Bahurupi or Polymorphous
Bahurupis are quick-change folk artists who beg on the streets of Bengal, India.
When the bus brakes on National Highway 34 between
Calcutta & Berhampore I decide to worship Lakshmi
because I would have the owl, her mount, bring wealth.
Running long hauls that stray dogs out of breath
I long to sit cross-legged on a lotus in a eutrophic lake.
From the goddess, I will learn poise.
But he comes dressed as Shiva, as always sour blue
paint streams along the jute sideburns pasted on his
face, sun-bitten I imagine like a stone fruit.
His arm stretched as a kingdom on the river peak
breaks at the elbow under the weight of alms.
Noon sounds his ankle bells.
Chipped pennies toss him down dreams whose guts
elope when the engine roars with five cups of undiluted
milk emptied at the rest stop on this elastic tongue.
My mind is Shiva’s fugitive deer then, grazing on the dust
into which he shrinks, soon no larger than a dot on the tiger
print velvet that covers his scrawny limbs.
Mother warns of heartburn but as a girl I’ve come to fear
hunger so cavernous that all the country’s autumnal harvest
cannot seal without running into debt and sugarcane.
Every Thursday since I chant of one wandering merchant
who mistook grace for skill, was weathered as streets,
prostrated. Seven wives laughed him godless.
I am at an age when I have begun to rely on ugly things
such as loaded dice, game pieces of Snakes and Ladders
pushed out of grid, and raw meat scavenged from kitchen.
From the hymns I gather it is alright each year to gamble
one night but mother suspects my piety will thin our blood
line which is more than she can witness.
I assemble a house for him to warm as Lakshmi with crescent
red footsteps where we could briefly live under a curved roof
sturdier than the one from which he runs out to rap the buses.
But he comes cross-eyed as Shurpanakha, the demon’s sister,
who lost her nose to the sword of a demigod she asked to wed.
Shurpanakha is a monster, a hungry goddess.
He, a boy of the highway for whom my mouth of a girl froths
up a milky way, as dark matter disperses.