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Prairie Schooner 80.2 (2006) 21-25
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Sky Burial, and: The Young Priest, and: The Garden Buddha, and: Seven Views of the Eclipse
Sky Burial– Tibetan funeral ritualHe unwraps the corpse,
arranges the body upon the altar rock.
Saffron-robed monks begin to chant.
The burial master lights the sandalwood incense,
claps his hands three times,
calls Shey, shey! (Eat, eat!)
to the sacred vultures,
waiting among the pines.
Oh, to be released
to the sky this way.
Bones picked clean.
Not dust into dust,
but flesh into flesh. [End Page 21]
The Young PriestYour years at Immaculata could never
have prepared you for this
small a parish, so far from heaven.
What agony to stand before them,
robed in purple, holding the tin chalice
amid its hosanna of flies.
Lamb of God, who takes away
the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins . . .
Lamb of God, who takes . . .
grant us peace.
The village boy spreads open the book
and you touch it with your lips,
trying to forget where your mouth
has been, what forbidden
creases it has tasted.
(Remember: You are only a man,)
This is my body.
(it was only a moment)
This is my blood.
You answer each tongue
with a pallid host. [End Page 22]
The Garden BuddhaGift of a friend, the stone Buddha sits zazen,
prayer beads clutched in his chubby fingers.
Through snow, icy rain, the riot of spring flowers,
he gazes forward to the city in the distance – always
the same bountiful smile upon his portly face.
Why don't I share his one-minded happiness?
The pear blossom, the crimson-petaled magnolia,
filling me instead with a mixture of nostalgia
and yearning. He's laughing at me, isn't he?
The seasons wheeling despite my photographs
and notes, my desire to make them pause.
Is that the lesson? That stasis, this holding on,
is not life? Now I'm smiling, too – the late cherry,
its soft pink blossoms already beginning to scatter;
the trillium, its three-petaled white flowers
exquisitely tinged with purple as they fall.
Seven Views of the Eclipse– for J. & J.
When his fevers came they'd sleep
with a pillow lodged between them –
their bodies in syzygy,
solar flares diffused
by a cloud of white. [End Page 23]
Friends often mistook the one
for the other, even their voices
Sometimes when they made
love, he'd forget which
of the two he was, where
one body ended and
the other began.
Circumstances of the eclipse:
Moon enters umbra 11:22 p.m.
Deepest eclipse 12:34 A.M.
Moon leaves umbra 1:45 A.M.
He remembers watching his body
each day less and less of him
to reflect in the bathroom mirror
– as if he were being consumed
– as if something dark
until he didn't recognize
the pared sliver of his face. [End Page 24]
They sat at the lake edge
watching the full moon rise,
a wedge chipped from its side.
Like a broken pearl.
The new medicine began to work
its black magic. He craved
blood-red meat and cream soups,
his face waxed and shone.
He could wear all his old clothes again.
VII.One last photograph:
Alone on the patio, hammock
slung between cedar posts.
His face turned to him.