The Star is Our Sign

By Michael Jewell

The extravagant dissonance of shennais,  
accordions, and trumpets from the wedding party
celebrated in the next hotel kept us awake  
until nearly three AM. Then, after a quick
continental breakfast at seven,
we boarded our tour bus

in the pouring rain. Out-of-season monsoons
lay siege to the city as we passed an army
of slum dwellers driven from their enclaves
by the flooding. Lining the fences
of upscale apartment buildings,
they huddled

beneath makeshift lean-tos cobbled together
from flats of corrugated tin and tattered
blankets, while above them a huge billboard
proclaimed the words: The Star
is Our Sign. Up to their knees
in murky water,

rickshaw drivers pulled high caste
passengers to their destinations. Schoolgirls in fresh
uniforms played happily in puddles,
while young men wearing rumpled dhotis
smoked mango-flavored cigarettes
and scowled at the sky,

waiting for the alleged star to appear, dukha
and sukha, bitterness and sweetness mixed
in equal measure. Through Haryana State,
the Punjab, and Rajasthan, leaving
the rain shadow of the Aravalli Range,
we moved steadily

back in time, stopping at solitary tea houses
with thatched roofs and threadbare rope beds
to eat chapatis and dal. Cows the color
of sunbaked sand blocked the road,
like pieces of statuary scoured
featureless by the wind.

Yet finally we arrived, reaching a village
too obscure to be listed on any map. The sky
turned from silver to indigo-black at sunset,
and we slept, cradled within a silence
so profound that we woke
during the night,  

disturbed by the whisper of our breathing.
Stepping outside into the courtyard,  
we heard the music that the stars
seemed to make only above the desert,
a plangent keening that pierced
the interminable dark.

Michael Jewell is a poet, painter, and novelist living in Calais, Vermont. Two of his chapbooks have been published by Wood Thrush Books, an independent press that specializes in nature writing, and he has exhibited art regionally.