Barbara Henning: Ariel View

Fall '06 TOC

 In half lotus on a hard mattress in a small room in the Pahara Ganj of Delhi—desire hijacked. Somewhere in the northern forests, the wind has an animal presence. I hold the towel over my breasts as if we don't know each other. An overhead fan puffs the dirty fiberglass curtains, slow and uneven, yellow flowers expanding in a small oval mirror inside a plastic frame. A candlelight vigil. Do not worry. You will be quite fine here in India, Madame. With descriptive scrutiny, a gaudy Ganapati twirls his trunk over the television screen, and the Russian lover who is no longer a lover scatters his clothes over the floor and his thick sleeping body on my silk scarf, the greater weight giving in to gravity. With no further training needed for sleep, get down from the pedestal of foreign policy, love him like a thorny rose, admire from afar.

The crowd was coming up Broadway, crying and covered with grey dust. Thousands are presumed dead. As I hold a handkerchief over my face, the rickshaw slows down and then continues. I slip into sleep and then jerk back into a state of semi awareness. With the power of mind, body and speech, an old woman grabs my arm. Without any advance knowledge, we offer her the opportunity to leave with some of our food and she takes it. There's a big storm coming, synthetic dust, citizens, thunder and everything. The young Israelis huddle around their water pipes, listening to rave music, while the newscaster reports they are unable to calculate. Sometimes things are twisted for facility and pronunciation. While the rubble continues to smolder, we climb the stone steps of the great Delhi mosque. Immense black birds circle overhead, old men and women asleep on the steps, synthetic dust, my head covered with a scarf, a hankie over my face. A little boy stops me on the bottom step and asks if I am a Muslim woman. My children are already grown. Yes, we see a mountain, we see smoke and so we conclude there must be fire.

So you want to go to Delhi but you have no facility except your legs or a bull and cart. It will take a long time. When the young rickshaw driver takes me all the way around Connaught Place to blow up the meter, he almost runs over a child. Beseiged. Then the toilet erupts and spews shit all over the bathroom. Tricked. Who are these unnamed enemies? Aham Asmi. Someone should be punished for this heinous crime. We are all stirred up with words, leaves, bricks and cement. Manavaha, a being who is mind dominant. At the little cart across the street, I buy laundry detergent and then begin to scrub the floor. A lizard crawls through the grating in the ceiling and starts dropping cigarette butts and little pieces of paper. Devaha. Vrukshaha. It is dusk and the window makes a shadow of a grid, with clothes hanging on a line at an angle, the dark fan cutting an X over the whole. I turn it on, the enormity of a blue plastic bag flying around, kind of beautiful, puffy and all over the room.

I dream the children are children again. Take me where I asked you to take me, I yell at the man. Allen is coming over so I can go away. Quit following me, I yell at another man in the bazaar. I keep losing my ticket, stand up and hit my head on the window. Stupid me. Yes, churn is a very good British word. Now I can't remember the dream and he was so present, so alive. Misery is due to misjudgment. You are asleep and with sleep the object is deep darkness. Everything was arranged for him to watch the children but I kept getting the wrong ticket. These words are like dust or mud, pollution, confusion, so I couldn't leave and then I didn't need him to watch the children anymore. One must be trained to increase the capacity for sustaining damage. And so we are returning to the beginning again. A speck of light with no heat, like moonlight, hold it. Little are children, the dream I am.

Thousands of years ago in India there was already an aerial view. Soon you too will be flying Hanuman. Anything can fly, you just sort of suspend yourself in the air from one position to the next. Without airport security, I flag down a rickshaw and begin the rocky journey back to Mathura. The surrounding drivers laugh as I make the form of a karate punch to hold them back. A hellish storm of ash, glass, smoke and leaping victims. He drives down the road about one third of a mile and then turns around with a sinister smile and says, "You give me 500 rupees." Without pretense to justice, somehow one side eventually gives in to the other, our bus stuck behind a large camel pulling a cart with four people, my shoes made from camel skin. A little child cuts across the busy highway. Millions of innocents do not travel after midnight. Beside me, two very skinny old men sit, wearing white dhotis, their heads wrapped with white cloth. The one on the aisle takes out a home roll and smokes it. The look on his face reminds me of Allen when he was dying—just looking out of my body as time passes, like a small blade of grass.

I wake at 5 am, lie still. Group, split, armed, solid, banish. Upstairs I am so tired again so I lay down and sleep for three hours, eat a papaya, drink water, sit here on the floor on my folded up mat with my back against the wall, trying to remember children, borders, dislodged, frenzy. I am very sleepy. Slept at night without sleeping pills, woke up several times, stayed in bed until 9 am, fell asleep and almost fell off the bed, woke up and moved into the middle. I am in bed for an hour or so. Fanaticism, backing, doubt, feeds, despair. I wake up in the morning, feeling rested. Ok now I need my afternoon nap. I wake up and I can't remember the dream. Obey, reactor, power, mock, cloud. I'm resting on the mat, listening to the singing. In the back room, it's so hot I don't know how I will get even one wink. Well, I'm going to sleep even though I can be observed here. Zero, ghastly, cat's out, spectacular, pools. I doze on a low table, intermittently watching the young woman wash and milk the cows. Two little calves frolic around in the dirt and dust. As we talk, we fan ourselves with little pieces of paper. She's interested in a love marriage, but her father is opposed. As I turn on my side, my body builds up a sweat from face to foot. Fire, nuclear, simulate, penalty, madmen. Then I turn on my back and the fan dries the sweat and I turn on my other side again and the same thing happens. Even though the window is open I'm near suffocation. Then I realize the fan isn't working so I crawl over in the dark and try the phone. It isn't working either. Senseless, drills, unimaginable, rogues, ripped. Then the fan comes on and I go back to sleep.

Variability of the monsoon in India has made accurate prediction a very difficult proposition. In front of Ramakrishna, I prostrate myself. Ah, here I am. Don't kid me, he says, you didn't mean that. You just wanted to stretch out your spine. The fruit behind the leaf is only seen by those interested in finding it. Ever since Mihir was killed off in Episode 119 and then resurrected in Episode 144, viewers have been waiting with bated breath. Some friends of the hotel clerk had their child stolen from them. Four years later they were on a train and they saw their child begging. I find the platform and enter car 2A. Push ahead, he says, there's no order here. An organized racket involving sale of children as bonded laborers to factories in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar has been unearthed. The boy runs like an animal down the street, covered with filth, and when he sees me he dashes over with his hand outstretched. Those with a boat will be safer, crossing the ocean. Hello my friend. Then the female cat with one damaged eye stops by my table to beg. Two or three cows stand out in front. Little birds fly in and out of the windows. Security. Banish. Worry. Roar. Chance. Attack. Urgent. Radiation. Production. Handed over. Battlefield. When one dies, the soul is forcibly dragged, but today we set the bag of food next to a sleeping child. Resting on her haunches a little distance away, her mother scoots over and grabs it with a big smile

On the train, the woman has nothing to put under her head so I offer her my yoga mat. We all enter our disturbed or serene states of sleep. Recovering from heart surgery, she sleeps in the most undisturbed way, without casualties. I squish through the mud in my sandals to a dvd movie room. Harvey Keitel in the back of the truck, all screwed up, wearing a dress. Kindness. They're playing American music so loud we can't talk. On its own soil, eighteen months ago she married a Kashmiri man and now they run an STD stand. Economic sanctions. The boy looks like he was picked up off a farm in the Midwest and dropped down into the middle of India without preparation. A criminologist in a large group will see the thief. Like a magnet, they find each other. He ducks into McDonalds and meets a very wealthy Indian man who takes him out to dinner. Indiscriminate destruction. His parents buy an insurance policy so if need be, they can remove him by helicopter from these mountains and take him safely back to Iowa. Free markets. Profit seeking. Heart stopping. Chasm. Uncertainty.

I could write a book about losing my glasses. A young Indian girl in a torn blue dress begs for money. I'll buy you a chapatti, I say. No, I don't want chapatti, I want money. A banana? No. No food. I want money. Only food. Ok, then, I'll take chocolate. I want chocolate.

A kilometer away from the village, in the heavy rain, we stop under a little tea shack with some other people. A pack of dogs joins us, one big one rubbing up against me to dry his coat and at the same time to push us over. We almost have a fight with the dogs. Hunt down and punish. If madness comes unexpectedly, there are hidden causes. We trudge through the mud and rain. Michah brushes against a bush and big welts appear on his arm. Nearby, the antidote looks like a lettuce leaf. He rubs it on his skin and the welts begin to disappear. The tall gravel mountains make a shadow, snow peak, a lone eagle hovering in the valley and then swooping off, the quantity of sorrow less in some materials. A monkey turns his butt and a young sadhu sticks out his tongue. Hashish. Last night the Israelis staying in the houses behind this hill had a knife fight with the Indians. All you need to do is sit as quietly and as still as possible. Carnage. Toppling. Collapse. Thwarted. Cancel. Tower. Ram. Hari Rama. Hari Hari.

The Tibetan girls were tortured and made to stand all day with a piece of paper on their head and another between their legs. Five years of prison for ten minutes of protest. She escaped through Katmandu and then here to Dharmasala, but her parents have lost all their land as a result. The forces are armed, unaffected and incomprehensible. Plant a coconut tree and those in the next generation are sure to receive the coconuts.

Michah carries the green suitcase on top of his head, balanced with the others under his arms. You save a lot of money doing this, Mom. On the platform, families are curled up and resting on blankets. Beside me, a man wearing a turban stares at me. Civilian targets. Engine of globalization. I curl up on my yoga mat, facing the other direction and dose off. Wake with a jerk—is he really old enough to look after me? Twenty-two, ok, ok. The energy between child and parent is very strong whether they are on opposite sides of the planet or one is dead and the other alive. In the morning I wake up, open the curtains and watch the Indian flatlands pass by. Rogue states. Free markets. A baby who is sleeping beside his mother turns over with his thumb in his mouth and looks at me. I wave and then his eyes get very large. Aviation. Secret. Unexceptional. Cells. He turns over and stiffly closes his eyes, sleeping for half an hour more.

It's because your skin is so so white, the boy says, and no one is used to seeing skin like yours. They can't help looking. I turn down the light. If it hasn't been resolved in this life, it is carried over to another. An American woman arrives at 3 am, lies down on her berth, reads a little and then turns off the light and promptly falls asleep. All night she does not turn over or make a sound. I know because I am up and down all night long. Under a cotton blanket, I dose, wake up, fall back asleep. The arrows in The Ramayana were like bombs, burning everything within miles. The monk who's sharing his bunk with the Tibetan girl, turns out to be someone she just met at the station. She's reading Elle. They are sharing one ticket. If it is inevitable to tell a lie, then lie. Two different men appear in the bunk above me to sleep at night but they never look at us or speak. It gets more and more desert like until finally we pass some barren volcanic looking mountains. To whom or with what. Destroy root and branch. Diminution. Then we pass into green land, a station and two little children standing under a water spigot, giggling.

The cab driver almost has a BS degree but he had to stop to help his family. Because of his caste, he drives a taxi from 4 am until late at night. A curse for humans to work like machines. He's tired. I watch his eyes from Bangalore to Mysore. You are falling asleep! Buses swerve around us. No, no madam, only shielding the sun. Seeing incorrectly means seeing poison as food. Twisted revenge. Anxious. Security. Traumatic. Qualified. Possible. Airline safety. Resume normal life. Watch out, I yell, and we stop just short of hitting a bunch of rocks. Fragile and unfamiliar, the sky. Loss of records. I take off my shoes. In the path, one girl combs and braids the other's hair, so long, down to her knees. Leaving the body is as natural as taking a dress on and off. The teacher stands in the doorway, wearing a white dhohti and a long sleeve sheer white shirt. Anxious. Security. Traumatic. Qualified. Possible. For the time being, he says, your obligations are mine.

Coconut oil footprints across the living room floor. The world trade center in its pre-attack splendor. I tell myself: don't be supercilious, but the tourists seem so vacant and shallow. Outside, it starts pouring. Sometimes I have to remind myself, westerners are human beings. All planes on the ground are immediately barred from taking off. I look out the door and think, this is monsoon. The US goes into gridlock. Texas postpones an execution. The young boy who walks the German shepherd shows me some scars on his arms from dog bites. You wander here and there along with your dog. A little knock on my door, and there is the quiet guru, in his white clothe, soaking wet. No towel. No thank you. Cotton is a conductor of energy. The smallest dot greater even than the sky. Only split-screen images capture the magnitude. When the priest touches my forehead with a dot of red powder, a giant stone Hanuman holds up his torch.

I look up from scrubbing a pot. Duke is standing on his hind legs with his front paws on the window ledge, studying me with his glassy blue eyes. I toss him an almond which he leaps into the air to catch. When the bow is pulled, the results come. I was riding the scooter very fast when the weather dropped. I could feel it right through my blouse. Global slowdown. Battered retreat. Hour of silence. People perish. Water's filling up the streets. I'm very time conscious. Soon, you will forget the whole world.

A giant moth in the kitchen. Tropical insects larger here even though the people are smaller. Roberto runs out of the house in his underwear, throwing a pot of water on the noisy children who are begging and banging drums at the gate. They run away laughing and then one catches my eye. He flies out of the house again with a broom and off they go. These motorcycles always remind me of large house flies from outer space. A wonderful machine, but irreparable at some point. Keep your shoes on, dear, the floors are so cold. The US is a beautiful country, blanketed with bits of paper, drifting, falling to earth, a tattered resume. I can't leave India for a number of years if I want to stay straight. It almost feels as if I'm holding on to nothing. Check number 37546. He doesn't know when he's returning but he is sure to return.

We have lost our capacity, so we don't see in the back of the dark cell, a musty diety. I step backwards past the large column which is constructed from stone plates stacked on top of each other. Before we had a huge memory. An owl can see in the dark. He will be invisible to others, existing but not seen. Watch out, don't step on Ganapati. The woman in the elegant red sari clearly does not like the fact that I, a foreigner, am standing beside her. Even a great scientist is a poor man, understanding only one angle. The young boy hangs on the side of the van with the door open and his face in the wind. Wall street. Big deals. Long term leases. Out of market. Rendered useless. End of the day. Demolished. Collateral damage. You only know you are dreaming when you wake up. Sitting here at this desk with the cool breeze coming through the window grates, while the leaves from the coconut tree wave and the man walking by with the blankets on his head, yells something in Kanada, something like Yapurr yapurr.

Speeding around KR circle, we stop on a dime, a few inches away from an old man wearing a white shawl and a dhoti. He turns his head, sees us with our western faces and our helmets and he smiles. Oil your body so you are not caught in a spider web. Then we recite the Sanskrit alphabet—ah ahh, ee, eee, oo, ooo. re, roo. No progress without memorization. I'm coughing from the cold air, red dust and diesel fuel pumping out the rickshaws and lorries. Press his shoulder when I want him to brake. Everyone is a tool of someone else. A cow lies peacefully in the middle of traffic, chewing her cud and looking at us all as if we are crazy little flies. If three people pull a rope in each of their own directions—evacuation, collapse, technological disaster, blocked and herded, asymmetry of suffering.

Indians don't believe that anyone has ever walked on the moon. Americans staged it in a desert and money was made. Post traumatic. Personal security. Anxiety. Rapid increase. I step over the woman doing the dishes on the floor. Don't step on red ants, they are vicious. A turquoise plaid lunghi tied around his hips, a copper band around his arm—Oh, ma, he says, hanging from two ropes and following the lines of my nadis with his feet. Out the window, the long leaves of a tree. They stay here in earth's atmosphere for thousands of years. Laying flat on the floor with my arms extended outward like a T. A cement rolling pin. I am a chapatti, all imperfections removed. Break through. Scrape off a thin layer. A human foot.

To sit on a mat or scarf would be too ordinary Indian. That's where the British first landed. Hidden causes cannot be eliminated so easily. Let your violence be meaningful. A small ferry takes us across the bay and back again, past the giant ships toward the sprawling city with the cloud of pollution. Sprayed with brown water. Wearing baggy shirts so the men will stop staring at her breasts. Mahalaxmi. Female deities bring worldly pleasure. Bollywood. The breeze through the window, along with the sounds of sea birds and the pigeons of Colaba. They gather in the trees and argue all day long. One might need love of brother, but no delicious foods or close friends. Caste aside. Mangled. Singed. Unfortunate. Unlucky. The Taj Mahal Hotel is so marble and magnificent. In their bookstore, I buy a book about the Bandit Queen—Phoolan.

In California, Muslim women in head scarves have been advised to stay indoors. I could see the outline of his face in the dark. Choreographed. Rescue. Demoliton. The floor was swelling with breath and energy. Goruda's eye is so sensitive that it can grasp minute material while flying. I instruct myself to move back to the standard point of concentration. I'm very prudent, he says. Hallowness here and there. Cut off. High Speed. Wall. Before the computer age, I bought thousands of dollars of traveler's checks and two days later reported that they had been accidentally destroyed. Within twenty four hours I would cash the replacement checks and the originals. Extra technology is required to change one's caste. Now I have turned over a new leaf. The need to tell the truth as factually and clearly as possible. Earth moving. Heavy equipment. If my wife doesn't come, we should get married and I'll take you to these islands off the coast of Africa and we'll live there. Repent your mistakes and then forget them.

Street laws are just gestures here. I was nervous when they told us to get off the plane because I look like a terrorist. When they pull her over, she says wait a minute, turns around and takes off while two policemen run after her on foot. The eyeball will move naturally. Some techniques are shy by nature. Madam you are not supposed to ride with three on a scooter. It's illegal. Why then is it ok for an entire family of five as well as a cow? Many will see them as mad, a little peculiar. She's screaming at the policeman—Racial profiling. I move her over to the other side of the road. One leg in one boat and one in another: you will surely drown. The technician doesn't wear plastic gloves or use antiseptic soap. What you start, complete. That is enough, you will be taken there. 200,000 tons of steel. 43,600 windows. Unadorned profile. The loose hairs on my head are blowing in my eyes.

I put my glasses in my bag and then turn to face the mother guru, her hair disheveled and her right cheek bruised. When love comes in a flood, then no disturbance from touch. Poor woman, I think, as I am wiped down and thrust into her arms. She chants something, it starts with a "d". I am dizzy. The Indian woman who was behind me is now on her knees, gripping the mother's robe and screaming. If a female is healthy, her spark is downward. They try to pry her loose, but she fights them, scratching and biting. Daisy chains. One of the male devotees leans over and whispers something in the mother's ear. She elbows him, reaches back into the pan full of flowers, takes a handful and stuffs them into his mouth. Accountable. Heartfelt ideas are better carried by oral expression. After the entourage parades off the stage and down the center of the tent, a young blonde woman remains, on her hands and knees, kissing every square inch of her guru's lotus leaf pillow.

In the book, the character died from typhoid fever in 1913. Remnants. Fragile and unfamiliar. Rescue effort. Retaliation. I sit on a rock outside the hospital waiting for my antibiotics, my head hurting so much that the skin on the top is sore. Yes, you are proud of your over activity, but in a corner of your mind, there is a depression. Inside the mosquito net, it is dark and I am frightened, my limbs locked inside a man's muscular arms and legs. I am going to put a bag over your head, he says. I gather all my energy, open my mouth to bite him, and as my teeth come smashing against each other, I wake up alone, hair matted and wet, shaking, 96 degrees. Try to know who you are. Oh, God. Fissure. Backlash. Sacrifice. Catastrophic. Then I dream of Allen, alive but ill, lying in bed with no shirt on. I am stroking the sides of his chest and telling him how much I love him. In the morning, I wake up with a head ache and no fever. Even though you are sick, you should keep your mind the same as before. There is a nightingale calling from the tree across the street. Hear the sound. A pure pa pa pa coming from the heart chakra. I sing them up and down. Sar ri ga ma pa da ni sa. Sa ni da pa ma ga ri sa.

Behind me, Dawn arranges her cane and her rather frail body. It's still dark. We're the only scooter on the road. A lone truck and some men on bicycles carrying heavy sacks. The rise and fall of races and cultures. Credit unavailable. Financial markets closed. We turn left three times, and then right on an unfamiliar dirt road. The quiet teacher speeds into the darkness with a foreknowledge of the holes we can't see. Collapsing buildings. Work teams. Demolition. Call it destiny or collective soul. Around Chamundi Hill, down another narrow dirt path and then across a field of clumps, rocks, bumps and suddenly a big hill. Possible assassinations. A drumbeat. History circles. I hold my breath and anticipate tumbling around with the scooter. This is it, he says. A straw hut on the verge of collapse. There is the problem of the shepperds opening the gate and letting their herds eat all our plants and trees. A cinderblock house with a cow dung floor where we meditate. The eternal beggar waiting for the opening of the door. Over there the school will be built. The sound of birds. Dew. The morning light is purple. I am chilled to the bone. Like a Steve McQueen movie, Dawn says, as we angle out of the field and then back on the road home.

A man selling flowers wraps some jasmine in a banana leaf and ties a small piece around my wrist. On the outskirts of Mysore, many grand houses, and every so often a little line of peasant huts. The wealthy need their servants. Arrows. Here is the receiver. There is the sender. Shiva knows when it is necessary to destroy. I throw open the windows to let in the light. Dawn arrives, dressed in white, her blue eyes sparkling, one of the thinnest women I've ever seen. While attempting to sit down, she falls over and lands on her knees. You should wear knee pads, I say. When the gravitational force is cut because of upward energy, you will levitate in the air a little. Single action. Protracted. Bellicose. We think maybe they need something to happen so that they will better recognize the fragility of the system. Something will happen, no doubt as it happens to us all, she says, crawling across the room to spread out some jasmine and roses. If I continue to lose weight at the same rate I've lost weight here, by the end of the year I will have completely disappeared

I reach down and switch on reserve. Giant yellow trucks charge by with blasts of smoke and blaring horns. Sometimes according to your constitution, you must talk a little or go mad. I hug the edge of the road, cut through the intersections with caution and then zoom around the corner, past the Southern Star, the big public auditorium, the Pelican Pub, and the policeman at the intersection. One blink is the shortest period. In that small span of time, change occurs. I look in the mirror and see a young man on a motorcycle charging by on my right even though I have my arm extended to turn right. Now I'm on Gokulum road, passing over three big speed bumps and then turning left into a neighborhood of fruit and incense shops, metal ware, tea stalls and lots of people, cows, goats and dogs, crisscrossing and gathering along the edges of the street. Tight knot. Secret cells. Exceptional. Confusion. Armed. Dissent. Aftermath. There is a light in every material. I swerve around some holes, make a left past the two hospitals, go around the block and there is the temple of Shiva. He's sitting with Parvati and Ganesha, holding his three pronged spear.

Blanked with bits of paper. Drifting. Falling to earth. A tattered resume. Miles away. Abrupt death. Mangled. Singed. Unfortunate. Unlucky. Outline. Aggressive. Stark choices. Prospect. Resounded. Talk. War. Single Action. Global Assault. Wall Street. Associated. Slams. Rendered. Useless. Square feet. Potential Loss. Demise. Aviation. Secret. Unexceptonal. Cells. Raids. Business. Personally. Barred. Light. Weak. Treasury bonds. Duck. Obituary. Tight knot. Forgive. Confusion. Dissent. Retaliation. Morgue. Blood. Increase. Aftermath. Anxious. Security. Traumatic. Qualified. Possible. Disruptions. 650 million pieces. Drumbeat. Assassinations. Overwhelmingly. Controversial. Looming. Cellular. Recorder. Dipped. Heavy equipment. Cleanup. Fires. Sectors. Body parts. Restore. Access. High speed. Extreme. Pushed. Suspect. Crack. Overthrow. Wind and dust. Flame and steel. The smell of human flesh burning. Arrows already sent from the bow. Anti-American. Anti-Muslim. Anti-Hindu. Anti-Buddhist. Eclipse.

You only know you are dreaming when you wake up. Two very large wasps fly around the bathroom, circling the overhead lamp. I open the window, turn off the light and shut the door. A cow lies peacefully in the middle of traffic. A pure pa from the heart chakra. Let your violence be. Twirling. The eternal beggar. Around a speck of light. Anything can fly. I sit cross-legged on the stoop and gaze west—it maybe a very long sleep—at the coconut and pomegranate trees and the sky red on the darkening horizon.


Barbara Henning, Sections from "Aerial View" were previously published in House Organ and Downtown Brooklyn.

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