The Porters at Kalka Station


For the din, the grit, the platform crowds,

for the station chaos and the hungry dogs,

the chai wallah pouring his cups of chai,

for taxis and rickshaws and the bus from Shimla,

the daily trains on the track to Delhi,

for the heft of luggage on top of a head,

and the twelve hour shifts the porters work,

and the rupees paid for the license fees,

and faded red tunics like a moth’s dull wings,

for the patience to wait in a strip of shade,

for searing sun, the late day chill,

and the snowy peaks of the Dhauladhars,

for the layer of flesh and the network of veins,

the tendons’ web, the scaffold of bones,

for the bone-thin men and the string of years,

for the beggar stretching out his hand

and the child with a bandaged stump,

for the twisted body and the ruined dream,

and the marigolds hung from a vendor’s arm,

for the incense and statues and candle flames, 

the chanted prayers at the temple door,

for India’s thirty-three million gods, 

and the Hindu god that will save them all,

for the god who blesses the household shrine,

for the water, the bell, the tray of sweets.

The Unreal


Even freed to enter 

skin deep into the teeming bazaars

of India, horns and bumpers 

and spinning wheels

even that close, Delhi haze,

village dust,

hawkers running beside me,

shiny bangles, sandalwood beads,

even with children’s hands brushing an arm, 

a shoulder, voices calling hallo, hallo,

even with rubbish and stench –

every plastic bottle and bag,

every discarded can –

I know it’s not real.

I brush by, avert my eyes,

this short time only, this sanctioned glimpse,

then I’m back in the starred hotel,

marble floors, acres of perfect lawn,

a garland of marigolds around my neck.

I am so far away and so clean,

and the two elephants coming down the street, 

pink-mottled trunks painted with flowers, 

are not real,

the caravan of camels, the loaded carts,

the jingling bells, are not real,

the women in luminous, jewel-colored saris 

balancing stones on their heads 

are not real,

and the barefoot sadhu wrapped in a golden robe,

smeared with ashes of the dead –

I know he can’t be real.

This grand palace I return to –

doormen in turbans and jodhpurs,

peacocks grazing on lawns –

only this can be real,

though somewhere 

in the back of my skull 

I feel the bubble I live in 

is bursting, scattering 

in a million shivers of light.

The Absent Tigers of Ranthambore


In failing light 

paw print in dust

long-tailed langurs bark alarms 

spotted deer freeze

behind the ancient hill fort’s

crumbled walls

sun’s slow descending light

time stalled

barely visible now

ruined temple in the distance

the maharajah’s 

manmade lake shadowed 

where Sambar deer 

stand belly-deep chest-deep neck-deep

bark-brown in green marsh algae

held-breath hush of late afternoon

splash of deer wading 

through plant-choked water

egret’s wing-beat 

a heron settling on a doe’s back

too far away to hear

the marsh crocodile’s lazy slide

sit with the animals 

a man once told me

a meditation 

the mind emptied

feel how the earth slides down

tiger threads like silk

through moon-silvered grass

sloth bear’s slow progress 

in dhok tree thickets, 

pink-hued leaves late falling

Remember the stillness of this hour –

you will never be here again.

Deborah Casillas has published her poems in Kalliope, Sycamore Review, The MacGuffin, The Ontario Review, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Crab Orchard Review, Squaw Valley Review, Silk Road Review, Prairie Schooner, North American Review and New Ohio Review

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