About 125 million years ago the Indian tectonic plate broke away from the southern supercontinent Gondwana and began drifting rapidy north. Shedding the island of Madagascar, which was clinging to its southwestern edge, it accelerated its pace and slammed into the Asian plate about 45 million years ago. The resulting impact created the Himalayan mountain chain along the border between the two plates, and as the Indian plate continues to move northward, the Himalayas continue to rise every year.
These geological events are not covered in most history books, but they are part of a new movement, catching on in many quarters, called big history. The impact of our planet’s past on the present and future of humanity is an interesting topic in itself, but as I was thinking about this subject recently, I realized that it was relevant to the theme of the current issue of Voices de la Luna, which focuses on some of the artistic and literary contributions of South Asia. The Indian plate, or subcontinent as it is often called, has had a historical impact not only on the Asian landmass but also on the rest of the world, through the people that migrated there perhaps 70,000 years ago and their descendants.
Inhabitants of South Asia during the Axial Age (800–200 BCE) invented three of the world’s great religions—Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism—and later inhabitants of the region gave us Sikhism and the Bahá’í faith. Some of the world’s most ancient epics originated in and around the Indus and Ganges river valleys: the Mahabharata (of which the Bhagavad Gita is a constituent part) and the Ramayana, stories that continue to delight hundreds of millions of people today. Ancient stories of the Buddha, called Jataka tales, continue to be rehearsed today in South Asia and far beyond. Of course, modern inhabitants of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and other South Asian countries have contibuted to the region’s rich literary heritage as well.
In this issue of Voices, join us as we experience the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of South Asia. You’ll read an excerpt from the Bhagavad Gita and a Jataka tale that is reminiscent of the modern story of the Gingerbread Man. You’ll read some of the works of modern poets from the area, and you’ll also visit the architectural marvels of India’s stepwells. Explore the artistic work of Pamela Winfield, who splits her time between Texas and New Mexico but who also lived for fifteen years in India.
Our featured poet is Martha K. Grant, whose poetry is steeped in the rhythms and thought of such poets of a bygone era as Rumi (who lived just to the west of the Indian subcontinent), while at the same participating fully in the atmosphere of the modern world. We are also proud to share the work of four young poets who were winners of the second annual Voices de la Luna/H-E-B Youth Poetry Contest.
Our prose contributions in this issue include moving short stories by Terri M. Tucker and Peter Holland, balanced by a humorous piece by Bryan Grafton. Voices co-founder Mo H Saidi shares his and his wife Brigitte’s experiences on a recent trip to India, as well as the next installment of his novel, The Marchers. Many other prose and poetic contributions round out this issue of Voices de la Luna. We hope you enjoy it. Namaste!
“It doesn’t matter which direction you point your prayer rug.”—Rumi It matters that you take it down from the shelf and unroll it, shake it out, spread it down somewhere. Anywhere will do. If its tangled fringe bothers you, stoop, if you must, to comb it with your fingers, then surrender. Lower your body whatever degree it agrees to. Then surrender more. It doesn’t matter what direction your head is pointed. Maybe it’s your left side the gods need facing them. Your big toes, your right ear. Let your heartbeat add its cadence to the earth’s vibration. Feel your breath feed the earth as your body will one day. Maybe soon, maybe not. Feel the sun, wind, the rain on your back tender what brought you here, you, your tattered rug, its fringe. Feel the quiet untangling of the knots. from A Curse on the Fairest Joys (Kelsay Books, 2015)
When I was a girl, I loved the ocean The soft, motherly wind That seemed to sing The childish ocean Into a calm sleep. I loved drifting Into the soft blue Until you could almost Disappear from the world. I loved how thin The shoreline would seem Way out where fish Flutter under your belly, A pale thread wrapped Around the water’s body, Making it finite. And I think maybe The sand is keeping The water from slipping. I think it’s scared To let go. I remember seeing the ships With their loud conversations Talking toy boats, bobbing Through the foggy sunlight And I would start to panic As I slipped closer to their armor. And I remember just existing Among them, The long stone dock A silent boundary. And I’d pull the bottle From my elastic suit With the small, discolored Paper poem, wrapped In old red string From past birthdays. I’d grip my flimsy, Inflated boat for safety And I’d toss The bottle into the open; Watching it fly— Taking my story Into another world, Where maybe Things made sense And maybe They didn’t. But I know No one will ever read it. It will find a way To demolish itself As I have. It will find a way To sink And never to come back, To melt into Other plastic people, Other stories. My words, They won’t be seen By anyone Who wants as badly as I To be saved.
Abandoned for years, you’re no longer a tractor, merely a lump of rusty metal, made leper-like by peeling orange paint. You’ve zero torque. nothing to haul, while weeds poke through ripped rubber tires. and there’s nothing you can do about it. From the other side of a rotting fence, you engage me in silent conversation that speaks sadly of the one who owned you. a man who failed as badly as his crops. A butterfly flutters up from a wild flower bud. lands momentarily on your driving wheel. If it’s paying you a compliment, it’s for design not application.
Magical and beautiful. Abandoned and lonely. A small boy with butterfly wings, and shame. Under the lies. Behind the mask. Unable to fly. Head bowed in sadness. Arms holding tears of Angel white and come-undone-shoelace innocence. I found him. Under the gray skies, between the gusts of winter. In the coldness of still air caught in outdoor booths. Above the damp ground, the rain darkened asphalt. Along the footpaths of mud winding among and between, around and back again by holiday shoppers. . . . I found him.