Ocean of Milk

“He who dwells in the body is eternal and can never be slain. Therefore you need not grieve for any creature.” (Bhagavad-Gita 2.30)

In the dark of November, worms wriggled through the earth. A sun that looked nailed there followed suit. Some gurus clung to the material world by similar threads. Prabhu’s humid stink kept him corporeal. Skin hung from his frame like a filled-up diaper. Cancer mincemeat metastasized to feces peered back from the mirror. He whispered me his dreams over a sippy cup. I traced over the bloody sock puppet beneath his face. The milk scent left a residue over Vrindavan. He seemed like something only a cataract might see.

Wrapped in damp robes, we aimed our microphones. “My lord, it is up to you to make me succeed or fail, as you like.” He entered the garden we grew for him, bouncing on his bullock cart, speaking with considerable intensity for someone so weakened. The chemistry behind sex sparkled in his eyes. Prabhu told of human thought. How it coats the flesh in a kind of plastic. With this caul we protect ourselves by articulating a morality. To reach the meat, we must breach the outer layer. Only then can we refuse to identify ourselves. The lecture hollowed out our heads. His words cured symptoms that had yet to begin in us. I searched through the rift of his sayings, towed by flavor.

Prabhu died happily, which he failed to predict. We were somewhere beyond grief. A body of particles, lips curled, teeth bared, vanquished. We tried never to lament anything with a face. Many Sadhus deal with lice, but Prabhu kept his hair at bay, except the tufts in his ears. Stubble poked from his shaved head. Tabla drums and kartals, our dinky finger cymbals, wrapped the air in echoes, percussing across the water. Per Prabhu’s instructions, we broke and bent his legs full lotus, a pose his inflexibility prevented in life. As we lay him on a concrete slab, rigor mortis fortified the spine and neck in a meditative posture. We pressed the hands egg-shaped, thumbs touching at the top – as if pinching a square of toilet paper. Garlands roped like rangoli around the neck. My flickering shadow made me nauseated.

Sect members traveled far and wide to pay obeisance. The mausoleum was dazzled in green and red tulsi wood carvings, gemstones exhumed from caves. A tongue, rolled from the structure’s mouth, had been paved in flower petals and glowing embers. When Prabhu died, the earth became lit from within. We put cellophane over his name with ceremony after ceremony. Each morsel of flesh would be shaken in Brahma’s sieve, but the life he lived off prasadam fattened the soul enough to clog it. Observing his corpse, I remembered Prabhu’s enormous red velvet chair. Spiderweb pin cushions matched the accents in his robe. Disciples don’t understand how ripe a prayer can taste.

I longed to be torched by knowledge, to bow in a crowd. Rock dust peppered my brow, trickling blindingly down. Prabhu licked a finger and wiped his blessing on me. He spoke into the mic one last time, promising eternal joy on Goloka, a planet full of cows. I was saddened to confess against devotion, the curtains it drew over my eyes. Awaiting elation, I’d volunteered for slavery. Behind my mind, the lips plumped, the rotten shell creasing. I shivered through a vision of black feathered fans. Drowning in spit, foamy white waves lapped rabidly. I felt swallowed, but it was my own throat gulping. Stripping credence from sensation was part of spiritual training, opening the metaphorical eye. Its lids were pinned, Prabhu’s disembodied mouth a foliage of violations. Descending from on high, leaking airplane mist, he came to me. I sat on my hands, before the altar, and let his dead air fill my mouth.

*

Mataji had a gap in her teeth I could fit my finger through. She birthed half of Prabhu’s kids. “He’ll respect me more next incarnation.” She moved heavily inside her sari, sensing my dissent. Each glass of milk brought to Prabhu had been doused in cadmium. Heavy metal glittered through the skin. I hoped for slack in my noose before purity restored us. Naked in Prabhu’s eyes, we wrote with bovine blood on the walls of the tomb.

God consumes the world to keep company with his product. Mataji couldn’t see that the entire planet was grounds for cremation. Prabhu’s corpse dragged the sky behind it. Legs straightened, he served as our lymphatic altar. Vayu, god of wind, cackled through the trees. The boys passed the chillum in a circle. Our cave was lit by small fires. Prabhu’s body lay naked on the stone. My pinky nail was sharp enough to slice through it. Angled strips down the lower back. I presented them. The smoke hissed. Some left, returning to illusion. I became Krishna-conscious after chewing. His radiance was terrible. The smell of wood fire flavored him. The blood was thick and silver, reflecting our guts on the ground.

We lay retching until dawn, the nickel-taste of God abiding. Everything but Prabhu, chewed-up jerky of him spat back to the cave, was aglow. Clumsily, I reached out to his corpse, but all I touched was the hole I’d cut in his back. Mataji stood at the entrance with needle and thread. Her eyes were bright in their sockets. She dipped each hand into milky puddles of our savior, and, humming, began to sew.

David Kuhnlein’s fiction is featured or forthcoming in Ligeia, Surfaces.cx, Fine Print Press, OOMPH!, Tragickal, and others. He edits the literary review column Torment, venerating pain and illness, at The Quarterless Review. He lives in Michigan and is online @princessbl00d.

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