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Mar 29, 2016 | 0 comments

A Survey of the Sacred

by Isabella David McCaffrey

paradise

“Little Garden of Paradise,” tempera on wood, by the Upper Rhenish Master, circa 1420.

A Survey of the Sacred

She says, “To write poetry about sacred spaces,
I must understand what I mean by sacred spaces.”

Does she mean a golden palace like Shewadagon
Pagoda, built like a funeral flame crossing a dark river
Of night?

She’s not sure, but she shakes her head, “No,
I don’t mean a palace, golden or otherwise.”

Be warned, we tell her. It holds the relic of
Four Buddhas, and there is great beauty in
Beholding their blessed expressions of peace.

“That’s more like it,” she says, “but not
Exactly what I have in mind.”

There is the Lotus Temple in India, we say,
If what she requires is more modern, useful,
Literal—an official sacred space
With gardens semi-attached.

“Oh no,” she says, “I love the marigolds of India,
Don’t get me wrong, and the Taj Mahal is the
Epitome of love. And having tasted the lip-smacking
Delectation that is the mutton burra at Karim’s…”

“Anyway,” she shakes her head,
“That’s still not what I mean.”

There are the Abu Simbel temples of Egypt,
Who, in their colossi will buckle the knees.
That is the grandeur of god in the greatness of stone.

“I would bow indeed,” she says, “but I don’t think
We’re on the right track. Sometimes, I feel it,”
She confesses, “in the spring near daybreak, when I
Sit in my garden and watch the crocus blossom.”

“But it isn’t in my garden either; it’s in my heart,
A crocus, too, blossoming anew. That’s corny and
Not so grand, yet closer to what I mean, I think.”

Ah, madam, we tell her don’t overlook a boat ride along the ghats
Of Varanasi at dawn, where the faithful come to bathe
And meditate. But she shuts her door. The survey ends.

*

L’Enquête des Terres Sacrées

Elle dit, “Pour poétiser sur les Lieux Sacrés,
je dois comprendre ce que je veux dire
par Lieux Sacrés.”

Elle veut parler d’un palais d’or comme celui de la
Pagode de Shewadagon, construit comme une flamme
funéraire traversant la rivière sombre de la nuit?

Elle n’est pas sure. Mais elle secoue la tête. “Non,
dit-elle, “Ce n’est pas un palais,
d’or ou d’autre métal précieux.

Sois avertie, nous lui disons. Ce palais contient
les reliques de quatre Bouddhas, et la contemplation
de leurs saintes expressions de paix sereine est d’une grande beauté.

“C’est plus cela,” dit-elle, “mais ce n’est pas
encore tout à fait ce que j’ai à l’ésprit.

Il y a le Temple du Lotus en Inde, disons-nous,
si ce qui lui importe c’est plus la modernité, l’utilité,
le réalisme—un espace sacré officiel
avec des jardins jumelés.

“Oh no, dit-elle. “J’adore les lotus d’Inde,
ne vous meprenez pas, et le Taj Mahal est
l’incarnation de l’amour. Et ayant goûté
avec délectation l’alléchant Mutton Burra chez Karim’s…”

“Quoi qu’il en soit, “dit-elle en secouant la tête,
“ce n’est pas ce que je veux dire.”
Ils y a les Temples de Abu Simbel de l’Egypte
quiconque les voit sentira ses jambes ployer devant leurs colossales statues—
c’est la grandeur de Dieu dans la grandeur de la pierre.

“Je m’inclinerai effectivement,” dit-elle, “mais je ne pense pas
que nous sommes sur la bonne voie. Parfois,
je pense que ça existe,” avoue-t’elle, “dans le printemps
près de l’aube, quand je m’assied dans mon jardin et regarde
la fleur de crocus s’ouvrir.

Mais ce n’est pas dans mon jardin non plus;
c’est dans mon coeur, un crocus également, qui s’ouvre
de nouveau. C’est banal et pas si original,
mais plus proche de ce que je veux dire, je pense.”

Ah, madame, nous lui disons, cela peut étre aussi
une promenade en bateau le long des ghats de Varanasi
au point du jour, où les fidèles viennent se baigner
et méditer … Mais elle ferme la porte.
L’enquête est terminée.

Ω
Isabella David McCaffrey’s work has appeared in Best of Black Heart Magazine, The Lascaux Review, Adbusters, Slippery Elm, Every Day Fiction, and elsewhere. She was longlisted for the Venture Award and is the winner of Tampa Review’s 2014 Danahy Fiction Prize. Her first chapbook, The Voices of Women, has just been released by Finishing Line Press.

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