The reverence they command is not the same
as in prior births, revealed to just a few
behind monastery walls or temple doors.
Here everyone obtains an equal view:
stragglers from the Kingdom of Jade exhibit;
refugees from interminable tours,
perusing the alcoves for a place to sit;
and some who know each artifact by name
but wouldn't call these artifacts at all—
unless the term denoted what was made
sentient through yearning, a compact with stone.
They linger before idols once arrayed
in marigolds and jasmine buds, where now
nothing remains but their wan monotone
features, portions of which have anyhow
eroded or been smashed without recall.
What tribute can they offer on the spot,
these accidental pilgrims, far from home?
The placard, if they read it, gives no clues.
"Iswara's phallus is worshipped as a dome..."
"Erotic touches such as these are common..."
The overall effect is to confuse
even the most ahistorical Brahmin,
who blinks at what interpreters have wrought.
A little farther on, the tools of trade.
A begging-bowl for alms, an incense-holder,
conches to summon prayer, a brass bell
shorn of tongue; then, a pole astride his shoulder,
a trunkless warrior bows as you take leave.
You won't be spared what every infidel
is only too accustomed to receive:
mute severance of that which will not fade—
sensory organs, limbs, an entire torso
obliterated; view the present case.
"Ninth-century Hanuman, shown saluting
Lord Rama. The stick likely bore a mace,
the weapon preferred by the monkey-god,"
as powerless to ward off serial looting
as you to rewrite captions that read odd
to some, to others ineffably more so.