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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Filed under Issue 5: The Far East, Poetry

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