Man Washing on a Railway Platform Outside Delhi


It’s the way he stands
nearly naked in the winter sun
turning on and off the railway
station tap. I have seen people
look less reverent tuning Mozart.
I have seen hands give coins
to beggars appear nonchalant
compared to the way his hands
give this water to his body.
Don’t tell me this is a man
released for a moment
out of poverty, a man who wants
the penance of each cold drop;
a man who wants the smell
of his neighbours to vanish
from his skin, who wants to taste
what is beyond the scum
and effluent of the village ditch.
And don’t tell me each drop
he takes to glisten his body
will never be neutral, though
he holds each clear spill
with equality. It isn’t just
the water. It’s the way his hands
take the water from the tap
to his body. It’s the way
he attends each pore. It’s the way
he decants the water back
and forth as if receiving
instruction for the repetition
of the names of God. And it’s
the way he knows his poverty
without privacy – and the way,
though the water is free,
he takes careful litres.

from Cut By Stars (River Road Press, 2007), Judith Beveridge 2007, used by permission of the author and River Road Press

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