for Marco 



Some kind of good meal, 
I recall, our insult to injury there, 
in the absolute city, Calcutta: callus

of endless pavement, my unrequited. 
After, we trot along, un- 
backpacked; and in the midst, the river,

its sure progress: come cross, come die. 



He lies in our path, matted instance 
of a general sliding rule, and the opened 
body is eloquent: the clavicles,

their drained cups mouth the Psalmist’s 
drouth: I am a worm, and not human; 
scorned by others, and despised by the people.

All who see me mock at me; they make 
their mouths at me, they shake their heads. 
Ecce the pelvis, mounding under.

Ecce. O my goodness; my god. 



O we pass by, yes, and there is an 
end of it, wayward in the way we mouth 
ruefulness, say, or appropriate concern,

so that, having passed, we labour with 
the air, with balance—any progress this way 
is hard-fought, self-won, wrath

as a mounding under: incurvatus in se
And isn’t this where we find ourselves, 
some few steps past and the impulse to stray,

not turn to the body who addresses 
us with wasted abnegation? 
Here, beloved (o come alongside us!)

in two minds, perhaps, now turn. 



He is, I guess, my age; wasted 
and guttingly light; this much I carry 
still: the sit bones set in distressed

relief under his shorts, the bleary 
taxi driver and his concern 
over upholstery as he ferries

us to Kalighat. What do we earn 
by such? The doorman’s bald rebuke 
at the door—‘you need to phone

to let us know you’re coming’; the lock 
tumbles, and in we go, arms full 
of life at the end of the tether, and back

out to the car, raging and pitiful. 



Ecco fatto. And nothing earned. 
Things are, in fact, otherwise, 
so that brought close to the agony

of the final taxi ride, we find 
those small tally sticks amount 
to so much kindling. We warm ourselves

and talk quietly, breakfasting on the beach 
at the crossing, and dare not ask who it is 
tends the fire, who will lift us, arm

under shoulder, under hip—nirmal hriday.

John Dennison was born in Sydney in 1978, and grew up in Tawa. His poems have appeared in magazines in the UK, New Zealand and Australia, and were anthologised in Carcanet’s New Poetries V (2011). A collection of poems, Otherwise, was published in 2015 by Carcanet and Auckland University Press. John Dennison is also the author of Seamus Heaney and the Adequacy of Poetry(Oxford, 2015). He lives with his family in Wellington, where he is a university chaplain.

John comments: 'In 2004 I travelled to Nepal, Bangladesh and India with Jannah, my wife. We found ourselves in Calcutta. It was a brief stay—just a few days—but I left overwhelmed and lastingly marked by the experience. One key encounter was with a young man on the street whom we passed by. He was barely clothed, emaciated and unconscious. After some fraught soul-searching we took him to Nirmal Hriday, Mother Teresa’s home for the dying in Kalighat. This poem is an attempt to remember and reckon with that encounter.'

Poem source details >


Otherwise at Auckland University Press
Carcanet author page
Interview with Jennifer Williams on the Scottish Poetry Library Podcast
Interview with Paula Green at NZ Poetry Shelf
John Dennison at the New Zealand Poet Laureate blog