slot wheels

i. Lakshmi opens a casino resort in Macau, builds it higher
than the moon and covers it in gold disguised
as glass and steel and polished wood:
things that whisper ‘wealth’ in quiet tones. She plays the game
better than ever; her worshippers number the thousands,
praying nightly at altars of slot machines and roulette wheels,
all of them chanting her name,
the threads of their fortunes sliding through
her hands like the red watered silk she wears.

Vishnu stands to her left and lets his touch linger at her waist,
plays with the lotus in her hair;
she thinks she’ll let him catch her this life, and smiles.

ii. Ganesh writes code in San Francisco,
wears elephant shirts to work,
spends his money collecting what passes for modern art—
mostly Cubism and Andy Warhol, though he has a few framed
photographs of tasteful nudes, and of course he can never
resist stealing statues of himself from West Coast art museums—
but only the ones that were stolen first (which is most of them).

He writes letters to his father on Fridays,
talks with his mother on the phone every night,
and lets his brother sleep on his couch, still high on adrenaline
and likely sporting a black eye or broken jaw.
They don’t really talk, but Skanda ruffles his hair as he walks past,
and Ganesh rolls his eyes.

Some things will never change.

iii. Sarasvati sings on street corners, writes poetry for strangers,
trades thoughts for coins and coins for thoughts,
spends all her evenings performing on half-lit stages
and half her nights talking of art, history, philosophy—she
giggles until she snorts when most of her audience
thinks she’s spinning lies. That’s not how it happened, they say.

Of course it was, is her reply. I was there.
I am always there.

iv. Brahma teaches at a local university and thinks,
I am too old for this.
But he writes books anyways, corrects dissertations,
delivers lectures in a smooth, modulated voice,
looks awkwardly away when his students come to office hours to flirt,
ignores Vishnu when his friend shows up beneath his window,
serenading him with a wine-tinged voice (still fresh and sweet
despite the centuries).

Come on! he shouts ‘til he’s blue in the face. Live a little!

You are spending too much time with Shiva, Brahma answers,
still prim and proper after all these years.

But he leaves his door unlocked, doesn’t say a word
when his wife comes home smelling like smoke and
half-forgotten secrets, her eyes bright with new knowledge.

Guess what I learned tonight? she says, and shows him,
and he thinks he’s living quite a lot, thank you very much.

v. Ganga swims the English Channel,
floats in the Dead Sea,
takes a barrel down Niagara Falls,
smuggles contraband on the Nile,
spends a year, then two, then twenty in the Amazon.

She enters the Olympics once—water polo, not swimming, does
she look like a bitch to you ? (Nobody asked you, Parvati.)
Her teams wins a bronze medal, and she goes home and tosses
it in her river, watches it sink as she tongues the new gap in her mouth,
wonders if her sons have been born again,
wonders if they need their mother to drown them.

vi. Kali dances ‘til the soles of her feet blister, 'til her toes ooze
blood like carmine paint, macabre patterns forming
on her soul-black skin.
She dances in crowded clubs, chin tilted up,
eyes wide open, screaming, screaming.
She gets up in the morning, hunts down men-turned-monsters,
mouth grinning, screaming, screaming.

Her teeth are stained red (like her hands, her feet).
She is always hungry.

vii. When strangers come to her temple and ask her how
she finds the modern world,
Devi throws her head back and laughs and laughs
until she can laugh no more—the sound of it a monsoon,
the sound of it a cracking of mountains.

“The world has always been modern,” she says, smiling.
(do not say she smiles like a tigress; the tigress smiles like her)
“How do I find it? Simple. I keep my eyes open, and there it is,
mine for the making.”

—  they build temples on every shore | a.s.c.