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,
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,
through a discarded
Four arms: book, beads,
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?)
She’s also a river.
Was a river.
Still a river but
with no water.
Either a metaphor or
what we’ve been after,
said George, putting the kettle on.
A Nadia, or Joanne.
poring over the smudged in all this.
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.
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.
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?