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— for John Peery

When Ganesh marries my mother,

I am 18, my own man

in the eyes of the law; but barely a zygote

in his eyes. He calls me spermling

the first time we speak in private;

I tell him I know a doctor

who can do something about that nose.

Trunk curls up, perhaps to strike?

— a smile beneath

that touched the ancient folds around his eyes.

Kid, he says, we'll get along fine.

In my neighborhood, unseen trains

shake the ground every day at 5.

Streets without sidewalks slide between houses

tiny as boxcars, or old and rambling

as the stories the fogeys at the gas station tell,

like them eaten from inside and about to fall,

unlike them divided into 4 apartments each.

Ganesh and I play Xbox

before my afternoon shifts (of course he's great,

with all those hands he's at least two players

at once) and I steal glances

at his impossible profile, framed

by the dusty window: lumpy wrinkled nose

like a seasoned draft guard, curled

in inverse question mark of concentration;

on this day, clad in coveralls

with the bib undone: How is it, I wonder,

that you feel like you belong?

As if he heard, he mumbles,

Wherever someone loves me, I'm in like Flynn.

No, no, Mom, I don't want to know

(but as always, she tells me —

I know, he could use a few weeks at the Y,

and yeah, he's a lot older than your father

but turn off the lights

and you wouldn't know it. Sure,

sometimes the beginning is way better

than the end, but who cares

when he gets the party rolling . . .

Oh, when he gets rolling . . . and that trunk!)

No, no, Mom, I don't want to know . . .

I still don't have a clue how they met.

Mom can't remember, and my stepdad

always changes the subject, spins me

yet another harrowing first-person account

of leading his father's troops against demonkind.

For me there was no warning: after a long

afternoon behind the Burger King counter

I come home, to find him on the couch,

Mom asleep against his pillowy chest,

a bowl of popcorn in his lap, quietly munching;

his huge ears fanned out, cupped forward

as he watches Temple of Doom on cable

and giggles under his breath. In retrospect

I was far less surprised than

what the moment warranted.

As we wait in matching tuxes

for the justice of the peace to call us in

I feel new respect, even affection —

he didn't have to do this, we all know it,

but he agreed without a gripe when Mom asked.

See, kid, he whispers around a tusk,

your mother, she has this vivaciousness, this pluck,

this drive to defy all odds and plow on

that's like a bath of rakta chandan

for pranapratishhtha — she makes me feel

alive, you understand? This aatma

I want to catch with all my hands, and when

it flutters, let it go, watch its flight in awe,

then catch it again. An essence such as that

pumps new blood through an old heart.

Do you comprehend?

                                        I nod "I do." I knew

you would, he says. You have it too. An arm

around my shoulders; three more hands

pinch my cheeks. Too bad you're not a woman.

A grin, a wink. The moment nearly ruined,

but some part of me still flattered.

After the vows and the happy tears, he lifts

his trunk to kiss me wetly on one ear.

My son, he says.

At the reception, for the first time, I see him dance.

No wonder Mom can't get enough.


You would think,

with a household god

(of great luck and strong starts, yet!),

that I wouldn't still be slaving behind

the grease-smeared Burger King counter

(to be honest, I'm in dual-job hell;

come night, yo no quiero Taco Bell).

I finally ask him about this lack of riches,

and he sighs and blinks those dewy eyes.

Spermling — he wags his trunk — it don't work

like that. Luck, okay, luck, is when

you're driving in downtown Manhattan, fighting

for every gap that opens in all that hurtling metal,

and your car, it's been threatening to stall

since the last tollbooth on the Jersey Turnpike,

and you made it, but your tank's on Empty,

and you beg that car, Please don't die —

and it's like it hears you, like it's packed with prana,

and goes twenty miles further than possible,

and just when you feel rigor mortis

in the gas pedal, there is a pump station

at this corner, that you didn't see seconds ago

and the $20 you thought you dropped

at the rest stop is in your pocket after all.

All four hands spread wide.

That's what luck is all about.

You would think, given all the above,

that I'd have never come home

in the early a.m. to find Mom

in the kitchen dark, crouched

over the cooking sherry, her silent tears

revealed when the lights come on.

What's wrong with me, she asks.

Is there some little demon inside me

that refuses to believe I deserve this?

Why don't I want to be happy?

I ask, Is it the other wives?

She shakes her head.


How distracted he seems when he's present;

how lost she seems when he's gone.

Mothers, he grumps one morning

and pauses Halo to rest his chin on his hands.

No, not yours.

                          Some mothers sure do hate

to give up their sons.

                                      Did I ever tell you

what my mother did to me?

                                                  A dirty trick.

It was, you know, long before time

really got rolling, and I was playing with

my kitten, and I played with her a little

too rough (but I didn't mean to; see,

it had only been a few years since

Shiva first fused my head on).

I came home and my mom was bleeding

from her bindi, and when I asked what's wrong

she says to me, what ever I do to any ladki

I do to her. How cruel a thing

to do to a son! But I was still young,

didn't see it that way then. So I vowed

to never ever marry.


A few millenniums of celibacy

will make you decide there's some consequences

you can live with. So I took three wives —

take that, Mom! — but you'd think by now

she'd forgive me. Her unhappiness,

well, sometimes it still comes through.

He offered me the remains of his beer

(I refused) then polished it off with a chug,

and lamented:

Is it so hard for a mother to want

eternal happiness for her Dumbo-headed boy?

I haven't shared a word of this with Mom,

and won't.

I look at these checks I drag home,

compute how they add up with hers,

and know

we need every bit of luck we can hold onto.

But one late sleepless night

I Googled my stepfather and gawked

at hundreds of prettified statues and

read about Ganesh Chaturthi:

days of hymns and feasting,

red silk and red ointment,

the eleventh day my stepdad's image

submerged in the sea, symbolizing

his journey home to Kailash,

bad luck drawn away like pilot fish

following his wake.

And I love him so

that I can't bring myself to ask him yet:

is it when he leaves

that misfortune truly goes away?

Mike Allen is president of the Science Fiction Poetry Association and editor of the speculative poetry journal Mythic Delirium. With Roger Dutcher, Mike is also editor of The Alchemy of Stars: Rhysling Award Winners Showcase, which for the first time collects the Rhysling Award-winning poems from 1978 to 2004 in one volume. His newest poetry collection, Disturbing Muses, is out from Prime Books, with a second collection, Strange Wisdoms of the Dead, soon to follow. Mike's poems can also be found in Nebula Awards Showcase 2005, both editions of The 2005 Rhysling Anthology, and the Strange Horizons archives.
Current Issue
9 Dec 2019

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