Monastery on Minor and Pine

buddhist sunset

When I ring the bell at the red iron gate, Li Po crosses the dining hall on soft cotton feet. Brown robes brush cracked linoleum; she smiles and allows me in. I enter, smell incense and silence, read the songs hanging in red and gold scrolls where someone has translated no selfishness no greed. We bow welcome, Amitaba, and around her Cheshire smile the peeling paint fades in the shadowed hallway. 

 Big Gwoli warms my meal in the microwave, prayer beads click as I eat. We light incense, eat oranges; my hands are sticky with juice, and I wash them in the kitchen where mice dance unworried on the kharmic wheel and the countertops. 

 Through the classroom floor we hear chanting, bells chime Amitaba for compassion, Amitaba for Guan Yin. My hands are covered with chalk dust, hair smells of smoke and sweet herbs. I set aside lessons, ask my students to read The Cat in the Hat instead. Little Gwoli laughs, startled at the sounds of sense and no sense. I see that Heng Sheung has the scars of repentance burnt into her arms, onto her bare scalp, and I wonder what is the desire she battles with white coals, how strong is the will that lives in this crumbled brown building. Across the street, the nodding junkies disfigure the bodhisattva spirits of the city no less than she with her bracelet and crown of guilt. 

 In the classroom, voices stagger drunk outside the windows, clatter against the chanting below, rattle the cage of detachment. The afternoon light catches dust and smoke; Heng Sheung is transformed into a lighted mind vivid with struggle, English rhythms and hard edges ache in her jaw, leaving dharma in a heap behind Dr. Seuss. Later, when pleasure has hardened to guilt, she will rock on her knees in prayer, calling Amitaba for compassion, Amitaba for Guan Yin. 

cat in hatAs I leave, I close the red iron gate behind me; undetached, unrepentant, I sing us Amitaba for compassion, Amitaba for Guan Yin, Amitaba for the sweet madness of the wheel dance that shakes the belly of every Buddha who has ever laughed in exile.


© 1993 Teresa Phillips. May not be used without permission.





4 Responses to “Monastery on Minor and Pine”

  1. 1 Lollyloo May 22, 2007 at 1:40 pm

    Still as lovely as ever. What a great piece. I’d like to see it in print, for money.

  2. 2 Lollyloo May 22, 2007 at 1:41 pm

    By the way, why capitalize Buddha but not guan yin? Or buddha but not Kuan Yin?

  3. 3 dKos reader May 22, 2007 at 4:05 pm

    * [new] I have hoped so often…
    my hoper is sore!
    (H/T to Dr. Suess.)

    by sp0t on Tue May 22, 2007 at 02:11:03 PM PDT
    Recommended by: JekyllnHyde, taylormattd, asimbagirl, kriser, Lisa Lockwood, lgmcp

    * That’s wonderful.
    Another reason to love Dr. Suess. By the way my sweetie just published a poem today that makes reference to the wonders thereof …
    Cuentos: Monastery on Minor and Pine

    “by lgmcp on Tue May 22, 2007 at 02:17:03 PM PDT
    Recommended by: JekyllnHyde, asimbagirl, kriser, sp0t, Lisa Lockwood, anotherdemocrat

    * WoW! NO, that…
    POEM is wonderful!
    What a joy to have a poem like that thrown at me (us) on a thread of such a different topic.
    Really, thank you for that.

    by sp0t on Tue May 22, 2007 at 02:22:33 PM PDT
    Recommended by: asimbagirl, kriser, lgmcp, anotherdemocrat

  4. 4 Teresa May 23, 2007 at 7:26 am

    Good question, LL. Changing that capitalization right now.

    Thanks for the kind words, all.

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