Here the link to a poem from the second section: “Something For Us To Stand On.” Poems in this section dwell in puzzlement and joy while reflecting on human affairs.
The poem, “Urine of Cows Fed on Mango Leaves” is inspired by a 2015 exhibition at Baltimore’s The Walters Art Museum (Pearls on a String: Artists, Patrons and Poets at the Great Islamic Courts). Off to the edge of one small gallery, an amazing case featured the raw pigments used to create so many of the vivid illuminated images featured in the exhibition. One of the stunning piles was a bright, rich yellow with a tag that said Indian Yellow is made from the urine of cows fed on mango leaves.
I am puzzled and delighted by human inventiveness. Many of our creations are dangerous, many are wondrous. How, I imagined, did that Indian Yellow actually come into being? This poem is my imagining:
Urine of Cows Fed on Mango Leaves
Imagine the discovery. Food being scarce, a herder
gathered the shiny leaves that had fallen
from the single courtyard tree and threw them down
among the hooves.
The beasts were glad for it, something other than
scraping for the few tufts left in the dust where
they were staked. And they gorged and chewed,
chewed and grunted throughout the night.
The next day, the herder—or maybe his children
passing time among the flies — stepped back
when the first rump arched, letting loose its stream.
And the second and third. Great pools of sunshine
graced the sand and muck. Someone used a stick
to stir the stuff, someone else scooped it up and
spread it on a leather scrap, just to fool with it, just to
see what it would become. When the Minister
of Painted Books came to collect his milk, he pinched
a bit between his finger and his thumb. He gasped
as if the clouded heavens opened for the lighted one.
The herder and his family became famous in the town.
Priests and artists came for more from miles around.
They planted two more trees and purchased three more cows.