Breathing, Frontiers (Nara–Kyoto, 2009)

prayers in rough wood

One morning late in the summer of her death, I leave the swanky Kyoto hotel with only two things: a sense of desperate adventure and a bus map I have no way to make sense of. It is mid-morning, full sun. I step into the street & catch the wrong bus. Lost, I find another traveler with a better head for direction and a to-see list the same as mine. Together, we make the rounds of temples with names like stones dropped in still ponds, take pictures each of the other. Kiyomizu-dera and its golden waters. Moss & graves at Honen-in, echoes in the hillside. Eikando. Nanzenji. I touch my right hand to the cherry-lined path of Tetsugaku-no-michi, green now, no blossoms, wonder how many wiser heads have held thoughts here. Ears trained to stream’s murmur over street traffic. The day clouds as the sun sinks, and then at long last Ginkaku-ji, the Silver Pavilion that was never silver, umbrellaless under matching skies as rain begins to fall.

I hang a prayer
in wood by a heron’s pool
but do not forget.

Like new leaves to frost in April

so many things can get lost
forever. like that cutting I stole
from a prickly pear outside the Mexican place
in Oyster Point when I lived there
for six weeks, learning
to deliver babies. never did
get it to bloom, and never did catch
a kid, either: one little bud
all I wanted to make it feel a little less
like killing time. I hauled
the thing back up the coast, nurtured
it for years, flowerless; left it with the rest
on the backporch that day after
mother died.  haven’t troubled
my hand with cactus since—
the yard all lavender and rose now,
like that bubblebath I brought her
that she never got to use,
only with thorns.

It was never quite like this,

the shallow wading pool of past, its pink
mermaid-clad collapsible sides filled
with dead grapevine Mom wrestled
from the cage-wire fence & sunk
in its bathwater depths to be made more
pliant for the working. Once I buried
a burn there, dip’t surreptitiously
from a showoff jump on Old Miss Judy’s
just-rid bike, my shiny white shin in stark
relief to the gap-black teeth of her red-
haired grandson. I remember, too, the stains
of walnuts that fell like dull tennis balls
all around the pool’s pressed grass;
a quarter a bucket all Indian summer long
while Mom cut & shaped & dried
under the shade of the bitter leaves.
I keep one of those wreaths cornered
in the utility closet under winter coats,
still, dusting its thick ribbon & fluffing
up the bow after every first frost has passed.