‘Shiva Nataraja’ and other poems
By William T. Hathaway
In my autumn backyard I do puja to you,
chanting your names,
offering fruit, flower, and flame
to the Lord of the Cosmic Dance.
cast dancing shadows
over your shiny brass body.
The wind is blowing the leaves away,
bringing them home to earth,
leaving bare limbs dancing.
A gust blows my candle out.
Chanting your names blows my thoughts out,
leaving me still,
bringing me home to you.
Here we dance as One: Shivo-ham, Shiva-swarupa
Before I met you
life was a foul meal
full of gustatory disgust.
I gnawed alone the dry bone of discontent,
chewed the rancid nut of regret for my myriad malfeasances,
ruefully ruminated a long list of wrongs, masticated moldy misdeeds,
a comestible come-uppance, my just desserts.
Finally I dared to eat a peach.
The pit lodged in my throat,
blocking my breath. I choked,
then thought: Liberation through suffocation!
I’ll take it!
Your voice, new to me, commanded: “No! You must go on.”
I convulsed with revulsion and repulsion,
collapsed, gave up,
and puked that old life out.
Empty, I lay there, breathing in.
Your voice commended: “Yes! Let us begin.”
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Vacanas are short, informal poems of devotion to Shiva. They originated in South India during the tenth century, a time of social upheaval, and they took the side of poor against the rich, of spontaneous free expression against established orthodoxy, of passion against propriety. Our times are similar to those, so they speak to us across the millennium and are now enjoying a revival by contemporary poets.
William T. Hathaway’s books won him a Rinehart Foundation Award and a Fulbright professorship in creative writing. His peace novel, Summer Snow, is the story of an American warrior falling in love with a Sufi Muslim and learning from her that higher consciousness is more effective than violence.