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POET - In Japan


As a guide described the origins of the Phoenix Hall, discussed the intricate carvings, and explained the symbolism of the lotus, an old man stood at the railing before the enormous Buddha there, and prayed. He held the photograph of a young woman to his chest, the girl’s face directed outward, toward the statue. His lips barely moved as he mumbled his prayer. The guide led her group out of the chamber, and when it was just the two of us, the old man turned the photograph toward me and continued to pray. We walked together out of the hall, while behind us, bodhisattvas sailed around the room on clouds, some ringing cymbals or beating drums, all of them so mesmerized by the sight of the Pure Land, they seemed to pay no attention as we walked away.

*

We climbed the mountain, looking for the mountain, unsure of what we’d find. Cicadas hummed in the moist air, and two ravens called out as they circled overhead. Sunset lit the far side of the summit. A stand of bamboo swayed above us, making the mountain appear to breathe, and we kept walking, the mountain alive beneath our feet. *

Not yet morning but no longer night, the sky peach-hued at the horizon, cicadas began their electric chorus, and two crows called out as they flew beneath a half-moon stranded in the wakening sky.

*

We followed a trail beside a mountain stream, and below us, in the water, tiny trout swam upstream beside us. They kept our pace, and as we walked, larger fish joined the others, and when we reached the shrine at the end of the trail, there were a dozen fish large enough to eat milling in a pool. At the shrine, we met a man in uniform, and thought he might turn us away, but when I pointed to the fish gathered in the stream, he lifted a tarp from the back of his pick-up, pointed to a fishing rod and laughed.

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