Seeing Varanasi

Bodies burning on beds of fire lit at the edge of the Ganga, people bathing drinking praying washing, beating dirt from their clothes on wet stones, drying the clothes on sun-hot stairs, and women with newly-shaved heads and naked arms and anxious eyes shouting into the golden doors of shrines guarded by unsmiling uniformed men holding long guns in the heat and cows, cows in every sliver-thin alley, swallowing plastic bags and banana peels, and a man with fingerless stumps on the ends of two arms leaning on the wall, next to a silk seller sipping chai in a pillow-floored shop unravelling scarves, and is that a dead monkey sprawled sideways on the street? (String of holy flowers strung around its neck?)  Packs of men carry bodies cloaked in orange cloth (always orange) on wooden stretchers, bodies of their mother or brother or sister or son, lifting them high above the rickshaws and cigarettes, the spicy fried potato stalls and honking motorcycles, the tourists and goats and barefoot fly-swarmed kids, above the constant throb to the river where bells are ringing on the ghats, and pilgrims are singing and candles glow like rubies on the water and a hundred rowboats are moored and the Brahmin priests are spinning circles of fire, the massage men and the boys selling stamps, and the holy bearded man with red holy powder is smiling, rubbing dye into your damp forehead, incense smoke blooming up into the night heat as silver bowls shake along a staircase, their tin skins begging for rupees to fall for the old and the hungry and the waiting.

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