Temples look like discarded alphabets.
We loved lying in their shadows lazily
deciphering and resting and laying bets
on what they really were for. Easily
caught by fantasy, we no longer cared
why they were there, just that they were. Happy
to sit down and drink the water we shared
(having lugged our plastic bottle, and hats,
and camera, through the human dung bared
right there in the sun—where else could you get
relief with no toilets?) we guzzled it down
and splashed it on our arms, hands, legs, and necks.
A girl in dirty, expensive clothes found
us with the bottle and asked us for some.
I said no. As she left, a gagging smell wound
its way out from the bottle’s damp lung.
I’ve often been asked to give what I’ve saved,
but under the temple I said no, numbed
against the girl, like one of those bridesmaids
who kept her oil in the Bible story
and was safe for the night. I’d hated those maids
until I became one in my story,
the shape of the character I’d searched for
surprising me as the temples did: See
how golden but pocked they’ve become, nor
are they quite decipherable anymore,
at least to those who forget what they’re for,
which is worship, the greed of prayer.
“So that’s who you are,” my friend said. “Thirsty?”
With him I drank, not quite the maid in the story,
but in her shadow, like letters at rest
in new words on a palimpsest.