Pranav Mishra

Do you believe in God, Ma asks me, her oars peeling the surface of the Sangam

As though it were a custard apple; our boat suspended in the frothy August heat

         Like a jeweled pot of butter from a temple’s ceiling. Do you believe in God;

She says, tracing the henna on my fingertips. The 5 a.m. fishermen heave seven nets,

         Seven perfect teardrops, swollen with dying life: thrashing, throbbing, thrashing;

Perhaps I should tell them I’m vegetarian? The sun inflates, the sky is awash

         With curd and sugar and molasses. Do you believe in God; she says

Watching wordlessly as I search the brackish cesspool for my father, his ashes

         In orbit about the vessel. The people arrive, the drums, the beggars, the priests:

Their noise baffles the water, boat swooning like a violin. They cluster

At the banks, an algal bloom of silken clothes, and I sigh at their stench.

Some wade naked into the water and shriek for God,

Some drink the ashen water, and weep for God,

Some lower crimson lanterns into the water, heavenly spheres,

For God, for God, for God, they say. Somewhere, on the shore they startle a peacock;

         He burgeons and swells like a prayer, a dewy unripe lotus. Then the seagulls, like

Envious, lesser cousins take furious flight, raining vomit and feces upon the water. I taste

         My mother’s unrelenting gaze from beneath her dupatta veil, fourteen eyes,

The henna glows like blood on my fingertips.