Ablution by Amy Fleury
Because one must be naked to get clean,
my dad shrugs out of his pajama shirt,
steps from his boxers and into the tub
as I brace him, whose long illness
has made him shed modesty too.
Seated on the plastic bench, he holds
the soap like a caught fish in his lap,
waiting for me to test the water’s heat
on my wrist before turning the nozzle
toward his pale skin. He leans over
to be doused, then hands me the soap
so I might scrub his shoulders and neck,
suds sluicing from spine to buttock cleft.
Like a child he wants a washcloth
to cover his eyes while I lather
a palmful of pearlescent shampoo
into his craniotomy-scarred scalp
and then rinse clear whatever soft hair
is left. Our voices echo in the spray
and steam of this room where once,
long ago, he knelt at the tub’s edge
to pour cups of bathwater over my head.
He reminds me to wash behind his ears,
and when he judges himself to be clean,
I turn off the tap. He grips the safety bar,
steadies himself, and stands. Turning to me,
his body is dripping and frail and pink.
And although I am nearly forty,
he has this one last thing to teach me.
I hold open the towel to receive him.
See more excellent poems in Sabio’s Poetry Anthology
About the Amy Fleury
- Poetry Foundation (source)
- Amy Fleury is a native of Nemaha County in rural northeast Kansas, and graduated from Nemaha Valley High School. She earned her bachelor’s degree and her M.A. from Kansas State University, Manhattan, and her M.F.A. from McNeese State University. (Washburn University site about Amy)
- “Poems” take many forms, as do life lessons and momentary pleasures.
Below is a quote from the last chapter of Hesse’s 1922 novel “Siddhartha” (translated by Hilda Rosner in 1951). The quote reminds me of my post “Seachers vs Explorers“. Hesse labels the two different styles as Suchen (seeking) and Finden (finding) — or One who Seeks [one thing] versus One who Finds [many things] — see my post on “Homogenizing Reality” for a similar contrast.
It seems, Hesse (1877-1962) and I (1954 – ?) had similar intuitions. Tell me what you think.
Setting: Siddhartha is now an old man who works as a ferryman at a river. The Buddha is dying and many of his monks and devotees are journeying to see him before his passing. Siddartha ferries many across his river. One passenger, “Govinda”, is a former close friend of Siddhartha but he does not recognize Siddartha. Note that thought Hesse calls his main character “Siddartha”, it is not the Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) — they just happen to share the same first names.
He arrived at the river and asked the old man to take him across. When they climbed out of the boat on the other side, he said to the old man: “You show much kindness to the monks and pilgrims; you have taken many of us across. Are you not also a seeker of the right path?”
There was a smile in Siddhartha’s old eyes as he said: “Do you call yourself a seeker, O venerable one, you are already advanced in years and wear the robe of Gotama’s monks?”
“I am indeed old,” said Govinda, “but I have never ceased seeking. I will never cease seeking. That seems to be my destiny. It seems to me that you also have sought. Will you talk to me a little about it, my friend?”
Siddhartha said: “What could I say to you that would be of value, except that perhaps you seek too much, that as a result of your seeking you cannot find.”
“How is that?” asked Govinda.
“When someone is seeking,” said Siddhartha, “it happens quite easily that he only sees the thing that he is seeking; that he is unable to find anything, unable to absorb anything, because he is only thinking of the thing he is seeking, because he has a goal, because he is obsessed with his goal. You, O worthy one, are perhaps indeed a seeker, for in striving towards your goal, you do not see many things that are under your nose.”
As I have blogged on religion I have become increasingly aware of the importance and limitations of translations. I will use this post to list sources of Herman Hesse’s “Siddhartha“(wiki). If you have other sources, please do share.
German Version: Project Gutenberg: Free On-line
English Translations: (see comparisons here)
Notes & Articles
This will be an annotated index of my posts related to Hermann Hesse’s “Siddhartha”, his short German novel written in 1922. Some posts are only tangentially related to the novel. Those addressing it directly will begin with my cavalier nickname for Siddhartha, “Sid”.
A woman addresses her body
by Moyra Donaldson
For all my talk of soul, it was you
always, sweet little beast, amoral
animal, who showed me the ways
of Love, its passions and crucifixions.
The artist, the anatomist, the poet
and the surgeon, they have seen
the glory in you; you beatified them
in the moments where they believed.
You are my way, my truth, my life;
I am what you have made of me
and still I do not know the limits of you,
or where you will take me next.
About Moyra Donaldson (author):
An Irish poet was born and brought up in Co Down and has been described as one of the country’s most distinctive and accomplished writers.
Many religious traditions within Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism, look down on the body. Only the minority of religions actually celebrate the body. But thank goodness, most people largely ignore their religions. I loved the due awe, given by the author to her body.
Western Buddhism is significantly different from the Buddhism on-the-ground in Asia. If you want detailed examples of the differences, read McMahan’s book “The Making of Buddhist Modernism” for details.
Buddhism in the Orient is full of superstitions, fears and manipulative abuse — much like Christianity can be in the West. To the right is the cover of a Japanese children’s book I picked up when I lived in Japan. It is entitled, “Hell & Heaven”.
So for fun, below I have taken some edifying pictures from the book which are meant to scare children into obeying the teachings of the Buddha (read, their parents and those in authority).
Today is Thanksgiving in the U.S.A. I am thankful for escaping traditions that threaten children with hell.
Horses by Jennifer Gray
The neighbor’s horses idle
under the roof
of their three-sided shelter,
looking out at the rain.
one or another
will fade into the shadows
in the corner, maybe
to eat, or drink.
Still, the others stand,
blowing out their warm
breaths. Rain rattles
on the metal roof.
Their hoof prints
in the corral
open gray eyes to the sky,
and wink each time
another drop falls in.
See more excellent poems in Sabio’s Poetry Anthology
About Jennifer Gray:
“Jennifer Gray has been writing ever since a school assignment in third grade, when she wrote a poem called “Jack Frost” . She spent her childhood roaming the west with her family following the boom-and-bust economy of the oilfield. They finally settled in Bakersfield California where she graduated high school.
Because of an unintentional mix-up with a gang member, she went to live with her grandma in Colorado the summer after graduation. From there she came to Nebraska for college, and except for a brief stint in Texas, Nebraska has been home ever since. Jennifer’s writing is a process of seeking connection and synthesis. Perhaps this is related to a wandering childhood. Her poetry has been featured in the Lincoln Underground, with more work forthcoming in their Autumn and Winter Issues. She has taught English at York College in Nebraska, and is a graduate student in Creative Writing at UNL.” (source, 11/2014)
- My eyes have always been inclined to make puddles and other inanimate objects come to life. This poem does the same while describing the setting beautifully.