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Tiger Mask Ritual

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When you put on the mask the thunder starts.
Through the nostril’s orange you can smell
the far hope of rain. Up in the Nilgiris,
glisten of eucalyptus, drip of pine, spiders tumbling
from their silver webs.

The mask is raw and red as bark against your facebones. 
You finger the stripes ridged like weals
out of your childhood. A wind is rising
in the north, a scarlet light
like a fire in the sky.

When you look through the eyeholes it is like falling.
Night gauzes you in black. You are blind
as in the beginning of the world. Sniff. Seek the moon.
After a while you will know
that creased musky smell is rising
from your skin.

Once you locate the ears the drums begin.
Your fur stiffens. A roar from the distant left,
like monsoon water. You swivel your sightless head.
Under your sheathed paw
the ground shifts wet.

What is that small wild sound
sheltering in your skull
against the circle that always closes in
just before dawn?

The poem refers to a ritual performed by some Rajasthani hill tribes to ensure
           rain and a good harvest.

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, "Tiger Mask Ritual" from Leaving Yuba City. Copyright © 1997 by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.  Used by permission of Doubleday, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved.
Source: Leaving Yuba City (Doubleday, 1997)
Tiger Mask Ritual

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  • Poet and writer Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni was born in Kolkata, India, and came to the United States to pursue graduate work, earning an MA at Wright State University and a PhD at the University of California-Berkeley. The author of numerous works of poetry and prose, Divakaruni is known for her careful exploration of the immigrant experience, particularly that of South Asian women. Her collections of poetry include Black Candle: Poems about Women from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh (1991) and Leaving Yuba City (1997), which won the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Prize and the Gerbode Foundation Award.
    Her story collections include Arranged Marriage (1994), which won the American Book Award, the Bay Area Book Reviewers Award, and the PEN Josephine Miles Award for fiction, and The Unknown Errors of Our Lives (2001). Divakaruni’s many novels include the best-selling Mistress of Spices (1997); Sister of My Heart (1999) and its sequel, The Vine of Desire (2002);...

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