Hanuman's Mace

Poem by Sunil Iyengar

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.

 

American Arts Quarterly, Fall 2012, Volume 29, Number 4