Vikram Masson

Jacob the Christian

Ganesha (Ganapati) by Raja Segar

Do you remember our friend, Jacob the Christian?
I still recall him walking up the precinct’s steps,
cross blazoned in ash on his forehead,

cheeks streaked with holy water. I had
gotten into a bit of trouble in Atlantic City,
and in my shame, who could I have called but him?

Jacob put up the bail and drove me home,
restocked my fridge and threw out the trash.
He never once asked for the money back.

When Nita said she was leaving her mother
and could no longer bear her taunts, Jacob said,
Love is patient. That man took Nita’s hand

and helped clean her mother’s toilet and sponge
the grime from her cheeks. Then–bless him!–
dropped to his haunches and washed her ragged feet.

When Veena left her loafing husband,
when Ashok broke his hands during a drunken night,
when Richard fell to the cancer crouching in his bones,

Jacob was there to love and console.
Remember when we took him to the temple, on a lark?
Poor man! We had been playing three-card poker,

drinking a spot of single-malt and recollecting India.
We told him our gods spoke from the trees, stole
into the soil and rattled through the falling stones.

I said, Come on, dearest Jacob,
we’ll show you how we pray. He shuddered
as the diyas flickered and cast shadows

on the devis’ breasts. He looked away from
Hanuman the monkey; from Ganesha
with his elephant head; from the dancing apsaras,

from the manifold half-animal forms cast in stone.
The drone of the Brahmin’s chants, the temple bell’s
wavy trill, the wafting smoke and incense signalled

a potency he dreaded. We said, Hey Jacob, God is one.
But he rushed off to the courtyard and crossed himself.
He has been sick for a long time and I finally went to visit.

And he lay dying–sprawled on the hospital bed,
puffing and groaning like a wounded animal.
You have lived well, my brother, I said. He turned

into the railings, dragging the monitor latched to his wrist,
and said, I am a goat, not a sheep, and the fire awaits.
I have never been pure enough and God is the witness.

How could a good man like Jacob die with such fear?
The sky outside was clear and brilliant. The Son of Man
gazed down from the wall through the wires and clicking machines.

Some birds were twittering near the dusty sill.
I offered Jacob, our friend, my hand–flesh
pressed to trembling flesh–and said: I will pray.


About the writer:
Vikram Masson is a lawyer by training who lives near Richmond, Virginia. His work has been featured most recently in the American Journal of Poetry, Glass, The Blue Mountain Review and Prometheus Dreaming.

Image: Ganesha (Ganapati) by Raja Segar (1951-). Oil on canvas. 120 x 90 cm. 2019. By free license.