Elizabeth T. Gray Jr.

In Spare Relief


The dead ones are the pretty ones, said Lily,

with space, quiet, the occasional guide or guard, their gods

graceful and monochrome in niche

or in this narrative band of soft stone

all pavilion and demons, as in the poems.

Ruins like this are where they were, you can feel

how it was when they were here and real, how solemn

and clear it must have been.                                

     It wasn’t like this

at all, said Chaz, looking up from his monograph.

(He was doing a post-doc in Chennai.) This was all

multi-colored and gaudy, as the great gateways are today

at Tiruvannamalai, Varadarajaperumal,

and Kailasanatha.

                          Right, she said.

Names that mimic those carved epic

artificially-colored clusterfucks overhead,

architectural comic books, all

claustrophobic and panic.


 I need pale light and god as spare relief

for the India I’ve decided on, that I will need

to fall back on later,

false as it may be, will have been.



Look at this one,

said Dan,


through a discarded

god calendar.


Completely white.

Four arms: book, beads,

canteen, guitar.

Rides a swan.

Distinguished by an absence

of jewels or color. Owns:

language, intelligence, song.


Consort to Brahma.

(The bland god, right, the guy

with no temples or stories?)


No, wait.

She’s also a river.

Was a river.

Still a river but

with no water.

Go figure.                                                                   


Either a metaphor or

what we’ve been after,

said George, putting the kettle on.

A Nadia, or Joanne.



Stop. Stop


poring over the smudged in all this.

Blue-skinned bong-bearing

six-armed rat-riding jackal leaching

into one lotus-edged scene after another.

What. A few more 

falling out as everything went

two-dimensional and the shimmering stopped.

Right before our eyes. The frame shifted.

Scenes and conversations have to be changed.

Past and present. Tense. Always tense. 

Kumbh Mela, Allahabad


So we drank the local palm wine, said Cindy,

trying to explain it all to Alison, later, in Houston,

and there were so many of us there looking

and like we all wanted to go to this Mela,

it was such a famous festival with millions of people

none of whom we had ever been but then

Blake got sick and everything

was suddenly really scary so we stayed in Goa.

Nevertheless, I think that was it. I do.

The relinquished festival, with its invisible

third river. What we might. After Blake’s funeral the Hindu

had photos of trampled pilgrims and an ash-smeared

leper dancing his feet off.

Where It Was


Bearing jasmine we visit and revisit where the gods have been.

Where they have been they are close,

geography’s all body parts: That jagged ridge?

Remnants of demon spine. Temples founded

where Krishna made his flute, where each hacked-off gobbet

of Shiva’s bright cock fell to earth. And our own

roadside hierophanies: vivid, life-altering, gorgeous.


Remember the man who sold silk, red wedding saris

splayed up against the wall, where we haggled

for a length of raw black to wrap our Tarot?

Where we came upon nothing between us, nothing

that like a glittering cobra had risen out of the earth and lay there,

all invisible coiled filigree on the wood floor?

Who will build there?

Elizabeth T. Gray Jr.

ELIZABETH T. GRAY JR. is a poet, translator, and corporate consultant. Her collection of poems, SERIES | INDIA will be published by Four Way Books in April 2015. Her translations from classical and contemporary Persian include The Green Sea of Heaven: Fifty Ghazals from the Diwan-i Hafiz-i Shirazi (1995) and Iran: Poems of Dissent (2013). Other work has appeared in Little Star, Talisman, The Kenyon Review Online, New England Review, Ploughshares, The Harvard Review, Best New Poets 2012, and elsewhere. She has a B.A. and J. D. from Harvard University and an M. F. A. from Warren Wilson College. www.elizabethtgrayjr.com.