Emerson Whitney

Hari Hari

I became a Hari Krishna on a wet rug in Union Square, I was looking for safety, I got sweet rice and vegan meat. There was a horde of homeless white boys, white socks, sandalwood. We were gross and meditating, meditating under musky portraits of bowed blank faces, small bracelets, hundreds of curled prayers arriving late—deep Brooklyn.

Whose red candle, wet incense. Whose blue baby?

Was my decision to be a Krishna a reaction to the heat? Maybe it was sadness. Like how do I get back to that place in that movie? Where everyone is spinning together, rubbing bright red on each other and the horns of a bull.

Have you watched Latcho Drom? I watch it all the time. Listen to the soundtrack. It’s the closest I’ve gotten to understanding my origins—a movie by a French guy about the diaspora. My people are the ones with the match boxes, wandering near barbed wire, banging around in light-colored clothes. I wanted whatever that was, back. I wanted the thing. The cultural capital of the thing maybe, the connection of the thing perhaps—is it want or need? I don’t know. My family doesn’t talk about it, they smirk. 


On Krishna’s birthday—my first one—boys with chaffing heels and thick eyebrows lit liquor and red paint. They bounced each other in the center of the hall, ecstatic, with arms above their heads, drums at zero degrees.

I wanted to bounce my body against their bodies, rubbing sunlight across the floor. I danced loud to the center. And after a few moments of bouncing, one shaggy boy linked arms with me. I smiled at him. He didn’t smile, didn’t swing me around like I thought he was going to do. Instead, he dragged me from the floor and fit me into a group of standing women. Stay, he said.

I was shocked. I didn’t say anything. I watched. I watched the boys move their feet into a puddle of light on the floor—white, white bodies and a bulbous blue baby Krishna, throned behind gold rope.

Fuck them.

Isn’t this how an intersection feels? Convergence. Awkward ankles lilting on a break. Like the time I thought I wanted to be a faggot. Full fledged. I wanted to break into that ass fucking part of myself. Listen to circuit party music. Stick it out for dicks and balls. And then I made it. I made gay-man friends. I got sex. And like every other kind of magic, desire cleared. Left a circle. An exploded part. What are you doing here sweetheart? You don’t have a dick. Not even a little one. Not even small. Why would I want to be them, anyway? Why would I want to be a Hari Krishna?


I left the line of women to scraping plastic spoons on the bottom of Styrofoam cups and watching the boys. I took an angry walk toward a squat city hillside. A graveyard maybe? I got out a cigarette, put it in my mouth, and started to wander around. I was on a ridge, crumbling and dark, flicking my lighter on and off. I flicked my lighter on and off and fell.

I tripped over something orange and covered in leaves. I put my cigarette between my lips and looked down, moved a wad of leaves with my foot. The lump was a bodiless bust. I knelt down. I looked at it: a face, a brown face, brown eyes, bright lips, she was wearing the beginning of an orange robe. Her nose was chipped, white porcelain winked. She was sitting squat in a moldy, moving pile of leaves. She was severed at the shoulders.

I took the cigarette out of my mouth and looked around, a purple porcelain turban and what looked like a broken crystal ball were slung a foot or so further down the ridge.

The bust was a porcelain fortune teller. Had to be. Enraptured, (was it rapture or surprise?) I brushed my hands over her forehead. I fit my fingers into her eye sockets, held my fingers there, palmed her cheeks.

She looked like she’d just been tipped out of her fortune telling booth, just now, just dislodged. Hers was probably the kind with a quarter slot. My kind.

Then the wind moved or something moved and I thought it was her. I leapt back, and her head rolled, she looked all around, I ran.

The whole thing felt porcelain, felt fragile and fallen, like a dirty doll—the Krishna thing, myself.


I stopped going to meditation. I told myself that being a Krishna was no way to reclaim my ancestry, watered way down. Like trees in the city, the center of a bay-tree grove, a type of whimper, a soft assent.

For a full year, the Hari Krishnas called once a day, trying to get me back. I avoided the Lower East Side, avoided deep Brooklyn. If a Krishna saw me and remembered, they’d link me by the arm and try to drag me across Houston toward sweet rice. I’d point at the gay bar across the street, and say no, no, I’m busy.

Is identity all the same? Root systems as snakes like broken violin strings tugged between the thumb and forefinger?

I am curled in someone else’s yard.

We are curdled voices, the unsureness of a tinny bell, the quickness of a brick—thrown love, split color.

Emerson Whitney

Emerson Whitney is the author of Ghost Box (Timeless Infinite Light, 2014) and Nascent (forthcoming). Emerson’s work has appeared most recently in Cream City Review, Agápē Journal, Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics, Bombay Gin, Jupiter 88, &NOW AWARDS 3: The Best Innovative Writing. Emerson is a kari edwards fellow and a professor at Los Angeles City College.