The Hill Station
Between the stubby horns
of twin volcanic peaks,
a highland town adorns
its hill with zinc obliques.
The slanting roofs excite
a consciousness of danger.
They lay hold of delight
and somehow make it stranger.
Surrounded by these angles,
you yearn to scale the heights.
No horse-and-carriage jangles
to where you’ve set your sights.
That leaves the flight of stairs
which heads up to the crest.
You hope the steep climb spares
the ardour of your quest.
You struggle to the top
with rests at every landing.
There’s just no way to crop
the view which keeps expanding.
Your gaze, in one bound, lopes
to bamboo-covered hills
and far, volcanic slopes
where pallid sunlight spills.
The intervening plain
which vision leaps across
looks fresh from last night’s rain
and yielding as a moss.
It bows before the peak,
transcendent and remote,
upon whose sunlit cheek
stately cloud-shadows float.
Often you’ll find them by tamarind trees,
wherewithin spirits are said to reside.
Miniature houses adroitly provide
lodgings more suited to taking their ease.
Shaped like a wat with a multi-tiered roof
(that or a barn in vernacular style),
shelters of this kind are sure to beguile
wandering spirits, however aloof.
Colourful votives are also on show—
tropical flowers and ripening fruit.
Orchids and mangosteens strive to recruit
favours which generous spirits bestow.
Supplicants ask for the gift of a child,
speedy release from the talons of pain,
Sometimes, quite nakedly, personal gain—
winnings and windfalls, alluringly piled.
Pleading with spirits to render you aid
brings no assurance of blessings untold.
Change and contingency can’t be controlled,
even when lavish oblations are made.
Nevertheless, there are those who declare
steadfast belief in these garland-decked shrines.
Who would dispute that the mystic divines
some sort of potency gathering there?
Just as the joss sticks’ vermilion hue bleeds
into the water which stands in their jar,
structures like these channel tints from afar,
even if ghosts don’t respond to our needs.