When I went to Earth last year
I met a number of strange local gods.
Out there, the local gods are a lottery—
you might get a tyrant or you might get a saint,
and whatever you get will color your village
or your town or your metropolis
with its moods and fears and its perversions.
Of the three I actually met, the first two
were more or less braindead. They had been
gods for so long that they had started to “go off,”
like milk or cheese, and started to stink too,
and they were so deeply buried in their fat
cheesy flesh that they were also blind.
The people of the villages mocked them
ceaselessly and without mercy, throwing
rotten veg at their heavily lashed eyes
and even tormenting them with rodents
if something happened they didn’t like,
though they all knew that these two gods
were well past the age when they could
make things happen. The people wanted rid
of these two gods but they couldn’t kill them
for that is Bad Luck, and they couldn’t ask
for replacements, for that is Bad Luck
and almost always results in a worse god,
so they had to just put up with them
as our people in Andromeda put up with
corrupt politicians whose powers have been
filibustered from within their grasp.
But the third god I met was a fine young god,
only seven-hundred years old, possibly less,
and there were still people around who could
remember when he had the wings
on which all gods first float to Earth.
This god, to whom I spoke on several occasions,
told me that I was to stay in his village,
and take a wife there, and benefit
from the services the village could offer,
though he didn’t say what they were.
In other words, he was very hospitable.
In other words he was extremely kind,
and I told him so, but I had to decline,
because of my commitments in Andromeda,
where I already have a wife who waits
for me even as I talk (I said) and so the god sighed
and granted that, if this were the case,
I had better leave in due course, as I desired.
“But before you go,” he said, “can you do me
the slightest of favors? My back
has been itching me for a hundred years
and the people of the village won’t scratch it
because they believe that to do so is Bad Luck.
Could you do so for me, instead?”
“But is it Bad Luck,” I asked, “or isn’t it?”
The young healthy god laughed in my face
and I must admit his breath was sour
as he said, “Why do you, an outsider,
even for a minute believe it’s Bad Luck?
You should know by now that myself
and my people are caught in a perpetual web
of unreality which we both together spin
and things that apply here apply nowhere else.
Have you not read your guidebooks, your histories?”
I regretted that I had not read them
as closely as I should, and apologized
for my lack of preparedness in this regard.
The god laughed again and presented his back
to be scratched, and without misgivings,
I did as he asked. “I hope,” he said
when I had finished scratching his back
and his groans of pleasure had subsided,
“that you find your dreams after leaving here.”
“Why do you say that?” I asked.
But the god was undergoing a transformation
even as I spoke, and could not answer.
In another moment, to my horror
and despair, he was an old shriveled
prune and his face was blind and big-lashed
like the other gods I had seen.
The people of the village came wailing around.
They couldn’t believe I had made their young
virile god into an old sack or prune of a god
with long cumbersome lashes like crutches.
“How could you have done it?” they cried.
“Did you not see the signs?”

Click here to listen to Andrew Pidoux reading “Tourists Do Not Touch the God”

Andrew Pidoux is the author of a book of poetry, Year of the Lion, and winner of an Eric Gregory Award from the UK’s Society of Authors. Recent poems of his have appeared in African American Review, Drunk Monkeys, and Punchnel’s; stories in FishFood, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, and Turk’s Head Review; and comics in Forge, Star 82, and Wilderness House.