He says that in his prior life,
this being second he knows of,
he was Japanese, although he did
have a cousin in China, but he
doesn’t know his name anymore.
He wasn’t there for the war
with Okinawa, but he knows
that karate was developed then,
and it’s why, in this life
he studies karate, because
it’s part of his heritage.
He says he has many more stories
to tell of his prior life, he
remembers it quite well,
but that’s all he will tell us
today, for a six-year-old
needs to dole out stories slowly.
Sit down and be silent,
you always want to speak
at the worst possible moment,
whispering incessantly in my ear
when I cannot answer you.
When I call on you, you prefer
to avoid me, playing off
in a corner somewhere
sampling the joys of the day
to be forgotten by nightfall
when I seek to converse.
You take great joy in teasing me
dangling pearls and withdrawing
them at my first grasp, playing
hide and go seek while knowing
all the nooks and crannies.
You prosper in the dark
flitting about, and I can only
feel the breeze as you dash by,
and occasionally touch your skirts
as they brush against by leg.
You are the spoiled child,
petulant, pouting for days
when I chastise you, mocking
when I have little to say to you,
frustrating to the point of distraction
and loved nonetheless.
I look at the photo,
me holding my granddaughter.
Between us we are 57 years old,
she has just celebrated
her first birthday.
In the photograph we
are both laughing hysterically,
in the photo
we are both young children.
As you walk through
this particular space
will you see a small
child perched on a stool,
crayons in hand, a small
rectangle of paper
on the top of the desk
a world you could
never hope to understand,
or an older woman, leaning
on her walker, staring
into the canvas, struggling
to see each brush stroke
and three workmen
white hard hats, retractable
rules and laser levels,
measuring the gallery
against the blueprint
which are artists —
which is art —
does it matter?
He’s all of three
but stare into his eyes and they say
I’m so much more, if
you dare go there.
Of course I do.
As we enter the path
to the rock garden
his small hand in mine
I point to the sign, say
do you know what grows
in a rock garden?
He looks, I can see
the faint hint of the knowing smile
He holds his finger to his forehead,
looks up questioningly,
and states clearly and precisely
“weeds” with a following giggle.
The oddest thing about being
Buddhist is what I once was,
and not just in a prior life.
Born, it turns out, and adopted
into a secular Jewish family, I
must still be Jewish even if I might
have lapsed back to secularity, they say,
because my Jewishness is a mark,
Cain-like it seems, though I always
lacked the nose for the role.
Some a bit more knowing remind me
that I can be both, though they
can’t imagine why anyone would.
I tell them I’m simply, only Buddhist
and not-think what that really means.
He appeared rather suddenly,
and didn’t seem to stay very long.
Some claimed they knew he was coming,
most never saw him arrive,
although some said they saw him clearly,
that he visited frequently, that
they knew his presence unquestionably
and spoke to him at some length.
She knew there was much wishful thinking
and a dearth of reality, but she
had come to accept that they got
what they seemed so badly to need
at no cost to her or any others.
But her daughter, seeing all this,
could only laugh, for though she might
be young, she knew he didn’t appear,
he was always there, they just wouldn’t
close their eyes and see
what every child did.