Sisyphus and the head of the Buddha


I put an ice cube on the hot skin of my ping-pong hunter. We were sweating – it is true, we were sweating and I, so thirsty, kept carrying the green glass pitcher into the grass hut, where there was a young pachuca kahuna belicana – he said yes ma’am can I help you? And I said yes, it’s this fever and he brought me chilled coconut milk in a small blue glass, and filled the green glass pitcher with ice. I carried it back on a thin wooden tray. I wondered why is this tray not warped or weakened with heat and sweat and long nights with tidal pulls shredding the wood fibers apart? But it was not. It was light and gentle, a tray for the sick bed, a tray for malaria, a tray for a cool glass of coconut milk, lime and a little bowl of ice with a thin cotton towel cooled just right for delirium.

Here are the words I did not say, the specials on today’s menu: Lost salad, sorrow soup, and a pot of bitter teas. They are not written on the chalkboard and not offered up by the tidy wait man with the impeccable manners. I believe and say that his name must be Barnabas, not the Barnabas of circuses but the Barnabas of gothic nightmares. Barnabas was cousin to Beethoven: Germanic, deaf, hairless and rude. He told his manservant to walk the dog, to toast the bread, to spread it with marmalade, to avoid the tirade and tyrranies of dark old countries where bread is sour and to cover the altars of our mothers with burlap. Rough, old, functional, perfect for gardening or for famine. Burlap rough like penance, rough like Buddha before the release, Buddha before his awkward beginnings, Buddha experimenting with the language of non-attachment.

When the Buddha travelled by boat, by dirigible, by astral means, he met on his travels an old woman of pachucan descent and she shook him by his detached shoulders and his head fell off. The rolling head of the Buddha fell down the mountainside, picked up first by Persephone but then rejected and then by Sisyphus who pushed it back up to the top of the mountain again and again until it fell down and wounded the heel of the baby Achilles and then crashed against the broken rib of the Fisher King and then into the kingdom that will not heal and then to the county fair and the state fair and then to the quilting bee and the spelling bee and the public school and the private room and the tray for malaria, and the turkey farm where drowning is a common occurrence, what with foolishness and the frequently changing weather that leaves us standing out in the open fields in the pouring rain with our heads tilted back and our mouths open, drowning in the absence of detachment, in spite of the counsel of Sor Buddha, Sor Maria, Sor Juana, la Señora del Lago and her assorted sisters, all of them dry and wet and wound with wisdom like wool, wrapped around shoulders that shake, lost salad, sorrow soup.

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2 Responses to “Sisyphus and the head of the Buddha”


  1. 1 Tek February 26, 2008 at 9:45 am

    interesting thought, the buddha’s head as the boulder of Sisyphus. non-attachment coupled with the fallen kings serious attachment to his punishment. things that makes one go hmmm….

  2. 2 Teresa February 26, 2008 at 10:27 am

    Hi Tek – that image really struck me too. I believe that attachment is an important part of living an engaged life (sorry mr buddha), but suffering comes along with it. Bewildered, drowning turkeys, every one of us at times, I guess.


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