Tattoo; Half Past Eleven
Inked into my right foot, it will rise from the sway between
the hallux and pointer, etched into the tender skin bridging those two
most prominent toes. Rather than the hip, forearm or tucked into
the curve of the jawbone, it will reside in a place I can eye on morning’s
first steps, wet and pulsing in the shower, trace it’s pliant outline
in bed at night. I imagine the petals: symmetrically curved skyward,
a pale pink blossom veined with a touch of red, slender green root
winding snakelike down the metatarsal cleft. The needle will be
painful, a self-inflicted suffering, perhaps a karmic mending
of carried samskaras. A lotus planted amidst my noble toes, two-
dimensional flora carved into a breathing canvas, stretched over
a matrix of tendon, bone; my foot, an evolution of thrust and balance,
shaped by a million steps, jeweled now with this image in fluid
scroll, worn for my enduring days, worn into the final fire.
Half Past Eleven
I get up from bed, take two
or three small pills, swab
my forehead. I’m waiting for my bones
to fold in; for the stab in my back to shake off.
Across the way there’s a light in the window.
A man washes his face—small bits of debris
(such as: fly’s wing, specks of asphalt, lipstick rub)
are being dislodged, dissolved. All that has clung to him
goes down the drain.
He wants it gone, admires in the mirror his sheen,
draws his hand across his chin, his pristine line.
The shank of night curls round.
I wait up for sleep.
His light goes out.
Hari Bhajan Khalsa’s poems have been published in Poet Lore, Comstock Review, Sow’s Ear, Roanoke Review, Tiger’s Eye, Schuylkill Valley Journal and Phantasmagoria, among others, as well as forth-coming in Gyroscope Review and Moria. She is the author of a chapbook, Life in Two Parts (Main Street Rag, 2010) and a book of poems, Talk of Snow (Walrus, 2015). She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, just waiting for the perfect dog to join the family.
I had been in a funk, hadn’t written a thing in months and everything, I mean every subject, insight, and first line, seemed old and tired and not worth the effort. I finally reached out to a fellow poet, who is also a psychotherapist. She agreed to see me for “poetry coaching.” The advice she gave me was to start with the body. Mmmm…I wasn’t quite sure what she meant by that and, quite frankly, was a bit freaked out. I sat with it for a week or two and then decided to jump in, starting with my feet. Well, those feet definitely had something to say.
The image of the lotus flower represents the soul rising above its earthly entrapments, as the lotus is rooted in the mud, but rises to be extremely beautiful and transcendent. In many East Asian traditions to touch the feet of the saint or elder is to be blessed and to acknowledge the respect one has for that person. In this poem the juxtaposition of the lotus on the foot is an honoring of that tradition, as well as honoring the feet that carry us along the path, with their amazing complex structure and even more remarkable tenacity and durability. I guess you could say this poem is sort of homage to my feet, an appreciation for all they do for me and for all of us.
Half Past Eleven:
This poem was written quite a few years ago, when I was living in an apartment that was about six feet from the apartment building next door. I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but my feeling is that it was a hot summer night and after tossing and turning I woke to see a light on in one of the adjacent apartments. I didn’t see anyone, but it got the poem started in my head about how humans can be so close, and, at the same time, separate from each other.
The image of the man washing his face, removing what he has accumulated on his skin during the day is a metaphor (at least for me) for all that we pick up, what clings to us, and what is discarded during our time on this earth: the beauty, sorrows, joys, heartbreak and despair. What we choose to carry and what we choose to let go of ultimately decides our destiny, who we are and what matters to us in the world and how even the infitesimally small moments can carry a lot of weight. That’s probably a lot to put on such a small poem, but you know how they are—they come as they come and we poets jot them down and pass on the message."