The last twenty-four hours, I'm turning in a tunnel, world kaleidescope, looking at the center piece of glass, red. That's the Kali Temple in Calcutta. I'm there. I've been there since the crux of 1999, just as it turned to 2000. On the top step of a back entrance, not where I want to be, but I follow directions from the priest. Why is he waving me to the step just above this goat? Why does he want me to be in direct line with that baby girl, held by her mother, whose father looks to me?
Nothing is in English, it hasn't been for weeks. Ritual looks the same everywhere; I'm deaf, but the drumbeat reaches through marble, up through my smoothly shaven legs, wispy silk, feathery against the back of my knees. In that hint of sensation, just like that, the guantlet drops, and what I have forsaken in thought rolls to the ground. Blood at my feet. The goat's eyes are still open, soft look, nothing ever happened to this creature to inspire fear - I can see that in the file of the iris. It was never afraid.
I'm wondering if some creatures come into form simply to participate in someone else's ritual. Could sacrifice be this clean? If not, what have I entered, in the blood-dripping jowls of Kali's house?
A few days earlier I stand in line at another Kali temple. If you could call it a line. Indians push eachother through a small doorway, as if they want to be taken. They want to be eaten. Pulled apart. Not gently, politely changed. They want that kind of death that only the dark goddess can deliver. They want that
kind of liberation from the mind. Shoved into the grinder, I move like a snake through the internal passages, and only for a glimpse of a moment do I see her face - gilded, wild, tongue fully extended, eyes striken with full seeing. Just as fast I'm spit out, stumbling down the tail end of the temple steps. Under my breath I spew, Jesus f'ing Christ! This is crazy.
Crazy and great, I feel good. So good that I stuff my bandana in my bag and walk down the street, open-mouthed, the stench of old fruit, dust, fuel, and the hanging homeless kids stepping on my feet. We smile (how crazy is that) and we are free - these kids and me. That's when I'm ready for the next temple.
So now, the priest leans over the dead goat, "You want baby?" Already stepping over into open space, "Yes, I want a baby. Yes, I do." Orange robes along the temple floor, caterpillar leads the way, "Come then, I show you the tree."
I hear the wailing before I see the branches. And then I can't tell because the branches are drenched with red. Long-haired women with arms over head tie strands of their hair, entwined with prayer threads, frenzied screams, onto extending tree limbs. With sheers in hand, the brahmin priest says, "Down." I bow down, so far from Illinois I cannot remember my birth name anymore, so close in prayer to my dream that I kneel just for the feel of dirt on my skin.
I wrap blonde with red, blonde with red, some dirt in there, too, for luck. When the traces of my being hang beside countless others, I raise my wrist so that he can tie the remaining thread into a bracelet. He asks, "Did you pray?"
Yes I prayed. I called them by name, my unborn children. Inside, I bellowed into that canyon, "OK, hey, ok, I'm ready now. You can come now. I'm here. Please, come now."
I thought that was it. You know, it was a pretty big gesture, the wide-sweeping kind. I thought I could return to the US, resume my life, and like the Virgin Mary, receive the seed in a sacred dream.
But Kali. Ha. You can't visit that many Kali temples and expect to remain intact (tho I did expect just that). She had other plans for me. The kind of take-you-further-to-your-knees plans. Makes me think of my friend Holly (hang in there, honey)
. That part is another story.
Yesterday, Kali hovering, I drag down boxes, riffle through files, search for the video of that fertility ritual. I've never looked at it - but seven years later I'm ready. I have it documented somewhere. River plays with her baby dolls on the floor, so attentive with beautiful blankets, "What do-een, Mama? What do-een?" There she is, looking red and blonde, "It's ok, love, I'm just looking for some pictures."
Before bed, ten pages into Monica's
amazing book, I fall into a dream. And then it's all night: Monica and me, we're running down back roads, dirt roads, and I don't know if it's India or Ohio. It's us as girls and we laugh, so happy to be running, so happy for dirt, driven by something so old that tear streaks turn to smiles. All I see is her bangs, short bangs at ten, and, half-dirt ourselves, we laugh hard.
I know this morning that I have found the beginning of my book. Finally, stewing for a year over low fire, I know it's that temple, that goat, that tree, my hair, and that prayer. The beginning of River's Grace.