long enough to tell.
 
Now, at the river, you must tell him no
for then she will be looking for her bones.      
 
                              *
 
You come back to the hills alone, your voice
like spider silk strung from the darkened branches:
I thought I would be the one to bring her back.
 
I want to say There is still life here, but
instead, I skirt around it, back away.
 
                              *
 
The baby was too beautiful. Eight months — 
so perfect, even the doctor was unmoored.
 
The babies aren’t cremated, only swaddled, 
and taken to the river, to be left — 
 
The image only helps if, at the instant
she touches the surface, gods appear,
unwire our vision so that we can’t see
her lifted to another river, somewhere — 
where Meeta, now incarnate, waits for her.
 
                              *
 
Why does your sister (I met her only once),
haunt me before and since? Was she too real — 
your weeping mother too, two years hence, thin
as death itself (that’s what you said) — her twin — 
(another story) or your father?
                                                  Still
at night, I see the baby girl alone
spun in the river’s eddies — 
                                              I can’t tell
what branches hang above her — 
                                                       or if the crows
are flying towards her or retreating, or waiting — 
or if she’s safe, warm, dry — 
                                               even the moon
isn’t a moon but months of pages turning
until the uncaught soul alights again.
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