by Melissa Houghton
The river washes the coin. The river cleans the earth.
We contaminate the river with our ideas of wishes.
Strolling through the temple, I listen to My Korean co-teacher
insist there’s no contradiction between Christ and Buddha.
With him, I bow 50 times. Like Pilates, it’s rolling through positions:
on my knees, I lift my head and mimic the others’ expressions.
My shoulders and neck ache the next day. Still I give insa
to the principal. I bend at the waist and say good morning.
I would blush if someone bowed to me, but both Jesus
and Buddha would approve of the ritual. It is too late for this,
I think, and fall asleep easily on pillows I am used to. Some nights,
before I’m asleep, I see my birth father smoking Marlboros like my
American father used to before he was hypnotized. I thought
hypnotism was too strange, too out-there, for someone like him to try.
He professes himself a hick from the sticks to ease the tension
when I talk about art, and only smokes in his dreams.
Why do I like art like this? Each vision creates a splash
in my imagination; I am like the koi swimming up in search of food.
My friends ask me: did you have a good time at the temple stay?
I didn’t. The dry, tired drum only seemed to emphasize my ordinary
appearance. Fifteen minutes of directed meditation in Korean, still
a foreign language. Who can sit and meditate during unfamiliar words?
Then, through my co-teacher’s translation, the monk evaded my question
when I asked him the one taboo: why did you become a monk?
I was nearly the only American there and puzzled over random
words from conversation that wouldn’t let me forget: migook saram, creo?
We are all one. Very Zen. Very Buddha, Very Tao-te-Ching. I see a tree:
spiky blossoms of white paper. I see each person write down a wish
on a strip of white paper and tie it to a branch.
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