Ganesh, Southern India, 2008

Homage to Goa

The ceiling fans in the house go round and round
as if to whisk us off to a different sky.
I squirt Deet at a thin mosquito whine;
gods chuckle softly from a garden shrine,
fruit ripen in the gloaming without a sound.
Shiva, Parvati and Ganesh the elephant boy
promote the comical to the sublime; though, shown
a choice of deities, I defer like most
to violet Krishna in the heat and dust,
brother of Dionysus, expert in everything –
flute-player, hero and lecher, comedian, king.

I rock on a warm veranda as daylight goes.
The hippies too revered him in the old days
of hair and beads, torchlight and astro trance,
trailing from poppy field to lamasery
as irksome and imperious as Camões.
It’s snowing in Kashmir, but here in Goa
we already have spring temperatures. Anandu
waters the earth and brushes up the sand.
Banana leaves and plantains in a daze
trade oxygen for tar; tat tvam asi.
Already a heavy mango strikes the ground.

A mozzie once myself, I buzzed and bit –
but only foot and elbow, ear and knee;
a cheeky monkey keen on human thought,
with a reach greater than my grasp, I’d dance
wildly at times, conscious of ignorance,
or chew on my own morose inadequacy.
Still, I behaved, and so the next time out
I got to sit to a half-mad sadhu
at Brahmin school. “The body is a shadow”,
said he, “it tells you in the Upanishads”;
but spirit knows no slapstick or romance.

Clouds dream the people and we spread like plants,
waves smash on beaches for no obvious purpose
except to deliver the down-to-earth palingenesis
of multitudinous life particles. A porpoise
revolves on the sky as if in outer space
where we started out so many aeons ago.
Goa fact file: infant mortality low,
average life expectancy seventy-five,
functional literacy sixty-nine per cent;
the porcupine and flying fox survive,
also the sloth bear and shy Chital doe.

“The streaming meteor, is it dead or alive,
a deliberate thing or merely gas and stone?
Some believe in a life after this one
while others say we’re only nut and leaf.
An ageing man repents his wicked ways:
we began so innocently, and may again”
– Abu al-Ma’ari, tenth century, Syrian.
Given a choice between paradise and this life
I’d choose this life with its calamities,
the shining sari, the collapsing wave,
the jeep asleep beneath the coconut trees;

skyflower, flame-of-the-forest among the palms,
ripe mangoes dropping from the many limbs,
the radio twang of a high-pitched sitar,
“Kareena Kapoor in Hot New Avatar”!
A gecko snaps a spider from a window.
Given a choice of worlds, here or beyond,
I’d pick this one not once but many times
whether as a mozzie, monkey or pure mind.
The road to enlightenment runs past the house
with its auto-rickshaws and its dreamy cows
but the fans, like the galaxies, go round and round.

–Derek Mahon

In “Homage to Goa,” Belfast-born Derek Mahon explores the essential question of how the spiritual and the material coexist. As Sam Sonick has described it, “The internal balance between mystical and mundane is key to Mahon’s poetry. For all his Hindu allusions, he displays a resistance to the transcendental: eschewing good Karma, he sprays ‘Deet’ at a mosquito, despite being reincarnated as ‘a mozzie myself once’. Flitting between terrestrial specificity and its cosmic significance, Mahon, like his chuckling gods, ‘promote[s] the comical to the sublime’ and builds a sense of wonder at the movement of material and spiritual energy.”