We’re devoting this special week to
spirituality and poetry. ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm is traveling
in Asia and our special guest writer this week is Illinois-based poet
TODAY through Friday, we are publishing in three parts a
wonderful piece about Judith’s own exploration of monastic values —
and its interrelationship to her vocation as a poet. Each day, we’ll
learn more about her spiritual journey, her reflections on that
unfolding journey — and the poetry she has been inspired to write.
AND NOW, Part 2 of Judith Valente’s series:
BUILDING A MONASTERY OF THE HEART:
A Poet Discovers Meaning in Ancient Monastic Wisdom
Attentiveness, listening, leaning into
the mystery I find are also good guideposts in navigating changes in
relationships as well.
In 2005, I married for the first time. And I
like to joke that I became a wife, a stepmother and a step-grandmother
all in the span of six months. Some would say that’s the lazy way
of doing it!
I first met my husband, I was especially looking forward to getting
to know my younger stepdaughter. She was in college then, an art major
and who also liked writing fiction. I was very excited thinking we’d
hit it off because we have a lot in common.
Well, I was wrong. Wrong
to think just because I’m a nice person, and we shared common interests
that Meghan would welcome me into her life. Things remain rather distant
and tense between us to this day. I’ve written some poems that mention
my stepdaughter. And they have become my way of telling her that I care
for her in a way that I feel I can’t yet tell her personally, because
the time is not right.
One of the poems I wrote for her is called “Kome
Loy.” Meghan is a very talented photographer and I was awe-struck
by some of the photographs she had taken while living and teaching in
Thailand for a year. There was a photograph of the Kome Loy ceremony,
which takes place at the end of the year, in which the Thai people release
paper lanterns fueled by hot air into the atmosphere. It’s a way of
releasing the bad things, the bad kharma of the previous year.
interesting in the poem is how Meghan and I looked at the same photograph,
and yet we both saw very different things in it, which is quite revealing
of our relationship.
Three pairs of hands rise disembodied against a blank November
sky in the black and white photograph my stepdaughter Meghan has snapped.
It is the night of the northern Festival of Lanterns. Chiang Mai.
First full moon of the twelfth lunar month.
She has steadied her grip, slowed the shutter speed to an eighth of a second
to catch the instant the hands thrust the rice paper lanterns into hot air flight.
Hands raised in prayer, I say. Creepy apocalyptic, she says. Like some
cult worship thing.
The torches release the sins and pain of the past year: the broken bones, benders, infidelities, wagers gone bad, here in the land to of the ‘lucky’ this, the ‘paradise’ that,
where even the dead prawns tossed on ice in Chiang Mai’s outdoor market
are prized for their happy eyes.
My stepdaughter teaches art to teenagers at the Prem Tinsulananda
International School. She has fashioned a dark room from scraps: two basins, a clothes line, tin food trays.
I wish I could remove the worm of pain from her heart as deftly as
the fingers, shining like filaments, float these paper ghosts on a sea of chilly moonlit air.
Tonight at the doll house temple, I will leave an offering of jackfruit,
plate of sticky rice, thumbleful of whiskey. I have heard the gods drink whiskey.
AND SO ENDS Part 2 of this series.
COME BACK TOMORROW for Part 3.
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