In the backseat of a first-generation Daewoo Matiz, I am reading a roman à clef that seeks to describe the overlap between the grotesque and the sublime. The palm trees and dry, yellow plains take on an almost phantasmagorical quality. Moody, layered 80’s ballads emanate from our car radio, set to a brew of white noise, dark news updates, and Kiss FM.

The idea that idiosyncrasies are flowers in the garden of the mind has led me to cherish those peonies, irises, and chrysanths that I otherwise would have left for dead. Consider indole, an organic compound found in fecal matter, but which at low concentrations smells of flowers. At the gas station, we buy potato chips and a Milkybar; they melt gradually in the mouth, a blend of salt crystals, cocoa butter, and the heat of the Spanish summer.

Rural Japan, the southern coast of India, the American Midwest: they each left their emblems — aromatic pine, rich benzoin, Buffalo wings. But this upcoming departure feels like it’ll be the most difficult to shake. Every memory made here is incurably bittersweet. Marmalade orange, ziprasidone. I can’t help being irascible when my mother cries, but know, at least, that I regret it always. I don’t know how to say that, in our interactions, I am seized by a fear that consumes every minor detail of existence: the craggy mountains, the fine lines like petals around her eyes. The most painful reality of being the child of divorce is that my parents will grow old alone.

From faraway, I text Strawberry silly endearments, but I wonder, privately, how much any one person can wring from love before it withers. To my mother and my father: You deserve much more than what can be given to you. You always have.

Thunder Thighs

Every couple we pass on our bicycle tour of the Tiergarten seems to be in the middle of the most somber conversation of their lives. On a park bench, a young man stares tearfully at a female companion seated beside him. The content of their partnership is drawn in between swaying branches in the Impressionistic style: light and feathery strokes, framed in the gilded notes of a plump, sylvan July. There’s something touching, albeit hardly unique, about his expression, drenched in that Romanticism that feels so Edgar Allan Poe, and naturally, takes on a pained, sepia-toned form. Ah, adolescence. I imagine him clutching her pallid hands as he promises, in the center of Berlin’s fairy tale gardens, to cryogenically freeze himself alongside her in their old age. There’s a pause and he looks up, the spell briefly broken, to catch my eye. I am perched on a Dutch bicycle borrowed at the hotel reception, one foot on the dusty path for balance. I half-smile, feeling suddenly and severely my intrusion into their intimacy, and pedal away, into the glossy shade cast by the flowering trees.

In the mountains surrounding the Elbe, my brother and I are halfway completed with the day’s trek when I hear the white noise for the first time. It sounds like muted, distant thunder, or like what I imagine it feels like in the mind, when you are looking at a body after death. The waters of Lethe against the shore. At that altitude, when we peer down, the granularity of the leaves of the valley are erased into a mottled, still wave of mutton fat jade. As the white noise fades away, the question of its origin comes up and freely we speculate: the river down below, the Bohemian winds, the reverberations within thousand-year-old layers of white and salmon pink sandstone. Unreasonably, but maybe understandably, I’m possessed by the notion that the noise has something to do with the ocean. Everything mysterious seems like it must come from the sea, you know?

In the Palace of Sanssouci, which I, with my usual grotesquely unhistorical humor, describe as a dick-measuring contest between the Prussian emperor and the residents of Versailles, we wander amid ultra-detailed landscaping and 18th century chinoiserie chic. Hundreds of tourists traipse across the terraced lawn. Life seems so urgent now, and I can’t decide if that’s due to the current stage of my life, or the current state of the world. But I myself am detached. In Sanssouci, surrounded by vineyards, playful Rococo, and caramel yellow Caryatids, I find myself incapable of prompting even fractured emotions.

I remember an afternoon from three years ago, during a similar summer, in Kyoto’s Ryoanji. In the gold-toned heat, Alex and I sit on the wooden viewing platform beside the temple garden for the better part of an hour. Flanked on both sides by a varied crowd of strangers, we stare at the five groupings of stone and puzzle over the meaning behind their number and arrangement. Alex’s theories from that day are still my favorite: The principal emotions, the bodily senses. Most of my life I’ve enjoyed paired objects, triptychs, and, being an April-born Aries, the number four, but I see now there’s something robust and mystic about sets of five. The Ryoanji zen garden is one example, but then there’s also five-petaled flowers, five-faced Shiva, the five wounds of Jesus during the crucifixion. Taste, hearing, smell, sight, and touch. Anger, disgust, happiness, fear, and sadness.

I come across a photograph of snow online and am overwhelmed, unexpectedly, with a crushing nostalgia for winter. The hours of night filled with darkness, but also the violet, ultra-reflective glow of the snow banks. The sensation of submersion in the honeymoon of a situational “otherness” when snow, delicate, translucent, and symmetrically shaped, is falling. The temperature at white twilight, as the wind slows and stills. An ode to winter, written during a season of cherries, plums, and beaches.

Jesus in His Twenties (II)

Long-time readers will remember “Jesus in His Twenties,” a cryptic, surreal little bildungsroman about a millennial Jesus Christ growing up alongside a handful of philosophical, metaphysical housemates. I added a few extra chapters onto the story in early 2016, hopefully arriving at a semi-conclusion, but never got around to posting it here. It is, without a doubt, still a bit rough around the edges (my God, I sure was a devotee of the semi-colon), but I hope you enjoy.

Continued reading >

Blueberry Boy Bait

In springtime India, a woman in my hostel splits a pomegranate and hands me half. (Insert that mythological chestnut about Proserpina here: her blue velvet gown rippling behind her as she falls.) Broken open, the pomegranate spills its globular, wine-colored contents. Each individual seed plays with light like bodies of water do, the single white grains refracting with the glamour of pinky pearls. Past the initial tartness, pomegranate tastes faintly of meat, a gamy umami flavor that reminds me of sex, or monosodium glutamate. (This is not the first time I’ve made a comparison this vulgar, and trust me, it won’t be the last. Nothing better than a tradition of metaphors that encompass both fruit and fornication.)

Months later, while on the road to Damascus, Strawberry and I split a serving of fried rice, Bayou Bourbon chicken, and existential anxiety in the food court of an American shopping mall. There’s something so fatally unreasonable about being twenty-three and thinking you know anything about philosophy but eh, fuck it. Strawberry is always a willing audience to my demonstrations of ego, a catalog that includes plagues, absurdism, and the separation of the body and mind. If he notices how badly I’m trying to arouse his interest, he reveals nothing. It occurs to me that he could easily decide to embarrass me, but in the next beat I recognize, with a punchy breath of fondness, that it just isn’t his style.

In love, I have encountered a syncretism of ego and insecurity that manifests itself in incremental contradictions. I am possessed by the desire to be adored and, conversely, abandoned; to be described as charismatic, but diffident, bratty, but poised, empathetic, but unyielding. On more than one occasion, I fall into the “cool girlfriend” trap, going along with nearly any proposition in an effort to construct a facsimile of relationship perfection. This attitude would be untenable if it were not so typical: a girl trying, passionately, but pathetically, to be impressive.

In the Florida Panhandle, we have a dinner date at a pho restaurant in a strip mall. The interior decorating captures an aesthetic that is halfway between elementary school cafeteria and airport waiting lounge. We face each other over a table surface laminated to resemble oakwood grain. A plasma screen television mounted on the wall above the counter plays an endless loop of Vietnamese music videos. Squirming on emerald-and-burgundy upholstered plastic seats, I look at Strawberry’s impassive face as he scans the menu and feel the sudden horror of inaccessible emotion. I realize that I don’t know how he feels about me. An accompanying realization: I don’t know how I feel about me. Only the idea of me seems real.

When my moodiness over us feels pathological rather than circumstantial, I retreat to the supercut my mind has assembled of the past year: the nacreous, drunken flush across Strawberry’s cheeks, the ancient forest in the summertime, the midnight in May spent crying together. I think of Martin Buber’s “I-Thou,” a framework for human relations that feels like buried instinct rather than improbable theory. (Yes, I too am rolling my eyes at myself. Bear with me here.) To communicate as an “I” with another “I,” the world of the free, and the genuine. My misreading of Buber reinterprets the theory as a mechanism for emotional exchange between souls. But what is a soul? What is Strawberry’s soul, which I imagine to be the human core stripped of everything extraneous? Without his green eyes, his rounded, Slavic features, his soft spot for folk songs, his particular combination of shyness and charm, his blasé, sometimes evasive attitude, so impossible for me to decipher?

Strawberry orders two bowls of soy sauce ramen in Kansai, Japan. Outside, the hoods of cars parked alongside the rice fields gleam like Tungsten. In silence, I break apart a pair of disposable chopsticks and examine the textured strips of seaweed, the delicately soft-boiled egg, the helix of flavorings, as though reading our fortune like a millennial witch. I think, not without shame, of the night before: a baffled, semi-sweet fumbling, a faked climax. The unbearable melodrama of my pronouncements. How what had started as an impulse, a brief encounter, had culminated in entry into an underworld, loving and not dangerous but mysterious nonetheless, and I was buoyed up through it by him, my heart turning over in my chest with Prosperina’s brew of anxiety and exhilaration. Seems about right, for a first time.

Baby Barracuda

The name “Mangoes Marina” has the steamy, kitsch sensuality of a strip club; with the terms inverted, I imagine it could even be the alias of a playfully comic online writer of erotic fiction. But the marina is a tamer location than its name suggests: a white-and-chestnut dock framed in floral trees and liquor stores, where the boat remains docked for two days and a night in fecund mid-May. We refuel, empty the trash, fill up the jerrycans, and do the laundry. I tag along as this sequence of operations is performed, ostensibly as an assistant but more accurately as an observer. The entirety of the trip, really, has been characterized by observation — mainly of my boyfriend, who won’t be named in this text (a decision made out of consideration for both his privacy and my heart, which cannot bear to type out his name without squirming in sudden shyness. But because he does deserve some manner of identification, let’s call him “Strawberry.”)

Scenes from the Bahamian sky: On my first night, the clouds appear in a triptych of blues, each superimposed upon the next in tones of increasing lightness. A visual voyage from dark, lavish navy to semi-opalescent bleu celeste. At twilight, they are often bulbous, pulpy, arranged on a background of glowing rose. My favorite clouds are enormous and grotesquely fast-moving, possessed with an energy that borders on life-like, and, as they void themselves over the textured sea water, they rouse in my mind the most passionate ideas in my memory: the physicality of ripe fruit, the mysticism of witches, the divinity of thunder. I remember most vividly the rain at night; awakening on the deck to the sensation of wetness across my breasts and toes. Maybe I love Strawberry because our reunions coincide so often with rainy days, which are to me an experience in ecstasy like that of Saint Teresa. (Near the end of my visit, on a magnificently rainy afternoon, he dresses me in his waterproof jacket and watches as I roam barefoot in the puddles in the parking lot.)

Strawberry’s father describes the waves and foam as fields crested by sheep: a metaphor that makes me want to laugh with pure and unexpected joy. The surface of the sea behaves as though Epicurean, non-Newtonian, Dionysian. At times jagged, massive, and at others finely milled, nearly imperceptible, the waves between cays capture a spectrum of form. I understand now why so many nymphs copulate in these waters, and why the representation of the sea in oil paintings is extravagant, enigmatic; I picture Boucher’s “Arion on the Dolphin,” the titular character clothed in waves, hugely feminine eyes cast at the heavens.

On the islands, Strawberry and I walk through streets lined with Bahamian pine, Surinam cherry, and coconut palm trees. The rental homes are painted in a palette of flushed pastoral colors: baby blue, pale peach, lime green, sunshine yellow. Tiny flowers immersed in grass, picket fences straddling Man-O-War from shore to shore. I think of maximalism, the art of excess: hibiscus, frangipani, hurricanes descending.

My tan lines start at the base of my throat, and end at halfway between my hips and knees. Nut brown to olive-veined cream, the contours where colors change are studded with hickeys. The royal blue bathing suit I bought specifically for this occasion ends up being a size too small, much to my embarrassment and Strawberry’s delight. There’s something inescapably sexual about this landscape. Even the names of local restaurants have a coquettish purposefulness: Nipper’s, Grabber’s, Papa Nasty’s BBQ. In the shade of poisonwood trees, we drink sumptuously overpriced beverages made from pawpaw, guava, banana (the lusty, aromatic fruits.) The “Goombay Smash,” a cocktail indigenous to the Bahamas containing coconut cream, rum, and pineapple, features prominently in one of our best afternoons.

While snorkeling, an activity Strawberry’s mother adores, I discover my favorite fish species: the parrotfish, which comes in queen, princess, stoplight, and rainbow varieties. It bumps clumsily against the coral, nibbling audibly at its surface. The colors of the parrotfish possess that surreal beauty used by Creationists in support of their beliefs: neon, hypnagogic Creamsicle orange, aquamarine layered in a gradient, fuchsia so glitzy Ariel in the Atlantic clutches her scales in vicious jealousy. Runners-up for the prize of my love include the trumpet fish, the hogfish, and the squirrel fish (entirely on account of their names, which add a dash of flavor from the carnality of land animals.) In an instant of prodigious coincidence, a green turtle glides by within a few feet of us; I feel caught in the depths of sensation, like watching wind move through the boughs of trees.

Brown Eyed Girl

When one occupies a female body for over two decades, maleness acquires an exoticism and mystery that is less about eroticism and more about difference; the thickness of a man’s wrist, the distribution of weight at the crest of his hips, the texture of the skin on his face, chest, and groin. Watching a man get dressed, I assume the charisma and focus of the protagonist of a television fragrance ad; my head propped up by a palm on my cheek, and an elbow against the mattress, I feel languid, luxurious, and casually powerful, as I observe Mars rise and prepare himself for the day.

With all the hubbub about the divine feminine, you’d think I’d feel more attached to my breasts, like Apollo to the pallid bosom of his Daphne, or to the monthly bleeding that recalls allusions to moons, taboo, and sisterhood. But my chest, truthfully, has limited glamour, which is not a statement made out of self-deprecation but rather natural feeling: to me, breasts possess only the same rustic, venereal charm as babyish mangoes, or animal meat. And with regards to my menses: there is very little pleasure in lowering panties bought in a Florida Walmart in the early spring air and observing a fat stripe of clotted, phlegmatic russet and rose from seam to seam.

And yet his body, now entering a slow camouflage in torn cargo shorts and a faded fraternity shirt, has all the gracious, unattainable romanticism of a sweet-eyed Old World princess. I feel as though I’ve been transported to a boudoir, both our identities remaining intact as the expectations for our genders reverse, and I marvel lazily at the male vessel: its gradient of color, from warm brown and green to bruised purple and pink, its pleasantly and distinctively rich and sour odor, its gamut of textures extending from throat to gonads.

What I admire most about the body of this frat bro, perhaps, is its effortlessness in retaining and exuding a charm that has eluded me in all but my most labored attempts at beauty. I am familiar with how to play my own figure to its best advantage; for instance, I know to tilt my face slightly for the camera, so the light catches my upturned eyes, and to stand with my arms behind my back and my knees held apart, trembling like a fragile doe. But these aesthetic performances are not natural, and are instead almost purposefully deceitful, relying as they do on the exploitation of archetypes: the readiness of onlookers to buy into the myth of women born in the age of the Internet. Ultra-feminine, but simultaneously alluringly androgynous, filtered through blurred, tonal layers of milk-white and lavender, posed in a foreground of palm trees and gas stations, decorated in chokers, bandannas, and itty bitty Spandex underwear. My practice of female expectation has always been a disavowal of this standard and a form of tacit cooperation, stimulating in me both satisfaction and shame.

But his form, I realize, has no such preoccupations for me. The transformative power of our closeness has elevated him beyond considerations of physical beauty. His smell, shape, weight, height — all those supposed imperatives in the complex equation of human attraction — become wholly immaterial when challenged by the reality of my love. It is only here, in a bedroom shrouded in subtropical trees and thunder, where the pressures of ontology die and are replaced by veneration and pride. Impossibly strange, to have discovered self-love buried in romantic love, to encounter one’s soul in its exchange. Stranger still to say this in words but: it was embracing his body that revealed the ability to understand my own as a composite of muscle, fragrance, scatology, eschatology, flesh, fat, melancholy, pus, and devotion. All of it devoid of human notions of innocence, corruption, virtue, or even femininity and  masculinity. (I feel like there was a thesis to this when I started writing? But now it has devolved into a pool of lukewarm, dazed emotion; what can I say? I love him, and his body, like I love me, and my body, and it is an attachment both sexual and asexual, aesthetic and functional.)

My favorite set of lines from “Winter Syntax” by Billy Collins read: “The full moon makes sense. When a cloud crosses it / it becomes as eloquent as a bicycle leaning / outside a drugstore or a dog who sleeps all afternoon / in a corner of the couch.” Like moons, bicycles, and dogs, there is something about sitting together on the couch, both in our bodies, that invites eloquence. A fluency of feeling that is closer to echolocation than speech, a realization of presence that consumes all the senses.

Feeling and Not Thinking

The French call twilight “the time between the dog and the wolf,” but, over text, my French-speaking boyfriend tells me he’s never heard the phrase before. He adds in a little wide-eyed typographic emoji, two small-case o’s with a period between them, and I feel my heart clench in response to this childlike glimmer from a boy who is otherwise maturity incarnate. Dating him, someone with actual emotional wherewithal, has thrown into sharp relief the occasional inadequacies of my own character: my tendency to obfuscate, to conceal and obstruct, to indulge in an appetite for vanity rather than truth. As it approaches his, my own heart shifts, like a celestial body grazing another thin, silvery orbit, a chiaroscuro of space and light; so this is how a woman who was once level-headed and balanced can become frivolous, taxing, demanding, petty, and passionate.

Lately I’ve enjoyed these words: gibbous moon, peach melba. The first term is the moon with a crescent taken out of it, and the second is a dessert of fruit and vanilla ice cream. At night, I feel these words up with the same involved gusto as the palate savoring salt or honey. It functions as a distraction from the darkness, which continues to be my most acute source of terror. When even wordplay can’t end the fear, I think of my French-speaking Libra, his unassuming, girl-next-door charm. The memory of him has the same appeal as leaving a movie theater in the evening: the feeling of a fable emerging from its confines, extending and expanding into the real world. That particular, rarified breath of dusk, streetlights inundating the moody purple shadows with amorphous, chestnut-gold halos. Like youth, twilight is casual, commonplace, an experience shared by many, but its familiarity does not preclude it from an adventurous, audacious nature. It is performed repeatedly, but singularly each time, by the moribund, pink sun, the veil of misty, maturing stars.

It’s been almost a year, and still he asks for my consent to kiss me when we reunite. I think of an evening, at the cusp of last summer, the boy on the floor, reclining against the side of my bed, chin up and head lolling, his gaze trained, attentively, but leisurely, as though admiring a watercolor painting, at something in the distance. Maybe it was the sentimentality of the coming night, the sensation of being shot through by desire, caught between the illness and the antidote, but just those eyes crippled me totally. God, the recklessness imbued in that umbral second. I would have let him lay waste to my entire life. It was later that I realized that the decision to breach the gap between platonic affection and intimate love was never made consciously, but rather experienced bodily as an inevitability, as certain and binding as the movement of the moon, during that time between the dog and the wolf.

The Passionfruit and the Crescent Moon

“Moon” is both a noun from nature, and a verb of desire. I think of “to moon,” or “to dream about,” and I imagine languishing nude upon a divan of royal purple and mustard velvet, or idling in a clawfoot tub of rapidly cooling water, with the background switching in and out like a theatrical scenery: a starless grove during the witching hour, a road in the Midwest leading to a a fried chicken joint ensconced in a strip mall, the surface of Earth’s satellite. There isn’t much in the way of this dark, existential beauty in my younger brother’s room, where I sit alone now in the same clothes I’ve been wearing for four continuous days, but my mind finds it easy — perhaps dangerously so — to descend into the escapism of other times, spaces, and emotions.

I fling an arm out from the divan, the bath, and prop myself up, both legs swinging over and out. I’m naked in the New Delhi airport, at one in the morning. (Here, bodily nudity is a visual metaphor for vulnerability of the heart.) The Scorpio and I sit surrounded by our banged-up luggage, expansive ceilings framed by frosted glass, and hour-by-hour fluctuations in world currencies, labeled in cerulean and orange neon. I confess to him that I am possessed by the urge to hurt people that I know care for me to test the limits of their love; exhausted, but understanding, he reacts with companionable silence. With him I feel the level of kinship shared between all passionate signs who who pursue validation and fear rejection.

There’s an eternal pull in the air, in the desultory conversation, which I recognize as the narcotics of intimacy, and which the Scorpio later describes as “universal love.” He threads an arm around my shoulders. We discuss future meetings with the detached assurance of two people who will never see each other again. There’s a dusty, voluptuous softness to his eyebrows and eyelashes, a sensuality that reminds me of smudging and warming dark oil pastel between my fingers. This is not a romantic attachment, I promise, but, truthfully, it has all its traps, shadows, and addictions.

Lessons from the Serpent King

The moon over the dam is brick red, and pockmarked with deep scarlet indentations by the sea of serenity. But as we make our way back towards to the main road, I look up during a conversational lull to find its color totally altered.

“Hey,” I say, turning from the window to Sasanka’s profile, “how’d the moon turn so yellow?”

If he notices the tone of my voice, like I’ve witnessed a glitch in the matrix, he gives no indication. He barely glances at the moon, swollen and gilded, like a medallion. Instead, he shrugs, unperturbed, as though nothing unusual has transpired. “You’ve never seen anything like that before?” he asks.

We continue driving by the river, which is visible only through the reflections of moonlight that pattern its surface in crenulations. In my mind, a familiar chord is being played, but, like a piece of music intended for one instrument but then rearranged for another, it is just unusual enough that it takes me a second to recognize it. When I finally do, it blossoms like thunder.

On a different evening, we are returning from a day at the lake and, as Sasanka pulls into the gas station to refuel, I notice a fire on the horizon. The dark silhouettes of palm trees are outlined against the growing blaze. The nighttime, like crushed velvet, or black lambskin, is nestled around it, soft, and eerie. Again, Sasanka is nowhere near as mesmerized as I. He coolly points out that, during this time of year, it is not unusual for farmers to burn their excess hay to fertilize the ground for next year.

Inside me, something between mourning and devotion swells.

I think back to a story Satya, whose name means “truth,” told me, featuring Lord Rama and his disciple, the monkey god, Hanuman. (The latter is my favorite character from the Hindu scriptures; fortunately, and unfortunately, I’ve always had a thing for mischievousness in men, mythological or otherwise.) Rama is approaching the natural end of his life, but the god of death will not come as long as Hanuman guards the lord. To distract him, Lord Rama drops his ring deep into the earth and sends Hanuman to recover it; Hanuman arrives at the tunnel’s end only to discover a whole mountain of rings identical to the one that was dropped. When he asks aloud which ring belongs to his Lord Rama, the voice of the serpent king materializes from the darkness to respond: “which Rama?”

The serpent king goes on to tell Hanuman that, in a sequence on constant loop, every generation a ring falls from above, and, when a monkey comes to retrieve it, on Earth, one Lord Rama dies. When I remember this story, I think of myself one week ago, and that mistaken state of mind that allowed me, capriciously, arrogantly, to trust in permanence. But the truth is, my memories of those ninety-degree noons, the peach and cherry-colored clouds casting jagged shadows over the hills, are already beginning to fade. Even the image of Sasanka, with whom I shared the kind of midnight intimacy that language cannot bear to capture, has started to wilt under the weight of an encroaching season of mangoes, oranges, and new obligations of emotion that no longer include my presence.

“Which Rama?” is meant to be a lesson on reincarnation, but, for me, it is most applicable as a lesson on letting go.

Killing the Demon

Moonlight, bruised, crests over the hills as Niharika, whose name means “morning dew,” pauses at a roadside stall to buy chicken pakora. Mangled blossoms of chicken breast, dense with bones thin as strands of hair, chickpea flour, and spices in dissolution are deep-fried in flaxen oil, and then adorned with circlets of lilac-white onion and lemon slices. The process is quickly and nimbly performed, and lit by a single buzzing fluorescent bulb. The street vendor, a devotee of Ayyappa by the smear of red between his eyes, pours the mixture into a newspaper cone with uncommon deftness and delicacy, as though arranging long-stemmed lilies. A laminated print-out affixed to the stall informs us that “PayTM,” a sort of Indian PayPal mobile app for micro-transactions, is accepted in lieu of cash. Across India I’ve been noticing this new millennium spin on everyday tradition: Facebook pages for temple sites, color televisions in remote villages fenced in by slim coconut trees. This union of the digital and the ordinary feels intentional, but natural, somehow: a marriage of wireless, and the wild. The father, the son, the holy spirit, and the semiconductor. I imagine an appearance of the goddess Durga, astride a collared lion, her many arms wielding a trident, thunderbolt, lotus, sword, and cellphone.

Morning dew and I, chicken pakora in hand, make our way up the hillside. The change in topography does not seem to daunt the locals, who have built, along the incline, what I imagine most closely resembles a labyrinth from the playbook of darker Grecian myths. That mood particular to twilight, sulky and foreboding, has descended. Add in a few gray clouds, a scattering of English wildflowers, and this could be King Lear’s cliffs of Dover. But, for me, this is a journey through memory rather than sentiment. I peer briefly through alleyways and am reminded of Gion, in Kyoto, where slim, forest green wood-paneled streets would terminate in urns of veined marble, or with a sliding door, opening noiselessly with the emergence of a geisha. Here, the gaps between houses are lit by ochre-toned bulbs, and feature pools of filthy, yet luminous, water encircling sleeping dogs. The occasional woman, barefoot and wearing a sari of patterned cotton that reveals the midriff but conceals the shoulders (a contradiction in modesty that I like to call “the paradox of the Indian crop top”) leans out of a window to look at me with a blend of curiosity, restraint, and a third quality I have not yet been able to name.

Strange, to think I came to this country, at least partially, to understand my Rajasthani father and have found so little here that reminds me of him. Sometimes I do think I notice him, in the taste of raw tamarind, which is midway between citrus and brine, or in the expression of a child who could have been him half a century ago. My mind suddenly travels to the poem by Li-Young Lee, “Visions and Interpretations,” which starts: “Because this graveyard is a hill / I must climb to see my dead, / stopping once midway to rest / beside this tree. / It was here, between the anticipation / of exhaustion, and exhaustion / between vale and peak, / my father came down to me / and we climbed arm in arm to the top.” But if my own father were here, I know he’d be two steps ahead of me, walking in short but quick, unflagging strides; he always did move at a pace that was difficult to match.

The color palette of the houses is dilapidated peaches-and-cream: exterior walls in coral pink, white-hued green, with the paint blistered in several places from floor to roof. But it is the brand of decay that suggests not death but the necessary experience of life, that asymptote approaching, but never equal to, immortality. I feel an expansiveness, as I stand atop the cascade of stairs, that brings to mind the soft yellow Ohioan wheat fields at dusk, a recollection from early childhood I’ve not had in years but that emerges now, fully formed: that same sense of distance being eclipsed, and of time acquiring the viscosity of a gelatinous physical solid. The glimpse of not precisely forever, but maybe a coarser, less pure form, a forever-ness, contained within the unctuous, sensuous waves of nighttime overwhelming the earth.

Halfway up the hill, we come across a tiny temple, shuttered closed for the night. To the immediate right is a mural of Durga, killing the demon and sticking her tongue out. The temple is labeled on Google Maps, a revelation which does not faze Niharika in the slightest but leaves me feeling intensely incredulous. But, then again, if Notre Dame, Giza’s pyramids, and Mount Everest are on the web, then why not this? Perhaps it is only appropriate that this be the way to achieve modern godhood.