Rain, rain, endless tropical rain, day after day. Boredom blooms
heavy-lidded with flaming stamens that drive me out
out of the villa, in spite of the rain, in search of diversion, out
down the long, winding Balinese lane that runs past Pura Petitenget
to restaurants and shops. I have the world to myself, but there at the bend
is a dog.
It stands its ground in the mud,
smoulders, seems part of the storm
and I am forced to stop.
I, who thought myself alone, on the way to the shops
with my umbrella and a roll of rupiah in my pocket,
am brought to a halt,
caught between high-walled compound houses, bloated gutters
and a steep drop
to the fast-flowing river. Blocked by a dog.
It lifts its muzzle, sniffs
sizes me up, opens its foam-flecked jaws
and I’m unable to move forward.
Part of me says, You’re a coward. It’s just a stray. They’re everywhere.
What if someone sees you like this, full of fear? Walk straight past
without a care. If you were anyone
you’d show it who’s in charge.
Run it through with your umbrella
you silly cow.
Another voice says, Run! It’s dangerous. They bite. They have rabies!
See those livid blisters on its belly? That’s scabies!
Worse, locals say Balinese dogs are possessed by demons…
So, on this, the first day of Galungan, with Mount Agung a smoking presence,
gamelan music shimmering through a steam of incense
and the rain still sheeting, I just stand there, hesitating
and let the dog run at me
and see my own mad, frothing -mouthed death in the split-second before it swerves to disappear into the bowels of the earth.
In the OK Store, I finger picture postcards, shining snack packets,
pass idle chat, but leave empty-handed
and, heading back along the river’s swirling milky-olive torrent
with the rain needling my skin, I feel unsettled
as if my own sediment has been stirred. Rounding the curve
I see the dog again
in the middle of the path
like a second chance.
And step slowly forwards.
She waits in silence, head lowered,
white teeth suppressing tongue, nutmeg eyes upturned
tail curled like the penjor poles that decorate each household gate.
Up close, her coat is cinnamon laced with mace and saffron. Those woeful
sores are Hibiscus blossoms. I see her swollen teats, the litter of pups waiting
like soggy leaves in some sorrowful sewer and am overcome with compassion
for this nursing mother, who seems now not good or bad, but of shifting, formless energy dissolving and resolving in the rain, come like the goddess Kali
to banish my fear and negativity.
I think of my fridge full of food, but have only
an umbrella and a roll of rupiah
and am humbled.
I show her my hands, unutterably empty,
hang my head
as she vanishes.
My outstretched palms are heavy,
the drops brimming over, a cup flowing over
and I bow before the downpour.
Galungan is a Balinese holiday celebrating the victory of dharma over adharma or good over evil. The most obvious sign of the celebrations are the penjor installed at the sides of the road and in front of houses. These are intricately decorated bamboo poles which curve naturally at the top and have offerings of fruits, coconuts and coconut leaves suspended at the end.
Kālī is the Hindu Goddess associated with empowerment or shakti, the mighty aspect of the goddess Durga. Kali means black one and force of time. She’s the Goddess of Time, Change, Power, Creation, Preservation, and Destruction. Her earliest appearance is that of a destroyer, principally of evil.
Judith Rawnsley is a poet and writer based in Hong Kong.
“I wrote this poem for Liane Strauss’s course on Working with the Deep-Breathing Line. The assignment was to write a poem that describes an unusual encounter with a creature or person using D.H. Lawrence’s ‘Snake’ as a model and the long poetic line to explore ‘the breathless flesh of thought’. I was on holiday in Bali that week where a meeting with the dog-goddess of the poem during a tropical downpour gave me the inspiration to meet the challenge.”