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Katherine Riegel

THE BUDDHIST’S DILEMMA

 

Friends, I am weak.

Right now I would hand over my left carotid

for a pint of that ice cream I love so much, dark purple

with hunks of chocolate that gets even more

alluring the longer I eat it, like the beauty

I had in my twenties and will never

have again. Right now instead of my numerous

duties I would lie on my back on the floor and live

in ceiling land for hours, like I did

without regret as a child in the slanted light

coming in through the glass door. Oh,

I would fly to my sister’s farm so many

states away just to circle my arms

around a horse’s neck. Friends, I would walk

on my knees in the snow for someone’s hand

dexterous against my flesh. If I could

I would become one unthinking machine

of appetite and desire, all mouth. But I am broken

bones and tissues filling with blood. This

is what I need: to consume

the dark and grass-covered world. To be

shriven of my self-tied anchoring ropes.

To both deny and utterly believe

in the end of wanting.

 

 

MERCY

 

A woman, chased by a tiger, climbs down a vine over a cliff. Mice start to chew the vine. With death by tiger above and death by falling below, she notices a strawberry growing next to her, picks it, and eats it—the sweetest thing she has ever tasted.

—old Buddhist story

 

I’m so tired of tending to this body, how its claims

fill up my time more and more

as the decades pass, not just

sleep and food and movement anymore but

doctor’s visits and prescriptions that must be

picked up and refilled and check-ups and blood

tests and cracking heels and crackling

joints and the slowdown of everything muscular

even the brain especially

the brain as possibility shrinks to something

limited, just the one

field left in which to find four leaf clovers, just

ordinary life, no flying

cars despite what they promised us back

in the 1970s, no telekinesis,

no magic to heal my poor

silly dog who is thirteen now and all these days lost

to waiting in line oh Buddha I know

I should eat the strawberry really taste its miracle

in the moments before the tiger or the fall get me

but please I’m begging you send

the tiger soon let it crash

through the waiting room overturning

the hard plastic chairs and coming

straight for me with its cat breath

and tongue as red as strawberries.

 

 

WHAT BREATH IS

 

Why do I forget, over and over, to open

that window inside so the wren trapped in me

can make a dash for the open air, beat

its wings harder than any small feathered thing

and climb through green exhalations

towards the territory of hawks,

 

strain upwards fiercely enough to clutch

at clouds—oh the exhaustion of it, the hard

transformations that must carry a tiny brown bird,

my heart, out past the airplanes and the real air

into the vast imaginations of the stars—and then

 

forget, again, what breath is, and so sleep,

and wake to find myself

curled on the couch under the touch

of just one star fingering

its tentative way into my hair

like a lover saying remember, saying

we will see each other again?

 

 

Katherine Riegel's first book of poetry is Castaway. Her second, What the Mouth Was Made For, is forthcoming in early 2013. Her poems and essays have appeared in numerous journals, including Brevity, Crazyhorse, Fourth Genre, and Terrain.org. She is co-founder and poetry editor for Sweet: A Literary Confection and teaches at the University of South Florida.