Batya Weinbaum

Sari on a Motorcycle: Passage through India

1. Wasted in a café in Bodhygaya

January 30, 2005


coughing over flies



outside, bicycles ring bells


army fatigues, beggars

interspersed with monks



to other cafes

and internets


inside, brown men with moustaches smoke

wearing silver watches and

yellow turtle necks

serving blond Europeans

Tibetan refugees

Indian families

Women in red saris



2. View from the Rickshaw, Bodhygaya

On way to Om Café



goats munching green leaf

white chicken bought by woman in green sari

circles of cow dung for sale

alongside chicken in cages

cows sleeping

trio of dogs litter road


Tibetan refugee market opens

letters of ambulance backwards

daughter gets out

helps driver push rickshaw

up slope in road.




3. rickshaw to the root institute

2/2/05—approaching evening


bicycles resting

child chattering

hello hello

picture of buddha thrust in face


horn honking

donkey clattering past

Tibetan drawings

laundry hanging




motorcycles revving

three men abreast




world new large gate





black goat walking


head on

past bicycle


three men in a row

hands in pockets

scarves round necks



birds crying


past swamps.



4. On to Varanasi. 2/3/05


Train train
chug chug

leaving behind

beggars at Gaya


holding out

stubs for hands

chanting om


raisins on

silver plate

woman squatting

in sari

with two bare feet


woman with eyes glazed closed

rubbing cane with two hands

telling some incomprehensible


porters in red jackets

three suitcases

piled on heads

we move forward

with Italian backpacker

studying Lonely Planet

through goats, rivers

leaving cattle

standing on station

leaving greenery

in a countryside

still voting

while some bathe

in river

circle of cow dung

some cow left standing

in station

rats go by scurrying

where dogs eat

what we litter

saris in the mustard

seed fields

white oxen

hawkers come and go

some wake me

roots of trees in a swamp

leaving behind

drumming in the streets

by stupa park







5. A few lines on a rickshaw

while daughter in shop fixing digital camera

Varanasi Friday Feb. 4, 2005


dalai lama says,

keep meditative object constant


I see buddha

buddha eyes


What life do I see, what next life

staring into those eyes


next life, only one breath away


at night I burp, belch, cough

could die from bad breathing


here in Varanasi/maybe next life

not that far away


out the buddha eyes

I see women riding motorcycles

and bicycles here


not possible in Bodhygaya, the provinces


college women in saris—own bikes

single women in 20s—own scooters

mother with son—own scooter


mother puts groceries in center

gets back on

doesn’t even ride side saddle

sari on a motorcycle


in Cleveland

English department and men

in parking lot

confused by woman in truck

as provincial as



Ganges, sooth me

Heal my soul

Help me buy a sari

and ride on a motorcycle

Was it Kali I prayed to today?

Were those her fires?

the waters of the Ganges

at the Durga temple

placed on my scarf?

The red dot on my forehead?

The ochre on my wrists?

The bands of yellow and red?

Am I healing?

Am I feeling?


puppy in the gutter

dal and rice outside

Indian disco

auto rickshaws honking

cows mooing

milk stuck in utter

chairs carried by

between bicycles

piles of eggs

basket of plastic containers

on head

balloons—some one wants to sell

me paper windmills

make me part of the festivities

in the streets

we passed two weddings

on the way today

joyous brides

why are balloons being sold

why paper windmills

why the horns

joyously honking

why the colors—orange, yellow turquoise green purple red brown saris

red orange yellow blue balloons

why painted peacocks

on the rickshaws?

Saris pass in brown, black too

child and grandfather

on a shaky bike

butterflies soar on rickshaws

second western woman I have seen

on own bike

possible to make a life

disappear, reappear here?

What am I waiting for?

right moment to send postcard

to realtor







6. Rooftop massage, Varanasi

2/5/05 3:30 p.m.









Temple Hotel


Ganges floating by


college girl chatter














street boys

call me











titter girls say

henna job on feet

took seven hours

four there

three home bare foot

400 rupees

can’t do a thing

no sightseeing

no shopping


in rickshaw










no self




empty self


new room

pulled up self

new self

moved self

new café



going to Sting

in Dehli


where to

maybe Daram Sala




swam the Ganges today


auto rickshaw







under masseuse hands


coughing up






chatter I hear

chanting from mosques



on cheek


crawl back to room

cough, shiver again


(calm abiding

cultivate wisdom of emptiness

in conjunction with

experience of bliss

to eliminate conceptuality

is the highest state

of bliss)




7. Varanassi
















in water

to horns



men, boys, women in saris

bathing sudsing

party on distant shore


on tiers

of colored stairs


of logs




singing over smoke


laughing souls to heaven


beat drums









come down



burn out






8. day in the life of the cows

of Varanasi 2/12/05


here I sit

chewing my cud

slowly slowly

I am brown

in a heap of dung/garbage

by the market

here I lie

big and black

eating straw

by the gay ghat stairs

chewing slowly


the postcard hawkers

girls of nine

hurry past

selling pictures


here I walk slowly


plunging along

gray and white

oblivious to sounds

bursting around me


hindi bollywood


auto rickshaws

blowing horns in traffic

multidimensional eastern western

rickshaw auto rickshaw car bicycle

pedestrian traffic

traffic in saris

traffic in brass

traffic in fruit

oranges grapes pomegranates bananas

traffic in spices

traffic in brightly colored clothes

pictures of Kali

pictures of Annapurna

pictures of Shakala

Durga on tiger

Durga with spear

Ganga on crocodile

Devi of the city


here I am

brown with white spots

coming back from

the river

blessed river

where I stood ‘til my horns

rimmed the Ganges surface


here I am

walking slowly slowly



stopping when I see good

eating plastic


yes I’ll stop here

eat this green plastic


here I am

sleeping for the night

by a closed vendor

stand utters swollen

seem to have lost

my cowherd, my calf


here I am

while a wedding goes by

a marching band

horse drawn cart

taking groom to bride


here I am

when a tourist walks by

after dinner in a restaurant at assi ghat


eating stray garbage

with a stray bull

and a stray dog


tourist lumbers past








red chakrah



in river flow






11.  many faces of Varanasi



here I am as a vegetable vendor

at ten a.m. on a Monday morning

weighing out three long white radishes

still with earth on roots

for a brown man with white hair

I put the radishes he has selected

some on one side of a circular disc contraption

carefully weighing the right balance

I reach out

over the mound of ginger

past the pyramidal stacks

of little green round limes

to get him another.


here I am as a black and white speckled goat

hobbling along in the shade

on my four hoofs

eating up all the crumbs

in front of this general store

swept kindly onto the sidewalk

finding my way to the curb

to hobble down to scavenge further


here I am as a mighty black vulture

wings spread stretching my feathers

soaring down past

billboards, tan men in jeans

western haircuts

floors of many houses

stories of many buildings

to see what I can get

from this garbage heap


here we are

a herd of black buffaloes

wetting our hooves and ankles

in this cold running stream

one of the few left

from the Forest of Bliss


here one of us is

eating the green grass

on the shore

we see no horizon


here we are as a family of pigs

one of us

lying in dark brow mud

behind the cross-legged woman

on the silver table

making vegetable dumplings

here our baby children are

eating the vegetable scraps

thrown to the wind

missed by the cows by

the dead dogs on the median

brown/tan and by

the black buffalo

who could walk faster

and further to find

the gulch that has no horizon

and whom the people

lead to the river

because cows are holier than us.


here we are

cows in Varanasi

we lie at noon on the garbage

it cools our stomachs
as we close our eyes to sleep

our tails

swat flies
one of us walks

halfway through a doorway

drawn by a plate of cooking vegetables

the householder left out for us


here we are after our lunch sleeping

by the median in busy traffic since

less flies here, killed by exhaust fumes

that also make us high now.


here I am

a rickshaw driver

walking my tourists

through traffic


negotiating pot holes

and carts of school children

on their school buses

and other rickshaws

full of bags and flour

past Sarasvati parades

rows of young boys hysterically dancing, chanting


I see a calm buffalo

crossing before me

I hit my handlebars

my seat is twisting


pours down my neck

though I am bald

motorcycles before me

spout fumes of exhaust

I feel my exhaustion


My teeth are red

which concerns the tourists

who think my gums bleed

give me money for dentist

the dripping betel juice fools them


time to put hoods up

high noon sun


I stop for water

at a stand of bidi

I hit the back of the rickshaw

in front of me

so he moves faster


I pull past a truck of soldiers

women in saris clutching their children

racks and racks of ready made clothing

flowers on handlebars

cars pulled by ponies

balconies sporting clothing

pink and white towels

walls of mosaic

racks of belts

displays of cassettes

sons with their mothers

wearing head to toe black veils

fathers with sons

on the backs of scooters

white motor cars

spewing exhaust smoke

woman with red line announcing she’s married

from scalp to head top

pierced nose and bangles

wood carts of coconuts

girl riding bicycle


here I sit

in the shade of my own rickshaw

in front of the GPO

watching the tailor

stitch my tourists’ boxes


parades of Sarasvati floats go past

more children chanting

holy man in two shades of orange

with white beard

stamps stick with fork and flower on top

wearing scarves of dark oranges

orange and yellow shirt

barefoot big framed glasses

says “holy man”

holds out hand

shrugs shoulder

waits patiently

I give him a coin

since my tourists ignore him

he moves on


A man sits patiently

stitching white muslin

around packages for tourists

incessant knick knack buyers

shipping possessions overseas

books we have finished

pictures of Lakshmi and Sarasvati

that we have purchased

clothes we will not wear here

because they need ironing

Sweden, France, Denmark America

faraway countries

they each receive

this man’s packages

stitch by stitch

every stitch deliberate and slow

he sits outside a shop

across from Head Post Office

under an awning over his head

to which, for extra shade,

he has strung up a golden shawl

white mustached

orange red and white on his forehead

for the festival of Sarasvati

wavy hair

waving into Banyan tree

in background

he stitches barefoot

on rickety blue table

surrounded with white brightly colored

plastic stools

for the tourists to sit.

they drink water, chai

a tourist child offers to share

organic cashews

practicing generosity

to clear karma of poverty

after he sews tightly

he lights candle in plastic cup

and bees wax

to seal stitches

he uses small brass stamp

and asks small boy

to hold up cardboard

to protect flame


here I sit on the side of the street

man sits before me

I lather his face with white

and take my long blade

shearing his beard

while he turns his head

this way, that

hunching over

trusting me ultimately

more than himself in a mirror

I wash the cream off his face

on my long brown arm

and when I am finished

I clean off the cream left from his


give him a mirror

he pays me in coins

and gets up and moves on

making room for another

I spread out white cloth

as apron

over his chest

add more water to soap

make lather

take long scissors

trim eyebrows

clean knife

finish job


here I sit

in a wire cage

I am a green parrot

with red beak

and yellow wings

I sit beside a bag of coal

one pillar over

from beans, nuts


I am twitching my ear

swatting flies

walking the wrong way

stopping traffic


here we are a crate of live chickens


here we are colored shirts and dresses

drying on a wire

above mounds of garbage


here we are

following our goddess Sarasvati

burning our incense

doing our chanting

our faces painted red

dancing to disco. of the lost child of the lost child of the sixties


wanted: one good home in Beachwood

(or any other eastern suburb)

for lost child of a lost child

of the sixties


mother disappeared in Varanasi

last scene

mooing like a cow

wet up to ears

in Ganges

last seen

disappeared in Golden Temple

taking Darshana of Annapurna

Goddess of Food.


Prior to leaving Cleveland,

Devotee to Goddess of Confusion,

Despair and Ignorance

Currently Bakhti

to Sarasvati

Goddess of learning, music and art

dancing through the streets

of moving mash pits

with half the villages

walking in from the country

golden goddess floats on wheels

incense burning

drums beating

trumpets blowing.


Last seen: being carried by group of schoolboys

pink orange green war paint on face

to be put on boat to be dumped in Ganges

where all the other Sarasvatis return

sunk to holy depths

in the river that fell from the gods

to the Forest of Bliss


Last scene: talking in the middle of the night

to the union of auto rickshaw drivers

in impromptu Sarasvati tent

calling her mama, and auntie

by way of respect

as they fed her good yogurt, banana and sweets

goddess milk

in ceramic cups


Last seen: disappearing into the palm of a palmist

in the olden bookstore

behind the Golden Temple

in the Ten Horse Sacrifice Market

who served her chai tea

looked into her soul

told her she would be lucky

if she lived by rivers, oceans,

mountains and lake

that she could be famous

for religious writing

philosophy, music and art.


Last seen: dancing down the streets

towards the Ganges

following holy men in orange rags

one of Varanasi’s regular disappearances

say the guide books

it happens every three or four months


So I will be wearing this placard

in Hopkins International Airport

when the American Embassy

buys me a ticket







13.morning life at bhagsunag


Here we are the first sounds

birds singing in the morning

audible in cold hotel rooms

we are the kind with black feathers

yellow eye spots

yellow beaks

who gather on train tracks

at Varanasi

when some one throws grapes in our direction

which we eat before monkeys scurry over.


Here we are

the pack of donkeys

though perhaps we are small horses

or mules

walking up the town road
to the high hills

with our open bags of cement powder

and back down again


Here we are

clumping back up again

nodding our heads

ears back

our herder

green jacket

embroidered hat on head

hitting us with a long stick

the way Varanasi police men

hit rick shaw drivers in traffic


Here we are

Tibetan children

white sashes

red bows on the pig tails

of young girls

running down the hills

to greet each other

on the way to school


here we are

the boys with red sweaters

and green back packs

green black pants

just in time

laughing as the gates close


here we are

sneezing clumping back down again

to disco music

past signs in English

we don’t understand






where the tourists discover

there are no baked goods

and the porridge is runny


here I am

a young man

carrying a white bag of grout



here I am

another man

squatting, reading a newspaper

in white socks

brown sandals

listening to the horns that sound

behind Mahindra trucks marked



Here I am

a woman in pink sari and brown shawl

hurrying down mountain


Here I am

man on motorcycle

passing her faster


here I am

one tall brown tree

with little cactus-like brown hands

and green leaves

shooting above the telephone wires

the pack mules

the children on the playground at school

the parked GOODS CARRIER truck

and the green/brown sloping pointed


capped mountains

I stand stark against the sky blue above them

looking down at

laundry service

listening to birds sing

disco in hindi and english

breathing in fumes

from traffic.





14.The Train Riders


I am a trannie

begging with Durga

incense altar in box


We are two soldiers

green uniforms and guns

putting you off

at the next stop


I am a vendor

selling hot coffee


I am a vendor

selling omelets,

vegetable cutlets


feather charms

shoe polish

anything you other riders

might need.


I am trying to sleep

as we pass Panipat

men shitting in the tracks

school buses full

on their way to secondary


I am a man in a tan shawl

carrying my plastic Raymond bag

hurrying to get off


I am a man in a red zip jacket

all my possessions in a taped-up box


I am selling fried turnovers, English newspapers


I am a man in blue jeans and round gold glasses

talking on a cell phone in English in an Indian accent

as I look in mirror and make plans

to be picked up


I am a man in an orange tunic

sitting on the floor by the sink

the sun glints in my eyes


I am a woman in long green sari

carrying a small child

on my hip


I am the smell of the urine

I am the sound of many languages

I am the ring of a cell phone


I am a small boy

with no strong legs

pushing myself around on my arms

carrying a dirty cloth

cleaning the floors underneath bunks

berth by berth

then asking for change


I am an old man in an orange turban

gnarled brown hands

a gray blanket over my shoulder

a gray beard

standing with a cane

stroking my beard waiting to get off


I am a middle-aged man in a gold wristwatch

stroking my clean shaven skin

leaning on my boxes

waiting to get off


I am a terrible doughnut

that the tourist child

just threw away


I am a juice seller

a bottled milk seller

roaming the aisles with my bucket


I am a fly in the window

I am the sound of a passing train


I am the rhythmic sound of this train moving


I am a boy

painted black curl moustache

wool hat torn checked shirt

coming apart at the seams

beating my homemade drum

with two sticks

singing a song

you don’t

want to hear

and after I am paid

moving on


I am a young man

travelling with my friends

so happy to have found a cigarette

we can all share


I am an old man shuffling in orange cloth

gray hair barefoot telling my stories

holding out my hand

my brown legs



I am a soldier

dressed in green camouflage

speaking to the man

sleeping on the floor


coffee caffee coffee nescafe

I call

as I walk back again

my call intermixes

with the warbling singing

of the old man




Post script



1. Endless India: bus ride to Hardiwar

April 7, 2008


India is endless

endless men in pointed black leather shoes

endless men in white embroidered hats

endless women heads covered completely

in black veils

endless billboards

of women in saris

stomachs showing

glowing about the latest

home time saving devices







pigs eating garbage

endless yellow butterflies


soaring birds


Kali statues giant towering at edges of fields.


Endless women washing.


Next Generation career schools


Come study accounting

in large signs

swinging over lines of rickshaw men


for some one

to need them

in some small town.


Donkeys eating out of feedbags


eating out of feedbags

chickens in cages

Durgas in cages

goddesses in temples in traffic circles

women ringing bells to let them know they are there

in bare



PCO signs


lines of egg baskets

rows of apples stacked

rows of oranges stacked

piles of grapes






cart after cart

eggs on a cart

buy one or two

hard boiled

for three rupee.


We are all one here at the Hardiwar bus station

says the cow.

Here I am calmly munching

all the food I can get.

I like these cucumber vendors

everywhere announcing their wares

and the fruit sellers

the pretty little coconut leaf cups--

these will all end up on the ground

for me

to eat.



2. At Hairakhan


We are the invisible women.

We see each other.

We run into each other

round the corners

of cold stone


April 8, 2008

Copyright © 2013 Batya Weinbaum


Batya Weinbaum studied poetry with Anne Waldman and Allen Ginsberg; has published widely; teaches Women's Studies, Myth and Modern Life and the Image of Women in Western Civilization online at SUNY-Empire State College and founded and edits the journal Femspec. Her poetry has appeared in Key West Review, Feminist Review, Spectrum, Big Fish, Gypsy, Valley Advocate, Meydeleh, Optimist, What She Wants, Word of Mouth, Catharsis, and many other venues such as The Hessler Street Anthology. She earned her doctorate in English at University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and was featured as a regional poet at the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University. She was an invited reader at Poetry in Retrospect, Feminist Frolics, Greenville, NC; Poetry Retrospective Reading Series, Langdon Street Café, 3 Mondays in July, Montpelier; and Performance Art Workshop, Phoenix Cafe-Lakewood, Lakewood, OH. She was the Featured Poet, Black and White and Re(a)d All Over at the Carpinteria Community Arts Center. Carpintiria, CA. Sari on a Motorcycle was performed at the Carpinteria Community Arts Gallery in CA; at Summeruniversity at Tamera, Portugal, and at the Community Café in McLead Gang India; her “Mexican Poetry” was performed at the August Night Café, Michfest. She has done extensive performance of her poetry in various venues in New England an New York City including MA and VT.

Contact:; 216 233 0567; 1610 Rydalmount Cleveland Hts Oh 44118.