Madurai

From our terrace at the Taj Garden Retreat,
the city below belies its snarl of commerce—
men pushing postcards on the teeming street,
and doe-eyed children begging with their words
so soft the language can’t be understood
even were we to try and were not fleeing
the nudge of stirred pity. Can life be good,
awakening us to hunger? What point has being?

Vishnu, sleeping, hatched the cosmic lotus
from his navel. The god-filled polychrome
great temple towers—glaring, mountainous—
assume from here a distant ghostly tone,
smoke shadows in the sleeping cityscape
that dreams a universe devoid of shape.

John Updike’s recent books include Terrorist, a novel, and Still Looking: Essays on American Art. His latest collection of poems is Americana (2001).
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