Haibun Poem, Sentinels, by Neera Kashyap

This ‘haibun’ poem, Sentinels, was published recently in INNSAEI journal in its December 2020 issue. It’s about the hills; the magical appearance and disappearance of an elder hill woman who represents the mountain spirit.


For my morning walk, I decide to go up the tarred road towards town instead of down the usual dirt track to the village below. It is the season of rain. Brown-eyed Gaillardia and yellow Gazania shoot out from green stony hillsides in clusters. I take the sharp incline up, using my walking stick for balance. The breeze is gentle. From tall pines with deep cuts in their trunks comes the fragrance of resin. Needle clumps and young cones stir. As I climb, more buildings come in sight. I see a posse of masked policemen outside the hotel we have visited often. I remind myself it is now a Covid-relief centre. A paper stuck on the glass door gives in bold the numbers under treatment: 16. A man emerges from the single front door wearing a light grey PPE suit. He crosses over to the hillside, pushes up his face shield, strips off his mask and rests his gloved hands and forehead on a hill patch, breathing deeply. The policemen move away as I wind past, looking down. An old village woman appears before me, as sudden as an apparition. She wears a grey two-piece tunic, an orange printed waistband and a head cloth that matches. She smiles slowly. It lights up her grey eyes, her deep wrinkles and her toothless mouth. She raises her hands, joins them together in greeting. In trying to return her greeting, I stumble, whirl my stick to regain balance. She is gone.

Grey light –

sun rises slowly

behind twin peaks