The poems of Sheri Vandermolen, featured with her photography were published in Ashvamegh September issue. You will enjoy her works, we are sure of it.


Demon Face

The white-horned, round-red-faced, mustachioed demon

who sticks his tongue out at me,

from his perch above every construction site in the city,

has seemingly made his way into my migrained brain.


Defying all objections, he screams through my tortuous cortex,

pushes into my forehead,

no mystic Shiva seer

but mridangam-beating, sword-swinging maniac

intent on stabbing his way

through my third eye.


If only a highly caffeinated chai could subdue this drishti-bommai beast,

keep his grimace from becoming mine.

demon Indian mythology







Borewell-Cartel Blues

The potable-water supply —

trapped deep beneath city streets

or evaporating from lakes

contaminated by man-made hazards —

diminishes by the day,

as the heat-strained population

begs for reliable supply.


While the state of Karnataka

haggles with its neighbor,

over damming rights

for the liquid gold of the Kaveri River,

the ravenously slick members

of Bangalore’s borewell cartel

sit ready to gouge every buyer,

even as they blame extended drought.


They rub their greedy hands together,

eager for the negotiations

to run as dry as my tap.

Indian lady water pot

Sheri poetry Ashvamegh September journal publish online poems India free












Maha Kumbh Mela

                                                                                             with thanks to Darren and Ocacir

We wind into Allahabad late at night,

the twinkling green lights and bullhorn-broadcast chanting

still very much alive,

within the fifty-four-kilometer festival grounds

temporarily set up, with uncommon precision,

to accommodate at least 120 million visitors,

for the eight-week Maha Kumbh Mela,

a ritual bathing ceremony held every 144 years

(the twelfth in a series of twelve-year cycles).


After a few hours of nonsleep,

we shiver into daylight, sip wake-up chai, meet the guide

who will lead us into the heart of the event.


Traipsing across pontoon-braced wood footbridges,

we step into another world,

which is teeming with legions of pilgrims

seeking the blessings of the Sangam —

the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna,

and mythical Saraswati rivers.


Men, women, and children

all modestly bathe in the holy brown waters,

calm infusing them as they collect liters they’ll carry,

in large sealed jugs, back to their native villages,

hoping that within their lifetimes,

they’ll sprinkle enough vials, at all the proper temple sanctums,

to escape the cycle of reincarnation.


Filled with exhilaration,

they step back to the banks, tug on fresh clothes,

while stretching sari silks five meters wide,

to let the glistening oranges, purples, reds catch the breeze,

dry more quickly, in the direct rays of the unrelenting sun.


Exhausted from days of train and foot travel,

many nap in straw scattered along the riverside,

even as megaphone speakers, mounted directly overhead,

blast peace-driven mantras that can surely be heard

throughout all of Prayaga.


We amble further, through tented camps

and into expansive ashrams, where rows of worshipers

sit listening intently to guru swamis’ ritual spiritual readings.


Meandering into the sectors that house

the naked, ash-smeared Shiva holy men — the Naga sadhus —

we stare in amazement:

famed Rabindrinath selects a wad of charas hash,

tucks it into his chillum, igniting it

to satisfy his need for weed-enhanced meditative inhalations,

squinting as smoke curls around his twisted-bun beard hair,

past his sweeping, gray-tinged mustache,

then into and far beyond his kohl-rimmed, bloodshot eyes;

another Nagababa, decked solely in Bollywood sunglasses

and rows of rudraksha beads,

offers ash-tilak blessings and marigold buds, to devotees,

for any rupee donation;

a few stalls further, a much older sadhu springs to life,

grabs metal tongs, holds them behind his back,

parallel to the ground, and positions his genitals inside them,

only to have a young collaborator stand atop the metal,

the aloft man’s full weight further compressing the first’s parts —

two ghostly gray stuntmen

performing a most impressive carnival trick.


Certain no one can top that feat (at least, we hope),

we make the long trek back to our camp,

wash up, best we can, with two dingy-thin hand towels,

and then head to the canteen, to talk with other intrepid visitors,

over plates of tourist-bland paneer.


With night descending, we layer our clothes and plug our ears,

hoping to snag a few hours of rest, no matter how restive.

But soon it’s 2 a.m. — time to rise, night-hike back to the mela,

that we might stake out a photo vantage from which to watch

the dawn march of the sadhus, on this most auspicious bathing day.


Thirty million attendees —

a combination of holy men, pilgrims, tourists, and journalists —

will congregate in this location, on this sacred occasion,

and finding a space to stand, to breathe free, is no guarantee.


We grab hands, dart amidst people chains, for over two hours,

to earn a spot miraculously situated along a front rail,

where armed guards watch over the ever-pressing onslaught,

dropping us an occasional smile even as they shout at trespassers,

warning them to keep the main thoroughfare clear.


Wan dusk-to-dawn lights cast a hypnotic ochre glow

across the odd assemblage, made all the more surreal

as the first groups of Nagababas begin to queue for the procession.


Most are naked, save for yellow and orange marigold garlands

draped about their necks, around their heads and hips;

others wear minimal white-cotton loincloths.

Their dreadlocks reach their waists, their knees, their feet —

only the novitiates are clean-shaven, bald.


All are ash-coated, head to toe, shivering and yet exuberant,

as the respected elders and musicians arrive atop white horses.

Drumming ballyhoos the soon-to-be sunrise, and the Nagas

begin to walk, sprint, surge to the river, hand in hand, for their holy dip,

proving that, in being clothed solely by the sky and bathed by the Ganges,

they have pleased and received Lord Shiva.


Arriving in waves, over the driftless-hours parade route,

they are joined by thousands of Vishnu ascetics,

who are draped in orange robes and swaths of marigolds

and who sport prominent white-red-horseshoe Vaishnava tilaks

from hairline to just between brows.


Intervening moments are filled with marching bands,

worship groups, horse-riding troupes,

and tractor-pulled ashram floats

(their platforms surmounted with standing nude sadhus

whose followers stand six-wide,

holding the endless dreadlocks side to side,

or with seated, turbaned, mystically smiling guru swamis

surrounded by dozens of obliging attendants,

who fan them with stitched-together peacock feathers

and toss flower buds to the reverential masses).


Eventually, the visiting commoners —

thirty million pilgrims —

begin their privileged descent to the Sangam, as well,

and we attempt the least vertiginous exit path.

Crisscrossing under linked arms, hands holding scarves.

we rarely break our quick-weaving stride,

as we glide through the turgid crowds.


Only once are we stuck in a hurtling crush,

as police shove back a heaving rush of onlookers,

to make room for a succession of waylaid floats.

Male hands explore female territory and are pushed away —

one of the few unsavory moments, despite the endless throngs.


We manage to fight our way through the crush,

resume a steady pace, edging past the prasada distributions

and the vendor and swami stalls,

beyond the tents, campfires, and laundry lines,

eventually returning back

to the devotee-dotted, straw-strewn riverbanks

near the pontoon bridges,

where we cross, with wandering steps, back into our reality,

grateful to have beheld such magical humanity.

Mela Kumbh shiva

Shiva form kumbh











Ladies in line to bath Kumbh

naga Indian nude man












ladies at river side

Aghori Kumbh











mela India rush people gathering

boats people India mela











Gyrate wild,


inside words stirred

to their boiling point,

by the verse-wallah,

who pours his free-beat

stream of ideas

into the obliging copper pot.


Feel the masala

shock the milky syllables,

as he aerates the blend,

drawing it in sky-high lines

that arc above his head.


The kettle hot-swallows

the steaming cascade,

as the epiglottis-sieve

halts strained metaphors.


Piqued in the tease

of this lyrical flow,

Reach the mind-sublimed

transcendent throe

incited by the clove-scented rhyme he vends.

Chay wala indian

Chay tea vendo India












Waiting for a Plane to Addis Ababa

Resignedly slipping into

a half-bolted, cracked-vinyl chair,

I take note of a striking figure

in the seat across from mine.
She is draped in black,

from hijabed head to ankle,

and her intricately hennaed hands

instantly draw my attention.


A recursive floral design,

tattooed in prolific hyperbolic tiling,

starts at the base of her unpainted nails,

winds down diamond-adorned fingers,

and wraps past hints of her trim wrists.


The red flowers, rust stems

sing of her feminine aesthetic.


Shifting her weight,

she attempts a comfortable position

on the unobliging red vinyl,

all the while contemplating life

beyond the plate-glass window.

She clutches tight her tissue —

from sickness, sadness, joy?


Mind-riveted to this moment,

I feel my oblique glances ask

if any essences of our lives might overlap

besides this time spent waiting at the gate,

for a plane to Addis Ababa.

Mehandi Indian Bride















Sheri VandermolenSheri Vandermolen has served, for fifteen years, as editor in chief of Time Being Books, an independent publishing company based in St. Louis, Missouri. Her projects have included overseeing the archives for and compilation of The Complete Poems of Louis Daniel Brodsky (a series that comprises verse spanning five decades) and managing four collected-works editions. She has also facilitated the publication of dozens of individual poetry and short-fiction volumes.

She graduated summa cum laude, with Phi Kappa Phi academic honors, in 1990, and relocated to Bangalore, India, in 2008. Exploring the subcontinent via camera and pen, for a full six years, she ultimately formed the manuscript Jasmine Fractals, organically generated from experiences as mundane as a trip to the local city market and as distinct as a visit to the Maha Kumbh Mela (considered the world’s largest gathering of humanity, for a single event).

She repatriated in 2014 and now resides in California, with her husband.

Her verse pieces have been published in various international literary journals, including Camel Saloon, Contemporary Literary Review India, Earthen Lamp Journal, Muse India, Jersey Devil Press, Papercuts, Taj Mahal Review, and Verse-Virtual.