Claudia Grinnell

( Monroe, Louisiana )

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On Letting Finches Fly

We walk down Yaowarat Road to Hua Lamphong Railway Station
past pink-domed Mandala Temples.  The air is too wet to
breathe, but the Golden Buddha beckons: almost six tons of pure
gold, accidentally discovered when the outer plaster image
broke.  Why the plaster, we ask the guide.  A disguise 
to conceal the Buddha from Burmese armies threatening Ayutthaya. 
The Buddha's eyes are closed, heavy-lidded, against samsara, 
the six worlds where rebirth can take place--among the gods,
titans, humans, animals, hungry ghosts, and hell worlds.   A few
clouds pass overhead, eyeless, quick like tourists and fat-bellied
shadows, never turning around to witness falling leaves and ashes.
The Buddha's smile: a light present, a jewel in the lotus.
At his feet, merit vendors offer finches for sale.  The birds
sit caged behind bamboo sticks, waiting to be set free by humans
hoping for favorable rebirth.   The chances of being born human: 
Imagine a turtle, the Guru says, at the botton of the ocean, 
rising to the surface once every ten thousand years
at  the exact moment when a ring falls into the water and the 
turtle's head pokes through the ring.  We buy two cages and recite
sutras and mantras and vows on their behalf, 
then lift the bamboo gate and let the finches go.  Our eyes 
briefly suffocate in yellow light as the birds throw 
themselves into the sky, their wings beating against 
the blue.  You hold a lotus bud, a piece of gold leaf, 
two sticks of incense and a clove of garlic and try to think 
good thoughts about liberating the living, intervening 
in the demise of creatures destined for soup pots 
and skeet shoots.  After the ceremony some birds lie dead 
in their cages, casting shadows, and we, drunk with misery 
and heat and the smell of bloody skin strips, 
we remember an autumn of reddening firework trees when we 
braided our hair and conjured adventures.  Now, month after 
month the finches in Bangkok draw last chalk marks 
and then nothing remains but human breath 
and the sun's white-toned slabs.


Late July in Southern Bavaria

In the mornings I feed the swan,
at night the cats.
I walk across the grass
past neglected orchards. 
Here peach trees grow in rusty ovens
and apples fall into cabbage. 
Sometimes I dangle my feet
into icy river water, 
glance at fish, flashing their bellysilver.
I stand close to the bushes
wet feet, after it rained for hours,
still dizzy with the smell of colors
but the bees stay in the hive,
away from the wide mouths
of bursting pink heather.
Perhaps the queen died
suddenly this morning.
I want to ease
the burden of the trees
but the apples are too many.
Sparrows and black snails
and everywhere grass—
fat green grass tingles my feet.
Even on ashheaps
the grass hides and grows
under broken mattresses.
I retreat to the blacktop road
and will soon return.
At home, newspapers are empty
before they arrive
and the trees know nothing
of fire.


Building at Sunrise

A church without a steeple 
reminds you 
that something is always left
to be           done, 
a sound
waiting to be 
even in the mind of God.


Red cat hair in my soup,
and the black, they are yours.
Yes, you haven't been seen
around here a while. Sometimes,
someone comes by and whispers 
your name, I tell them,
I ate him—skin and all
and now he wanders inside me, 
this man, not registered,
unknown to the census
counters, one too many
in this golden city, this green land.



Next - Vicki Hudspith

Current Issue - Winter 2003