MRPJ #23/Now: “Excerpts From A Letter To Marion From India, 03-01-01, Chennai Dusk” by KJ Holmes


Wisps of smoke clouds, Marion, and Venus held momentarily above the mosque’s left steeple. The flat roofs are silhouetted. The blue neon sign pulls itself off the backdrop of setting day. Long tubes of white fluorescent lights inside rooms create more darkness around them with their light, funny.

The crows’ retinue is relentless, daybreak and day dissolve, begin, open, close, never shut though. Never turned off. The desire too thick like interest needed to exist.

Scooters carry more people than you can imagine out the open gate of the fence that surrounds the Moslems’ courtyard to their worship. Shadows of people traverse it now; in the morning red seeds were tossed down in a pattern the pigeons later removed, doubling their flock with their own shadows, rising and flying, falling and landing. And the sky now oranges, west, as east retains the delicate blue before it too fades like the loud pink before that lasted so briefly, Sebastian said “Like a candle flame.” Extinguished, certain, until now on this chalky blue balcony with my feet up I see the palette is continuing to be shown. That’s how it goes.

There is no end. “Even the impermanence of the characteristics that always change are eternal.” Her eyes were unflinching, her words embodied.

Two women, one foreign, or rather both to each other, yet I am the one not from here learning from her trust and faith and principles that make sense at the levels that usually contradict each other. Now I am told and I begin to see that these contradictions reside so close to each other that one is confused for the other leading to confusion. So how we approach something becomes that approach. A verb becomes a noun. Fearing becomes a fright. A teacher becomes a friend.

—Glance up , sudden blue, held outstretched like a palm with upturned fingers.—

The mosquitoes begin their search for sustenance, the top of my bare foot becomes their field of operation. I offer them citronella instead, hoping they’ll refuse, seek elsewhere.

Here’s what’s constant: horns beeping, honking, blowing, blaring, squeaking

people talking, laughing, calling, begging, asking, shouting alleyways that lead to doors to endless halls and corridors

or tea stalls and small rooms full of rusted bricks

or piles of burlap bags or spices

and silver shops

sari shops

chicken briyani

and paratha cooking flat on a grill

Coconuts, young and green, their tops expertly opened with a machete. I flinch each time as they come so close to their hand with the blade yet never as close as I imagine. Then that hand gives me the coconut with a straw inside, thin coconut water, a tonic. The older, brown coconut’s sweeter milk and flesh to eat after drinking. Pomegranate juice with mineral water and “conjum” sugar, just a little. Idlis and sambar and chutney.

Streets never empty, buses full of faces facing in the same direction. Held expressions until I smile, faces crack, falling in love with the under faces, Kohl eyes and kumkum foreheads, wedding rings on toes, bells on ankles. The colors all over the place that certainly don’t go together that do. Nighttime’s descent from a roof and the first pee in the morning in my blue flip flops squatting at the toilet hole, left hand wipes, right hand eats. My own sorrowful findings inside the truths of relativity and absolutes that comes unglued after years of holding them inside tight rubber-banded packets.

They love to say “What’s your name?” Jim says back to them “Who’s your daddy?” and he makes up songs replacing the word Brahman for woman (“You’re once, twice, three times a Brahman”)… and how can one live at all ungrateful for all of this until now? There is not one shred of evidence that this is an unhappy life, so how can there be this? No, unhappiness does not have a place here, it is the dissatisfaction, it is the fears unfounded that frequent the moan house and thick storage of compartmented expectations that are only roads to duhkha…that are the ammunition of the mind, not balm from the soul that says “Life is a prayer” and “Surrender brought you here and will take you away.” That was Sebastian as his doctor self before sitting in the green chair listening to me tell him I found a lump in my breast and I find out tomorrow some results of some tests for some indication of some way to proceed, or not, or return, or stay, or go, or…

Look right now at Venus in a charcoal sky, the sounds rise up from below, I ache underneath, have I been living in this body without feeling all this before, or ignoring it, fearing it, knowing it and not knowing it, dancing a habit, loving it now so much. How could I want more when there is all this always, this sweet life. As less fills up the possible cup of my life…best not to entertain those thoughts. The Yoga Sutra says to throw a glass of water on the first sign of fire before it eats up all the furniture, the wood, the woulds, the wants, the whys, the wise, the wisdom more than knowledge, the lavender blending with the gray, the jasmine in my hair, the cow shit on my sandals, my bare feet never clean now, dirt roads and traffic. The fan turns and turns. It feels like a final evening in a way, an eve before a first. The first test results of tomorrow. I don’t want to feed the imagination, or build a drama here or a poetic recourse of my current situation, and it also feels necessary to etch this out here. I did not plan to do this, I was only opening my doors to let in some air and there, that sky of smoke wisps, Marion. There, the end of day becoming night and sultry, swarthy and dark like the eyes of South India.


Jon Kinzel asked me if I would like to contribute something to this journal and he told me its theme of Now, the current story. I immediately thought of this letter I wrote to a friend from India, as it held so much of what then was Now in time- past, present, future- in it. It was written in what seemed to be one continuous moment. How within the Now is a synesthesia of impressions and that India was a place of constant shifting of perceptions at many different levels. I felt this letter conveyed that in its shifting, in the telling of me in India. The levels of body, mind, emotions, spirit that yoga looks to unite, we bring ourselves to the Now, the moment, constantly in our practice. And, the immediacy of a physical problem and not knowing what it is strips one down to a very base reading of the current story one constructs of one’s own life and mortality. Luckily, I am currently healthy, and I both rejoice and am sad for others that have had much harder times. I have the amazement that so much exists at once and how transitory it all really is. (Thanks to Marion Stanton for letting me submit what is now her letter as it was written to her.)

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