His birth was looked for. All the signs foretold it.
The priests casting their bones down, counting the cracks,
playing for time. The priests casting their cards up,
tracking their rise, marking their layered collapsing.
The priests fingering the strings of their sashes,
calculating thread over threadbare. The priests
casting the feathers, tenting that whirl with dark
garments, conscious of every kamikaze
wind. The priests casting their fastidiously
fasted bodies under the fat fast–rolling
juggernaut of the stars. Yes, he was looked for.
You and I — we happily merely happened.
In all that diaphanous theophany,
no one could be quite sure what transmigrated —
Jupiter Fulminator, that blustering
thunderer, or Jupiter Tremens, shake–down
artiste. From the womb, he could have been fish–tailed
Dagon, sheepish Amon, dog–faced Anubis,
cat–faced Bast; could have washed like Aphrodite
from his father's balls, or blown like Susanoo
from his father's tainted snot. Thus like Durga,
nicknamed "Inaccessible," he found himself
not with the T'u Ti, Zemi, or Igigi,
but among the dread dii involuti —
those most hidden, thus most difficult to please.
No wonder he lay in the cradle cooing
"Hiruko," or greeted his food those first years
with the name of Ptah. Each day they tested him —
odd godkin, godling, godlet — offering him
with his oatmeal tokens of the Shining Ones
with which to declare his Grace, and, if he slept,
slipping beneath his pillow sundry symbols
to see what dreams he'd lisp to (as when, sleeping
on a circle, he'd wake crying for the mouth
of a water glass, or, sleeping on an X,
he'd wake wild as flapping birds). Was he Kala,
whose name means "weather," or Kalma, whose name means
"odor of a corpse"? Kamadeva, lord of love,
or Kamodo no Kami, exaltation
of the kitchen range? Bel or Beltis, Magog
or Gog — he could have been any one of them:
Tyr, say, who pledged his right hand to the wolf's maw,
knowing he would lose it; or Ishtar, whose lure
so infatuated the wild beasts, they swooned
into tame domestication. You and I
might try on our natures — nurse, ballerina,
cop or caterer. He moots revelation.
Keeps his own counsel. Keeps his every aspect
open. Yes, still to this day he mystifies,
each morning rising brassy, bright as Tammuz,
or before him Du'uzu, or Dumuzi
before them. He pauses on that height to shake
out his pants legs, make manifest his shirt cuffs,
transfigure his immaculated tie. Then,
like every other avatar, he crosses
down, enacting himself over the world's stage.
He eats like any man, lifts the silver spoon,
drinks the Bacchic wine. And when he traverses
the mundane street, shining despite himself, heart
after tired heart flaps wings fresh inspired
as he passes; and passersby clutch at chest
or groin or forehead — wherever hearts are kept —
never knowing how they've altered. Windows cloud
and chatter in his wake. Look inside my mouth
says Krishna to his latest human mother,
and when she does she sees herself there, living
her ordinary life inside him. But do gods
never swallow? Do they never shit us out?
Unrecognizable, he walks among us
up the gangway, past the hot tubs, to the deck
where you and I watch the sea spread before him,
his ever–ruffling table cloth, his altar cloth.
The deities mentioned in "Cruising With the Avatar" hale from various cultures and locations, as follows:
- Assyro–Babylon: Bel, Beltis, Du'uzu and Dumuzi (earlier forms of Tammuz), Ishtar, and the Igigi
- China: the T'u Ti
- Christianity: Gog and Magog (heathen nations to be led by Satan during the Apocalypse, according to Revelation)
- Egypt: Amon, Anubis, Bast, Ptah
- Finno–Ugric: Kalma
- Greece: Aphrodite
- Haiti: the Zemi
- India: Durga, the Juggernaut, Kala, Kamadeva, Krishna
- Japan: Hiruko, Kamodo no Kami, Susanoo, and the Kamikaze (or sacred winds)
- Norse: Tyr
- Phoenicia: Dagon
- Rome: Bacchus, Jupiter, and the dii involuti
The Krishna story in the poem comes from Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty's essay, "Inside and Outside the Mouth of God: The Boundary between Myth and Reality," Daedalus, Spring 1980.
About the Author: Nathalie F. Anderson won the Washington Prize for her first book of poetry, Following Fred Astaire, and the McGovern Prize for her most recent collection, Crawlers. Her poems have appeared in The Paris Review, North American Review, Denver Quarterly, DoubleTake, Louisville Review, Southern Poetry Review, Inkwell Magazine, New Millennium Writings, Nimrod, The Southern Anthology, and numerous other publications, as well as in the Ulster Museum's collection of visual art and poetry, A Conversation Piece. A 1993 Pew Fellow, Anderson serves currently as Poet in Residence at the Rosenbach Museum and Library, and is a Professor in the Swarthmore College Department of English Literature, where she directs the Program in Creative Writing.
Copyright © 2008 by Nathalie F. Anderson. This poem may not be reproduced in any form without the author's express written permission.