In a house of animals, blind dogs, a three-legged cat,
salamanders posed like statues in a tank,
a couple of kids and a mynah bird who all talk back,
she follows strict Buddhist rules, like never squash an insect.
All along the bookshelves, golden art-deco dancers
bare-breasted, double up as candlesticks.
Cigarettes twirl thick incense from an alabaster dish.
A table is peppered with glasses inked in port.
Baking takes place in bold, red loaves,
purple buns that contrast well with marmalade.
But then there’s the bright green, braided bread
that none of us will touch for thoughts of mould.
Sometimes she re-paints the walls, the paving stones out back
with giant snakes and ladders, hopscotch,
creatures muraled under a brick-dark sea.
Her cottage is thatch-roofed, deep in the country.
Fen violet and greater celandine skirt the old fence
by an open field of defiant, red eye poppies
where dogs and us kids gambol afternoons.
When we reach cacophony, she meditates an hour or two
inside an upstairs room. I peep through the keyhole,
see tie-dyed legs crossed on an Afghan rug.
She drags on her long thin smoke
beside a stick of frankincense burning in a pot.
I just close my eyes, plan to wait for her.
But as I breathe the thick air through the latch,
I rise up from the landing then float downstairs
where I find my cousins curled asleep into the patchwork couch.
The candlesticks begin to sway, a gilded chorus-line
while an octopus slides in from the painted patio
and flops itself across the kitchen floor.
Then the dogs are tangoing on their back legs with the cat
who’s eye-balling the bird that hasn’t said a word all day,
while a single salamander, no longer in his tank,
is circling in perfect figure of eights around the ashtray and a cup,
as he turns a slightly paler shade of grey.