Grace Nichols has published many books for both adults and children. Her first poetry collection, I Is A Long Memoried Woman, won the 1983 Commonwealth Poetry prize. Other collections include Picasso, I Want My Face Back and I Have Crossed An Ocean, both published by Bloodaxe. She was poet-in-residence at the Tate Gallery, London and is among the poets on the GCSE syllabus.
Advice On Crossing A Street In Delhi
First take a few moments to observe
the traffic’s wayward symmetry.
While contemplating wheels of mortality,
note how whole families
on motorbikes, dart daring
within the shifting shoal
of the cacophonous river.
Surely if they can, you too can
weave a quick trajectory.
So go –
at the first signs of a small break
with a great faith and a great surrender.
If stranded in the middle of the road
become a sacred cow with gilded horns
adopting the inner stillness of the lotus posture.
Let honking cars, rickshaws, lorries,
swarm or fly around you.
You are in the hands of the great mother.
The thing about India maybe
is to get the rhythm right –
this rhythm that will change the way
you cross a street forever.
(Inspired by the painting, Leaf-Man, by Lewes artist, Peter Messer)
Born of leaves and dust and air
Leaf-man comes –
Leaf-man who never walks
straight, but drifts through lanes
and quiet passageways.
If you’re lucky
you might glimpse him
a path of autumn or veering
round the curve of an alley
Or simply leaning
against an old flint wall.
And when he doesn’t
want to be seen, he lets
the leaves of himself fall
Into a golden brown rug –
Then with a swirl
before you can blink
he shimmies himself up
sticking his conker-eyes back in.
Though sometimes he gets
into a spin with the wind –
When he wants to go Northerly
Easterly when he prefers Westerly
On bonfire night, he watches
from the hide-out of his hedge,
the dancing flames leap high –
his leaf-nerves standing on edge
when they toss in the guy –
But who knows where he goes
shivering into the darkness?
One thing’s for certain –
next year he’ll be back again, Leaf-man –
up and rustling to the vein.
[Advice on crossing a street in Delhi appears in Picasso, I Want My Face Back (Bloodaxe, 2009) Leaf Man appears in Cosmic Disco (Frances Lincoln, 2013).]
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