Scarlet Minivet. Words, evocative enough over years
to call up Pokhara on Christmas Day, a town where motorbikes
stole our sleep and mule caravans trekked in from Mustang.
We’d gone out when the streets were still sleepy and the Annapurnas
lit with irregular gold – Machapuchare was the tail of a giant catfish
fluking skywards, unaware of the sunlight or of its own shining,
knowing only what was beneath it was deep and cold and good.
To call a mountain ‘fishtail’ is to join its double summit
to the lake below, but misses out the alpine forests in-between.
We’d climbed steeply up through oak and hemlock, the air green
with the odour of lichen, silent, as walkers sometimes are
at the start of a trail. Our guide leapt ahead like a mountain goat,
his mind on not letting us fall off the narrow track.
Birds everywhere, their names satisfyingly unknown, save for
the darting scarlet minivets, feathered in charcoal and flame.
On the hill top to our left was a half-built Buddhist stupa,
its forever-rising ladders a vulture’s abandoned nest.
Only women had laboured there that day, the brick-filled baskets
on their backs balanced between pride and pain.
Way above them, like an echo of itself, the steady rhythm
of the scaffolders: tap and hammer and tap again.
Shameful to stand awhile and rest while the women
laboured on, steady as turtles, but all around us
the minivets whistled and flaunted their scarlet silks.
Down then, and down, to a creek where oak trees
fished for their own roots, and wooden row-boats
bobbed on the lake. Laughter, as we’d sorted ourselves
two by two into fours, the men taking the oars, the women
trailing fingers in the blue-green water – turquoise,
that soft stone whose glacial coolness sunlight sweats to white.
We’d smiled for each others’ cameras, but then the Annapurnas
had commanded our full attention, like coming suddenly
to heaven and not knowing how to breathe its air.
Beauty added to beauty is water below mountains:
Phewa Lake, reflecting the birth-sheen of Gods;
Machapuchare, white with Shiva’s unthinkable light.
Incongruous soon after to eat Christmas cake in a lakeside garden,
the rose trellises haggard, the radio singing a Nepali love song,
joy injured into new made pain. Discussing the stupa – what
it would look like from the town – and the sacredness of summits –
how no-one might set foot on Machapuchare’s caudal fin.
Time then to return to our hotel, through market gardens
neat for winter, where among the bare branches of fruit trees
the scarlet minivets flickered, charcoal and flame,
the way flint flashes fire from kindling and sparks fly up
like souls set free from the body’s weight.
Photograph of a Dead Snake on the Costa de la Luz
A moment selected
for its oddity;
outside the frame
sand sieved into powdered gold,
ocean’s hush and slur.
It is not a snake,
but an after image of life,
a leash of silver and shivered glass
slipped from the wrist
Bending close, I take a photograph,
the moment narrow and bright,
and freighted with self-erasure.
About the author
Sheila Wild, an unashamed but ethical tourist, has come nose-to-nose with Bandhavgarh’s biggest tiger and interviewed the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala. She has also…Read the full bio
Issue 08 · February 2010
Table of contents
- From the editors
- Lisbon Holds a Prisoner One Night
- Postcard from Texas
- Four poems by Mahogany L. Browne
- Three Poems by Michael Bazzett
- Travelling Long to Inform a Friend’s Death
- Train Ride to Zagreb
- Two poems by Stephen Bunch
- Gavage (and the Stress of Flying These Days)
- Two Poems by Jon Sands
- Two poems by Neil McCarthy
- Two poems by Sue Burge
- Summer is
- Two poems by Sheila Wild
- Two poems by Susanna Rich
- Postcard Prose
- Travel Notes