cold mountain (40) (41)


it seems we can’t stop laughing
from the east and from the west

Crossing the street, the habit to look from right to left is so ingrained that I don’t even notice my gaze’s lateral glide. Until the day I forget, and walk blindly toward the middle. Do you have a death wish? a friend gasps, yanking my elbow back as my first foot lands just above the gutter, the impulse toward motion already carrying my body’s weight off the curb. Startled, my lips form a word: No… But my voice is silent. There was a moment of freedom from the predatory caution that keeps us well-heeled, between the lines, scanning the horizon. There was a moment when neither life nor death was what mattered.


whenever their final day arrives

She stood at the front of the assembly in full robes, the bell and drum in her hands. We settled and re-settled on our cushions, alternately bent over books of liturgy or watching her. Ring the bell. Strike the drum. We are learning to keep the passages between this life and the next, to wail and coax the spirits this way and that. She promises to teach us, to give us a key: our own voice, interwoven with the instruments. But when she keened, like the wind around a door, I was shocked to hear her use her own name for the deceased. We are told time and again not to tempt the consciousness into an unknown space before its time. The body anchored on the earth but the mind freed from the flesh: madness can follow. Only the truly dead should have their names sung into the ritual. But here she was, the muscles of her throat contracting and pulling, her voice extending her mortality like a Jacob’s ladder, weaving a strange bridge through the veils between the worlds. I shivered, looked down at the book in front of me. The bells rang on, like an alarm.


Chinese and English, pp. 62-63, here.


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