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Sparrows Live Forever | A Poem by Donal Mahoney

He’s a chef today but Raj Patel
was once a swami in another life
and a mongoose twice
in other lives as well.
All this occurred in Bangalore
before he came to Chicago,
he tells customers while bringing
cups of foaming Indian tea
and bowls of mango ice cream
to tables in his small cafe,
a steamy oasis on this
freezing Christmas Day.
“Drink up,” he says.
“No charge for tea
on Christmas Day.”

His regulars come to pay
homage to his chicken curry
as well as to his revelations
about the lives he’s lived,
one life after another,
over many centuries.
Every time he dies, Raj says,
he’s swept right back
in another guise and he’ll
keep coming back, he says,
until he gets life right.
“Every man comes back
until he gets life right.
There is no other way.”

Having been a mongoose twice,
and having killed a cobra,
Raj Patel prays every night
that he’ll come back
the next time as a sparrow
because sparrows always
have enough to eat, he says.
“They fly around, copulate
feed their young and never die,
as far as I can tell.
Have you ever seen a sparrow
rotting in the street?
I have not but I’ll keep looking.”

Raj Patel says he’ll believe
sparrows live forever until
he finds a fallen sparrow
somewhere in the street.
“Prove me wrong,” he says.
“Bring me a fallen sparrow
and you will feast like a sultan
on chicken curry, basmati rice,
mango ice cream and chai tea,
everything absolutely free!
McDonald’s will never offer
a deal as good as that!”

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