नींबू मंदिर (LEMON TEMPLE)

I saw a man in India once the smooth mango tinted fabric of his shalwar kameez adorned with gold embroidery. He was standing in the mechanic market surrounded by stacks of car engines and mountains of tires. Storefronts blackened with oil crouched behind him, dark cubbies filled floor to ceiling with scavenged car intestines. The greasy organs spilled onto the street like black waves rattling to the edge of the man's sandaled feet. Have you ever stared into the stagnant waters of Ulsoor Lake? The brown water swirls listlessly over slimy green rocks and discarded underwear. Plastic flip flop bottle shirts and aluminum cigarette pooja plates flutter in the current. Three teenage boys squat on the sidewalk overlooking the lake watching three adult fishermen perched on a collapsed concrete wall below. They dangle fishing line attached to wooden sticks. India is a good place to drown. Throw yourself into the holy river Kaveri and let the ashes of your ancestors drag you under. Feel the sharp reeds caress the soles of your feet as you float past a woman running a cube of soap over the crimson folds of her saree. Suds froth onto the shore as she looks up to watch you sink, her thick black braid swinging. I cut my hair the summer after I graduated high school. It takes two seconds to shear 18 years and 15 inches of copper protein. The curls sweep across my cheek now brushing my chin as I lean towards the open bus window. I’m on an empty road in Uttar Pradesh sweat trickling down my spine. I see skyscrapers shimmering on the horizon a blurry mirage of a ghost city surrounded by miles of palm trees and empty fields, the glass and metal towers loom casting shadows on empty sidewalks. The apocalypse must have already happened here and they just forgot to tell the world – Or maybe I’m dreaming of how buildings are constructed one floor at a time. New structures sag stuck in a perpetual pit of quicksand too thick to fight sinking into decay grey cinderblocks exposed to monsoon rains. Staircases end halfway to top floors that were never built. Bare rebar rods stick up from the hand rails like the last bony joints remaining unswallowed – fingertips outstretched to the gods. I dared my brother once to cut a lock of his hair and burn it in the campfire. What choice do younger siblings really have? The acrid odor of keratin engulfed in flame hovered all through the night. Road trips across Indian highways smell like that childhood triumph – everyone too proud to admit that looking beautiful never saves anyone. I wish I could be beautiful like the stained glass windows inside Mysore Palace – purple, blue, and green peacocks all the way from Scotland. Sunlight pierces the translucent tail feathers and illuminates the wooden pillars painted with foiled gold. Or like the pomegranate seeds encased in dark pink pearls that glisten in the noon sun. The tough magenta skin of the fruit skillfully sliced to resemble the open petals of a lotus blossom. Or maybe like the metallic curve of a teacup cupped in a stranger’s hand as steam spirals into the night sky reaching for the moon. The moist tip of a cardamom leaf bobs against the silver brim. What was India like? One image – a man bathed in mango silk standing in front of a black sea of synthetic carcasses. A woman lies in the street behind him her arms curled around her newborn baby, its soft bare skin smudged with dirt. They sleep on an island the choppy current of rickshaws and cows parting around them – two pairs of ribs rising and falling and rising and falling.

But maybe two – a single fly atop a pyramid of 10 lemons each fruit a perfect little sphere nestled against a rough woven hemp mat. The insect twitches its wings and presses two thin wire legs together palms pressed in prayer to a God who lives in pale yellow citrus temples tinged with the molten green hue of flesh pulled from bone.