Prayers for Maa Ganga

flower offering placed in the River Ganges

Sunset invocations for purification
rise up from worshippers at the river’s edge
like incense through my unbraided Western hair
to the streets, where exhaust thick as dust storms
fills the undulating lungs of millions.

On jammed highways and byways
cars and motorcycles beep warnings
to each other incessantly, while in the back seat
I grab my child’s knee reflexively as we careen
through a river of swerving rickshaws
and Tata trucks— a synchronized chaotic current
that gingerly eddies around sacred
glassy-eyed bovine reefs.

We drive through villages where cattle graze on trash
like dogs, with dogs, gnawing heaping masalas
of plastic bags, bottles, detergents and dhal.

We stop in a restaurant and sip
milk and spiced masala tea while I scan
newspaper headlines and read:
“India’s dairy is now toxic.”
Outside the shops, synthetic waste
paves ancient earth several inches thick
on which villagers stand, where a woman,
swirled in mango-colored sari,
cradling a sleeping baby,
gazes in at me.

Monsoon runoff bleeds from streets
down littered banks into Maa Ganga—
nectar of life, cow overflowing with milk,
purifier, remover of all ills—
where devotees bath to cleanse their sins,
where leaf-woven baskets of marigolds
and flame slip from cupped hands
on waves of “Om jai gange mata”
into beige waters I honor but dare not enter,

while the newspaper states, in bold rivers
of black ink: “Due to contamination
the holy Ganges is on the brink
of death.”

©2018 by Jennie Meyer

Jennie Meyer, M.Div., is a poet, yogi, and nature lover from Gloucester, MA. Her poetry has appeared in Anchor Magazine, Common Ground Review, Ascent Aspirations Magazine, and Patchwork Journal.

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