Culture & Society

Poems: A Passage Through India

'The proud recognition of what we both need: to live free, educate our children, and to eat occasionally as we breathe,' writes Stephen Cole about his journey.

A voyage through India and the self

Bio me

I know nothing more than what I read of Li Po.
But when I think on the mission arches at San Fernando,
I know too where the sea birds go in a storm.

I know the golden willows by the western slopes
And the swallow's pencil wings in flight,
The hilt of a mountain stream by line of sight
And the secret passage to and from my home.

I slept often by the muddy streams
Where the canyons drink the sun
And like the birds I tried to hide in arching light
With the morning and the midday hum.

It is surely a curious thing: nothing hid,
But I still wonder how I grew up,
Even at the urging of solemn adults,
If I have the images of the butterfly
Pressed like flowering orchards
On my wished-for but absent wings.

Passage from India

Twice in the promised three
Among the dialects,
Wealth but mostly poverty
In the cast about
For history in the broken promise
Where nothing ancient fades
As greatness slips in and out
Of democracy.

My unicoastal
California mentality
And my wandering nationhood, a
Southern tree absolutely guilty—
Proud of its admiration to love,
The proud recognition
Of what we both need:
To live free,
To educate our children,
And to eat occasionally as we breathe.

(A philosopher-poet Stephen Cole was born in Los Angeles California near the end of the Second World War. He visited India twice and it never left him.)