Poem by Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé
Photo by Marysia Wojtaszek

Before You Say Take This

There was from the navel a quiet, flower garden a mere dome.

There were names dragged through mud, the gourds
passed into poison, dried
of their oils to light fire in the scarlet and black.

There was the brackish water, wormwood,
and spring mornings are heady mornings –
the seasickness and bitterly, the buried dead. And grief.

There was love never balm enough. Or pure enough. Or light enough.

There was the bringing of the shaman
with his bowl for a womb and handful of quail’s eggs,
leek to our sick, aloe for our dead. To wrap up this rite.

“Take the hyssop,” he said, raising the stalk to the surface.
Along the corridor, begging bowls, and bell-shaped flowers simmering.

There, the Great Renunciation. There, an Akanistha Heaven,
where the limits take on form, and yet none of it.
There, take in the still water
beading off his face into the clean air.

There, the bulrush pierces through the pond, stem sharp as paper
the reed writing on the wall facing northeast, and home.

There, Padma breaks the surface for air. It flowers.
Like the Rose of Sharon, and a faraway Nembutsu, its recitation.
Both plain. Before dawn and your confession, its garden pink.

There was the bowing, heads aligned as if to meet –
lily of the Bhilangana valley, now lily among the thorns.
In the crimson light, another memory of a stupa.
There was a stopping, naked feet resting on the rush of a navel.

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