By Elizabeth Harlan-Ferlo

I am afraid to speak because it is still dark.
This endless water is blind as an ocean at rest.
Ganga, sacred river, once poured
from Shiva’s unwashed topknot, let down
like Rapunzel’s braid, but gray with ash
and nits. In the boat, I notice both
the boat-man and the boards coming loose.

*

Sprawling newspaper pile on the kitchen table:
The Magazine, Week in Review, Sunday Styles.
My father and I both peek at the wedding page but I never
find the story I’m looking for: someone like Shiva
coming to marry Parvati  in disguise.  In the Magazine,
a crinkly page is filled with Ganga.
A man’s head emerges like a holy lingam
from the ripples, staring at us. He’s a biologist
but each week, surrenders to Shiva’s holy grime.

*

Touring temples I leave my shoes outside
to cross mud-streaked floors. What we’ve brought in
to the gods are ordinary things: thread, a sweets box
seeping grease. A priest sinks a dipper into the brass pot
and pours  the Ganga water into our palms, clear
against our skin.  My friend, born in India,
puts her mouth to it so I do, thinking
of my insides curving like a monkey’s tail.

*

At Communion, for luck, we secretly cross
our fingers below the shared cup.  If God’s in there
we can’t get sick from the last person’s mouth.
After each sip, the cup lip is wiped lipless,
lipstick-less, clean.  A biologist
told me once that washing our hands poorly
is futile: washing just moves the germs around.

*

In his temple, Shiva rises: a polished and faceless
mound fed by a vertical stream. Water coats
the lingam, slides into grooves in its circular base,
licking up sandalwood paste and flower petals, overflowing
slowly into an open-ended trough. People touch
the water, then their mouths.

 
 

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