If you read a beautiful poem
while the poor beg at your table,
does this make the poem less fine?
If you glance up from a perfect stanza,
say ‘nay’ and wave them away,
does this make you a bad person?
There are so many in need.
A boy with an open head
wound and blood caked
over one eye, looks dead
at you with the other;
an old woman holds out
the stumps of a lepered palm,
scolds you and clacks her tongue;
a procession of poor villagers
moves slow through the market
to the temple at the end of the street;
a baba wrapped in orange cloth
leads a cow with painted horns,
rattles his brass pot
as if you owe him something -
he is the least of your concerns.
Should you move to a quiet table
near the ghats, by the holy lake,
where beggars do not congregate?
Can the best of poems make that move,
before some perfect stanza breaks
across the page into a rabble of words?