Long Postcard for Wallace Stevens
Black robed Buddhist monks run like witches down Pine Street in San Francisco. When I close my eyes, I see them multiplied, filling the hilly street, running toward the ungodly screams of what one monk calls a street worker. My brain has to work a little before I realize she means prostitute. Dear Mr. Stevens, you must be wondering where I am. You see, I’m a some time fan of the Wednesday Dharma talks at the San Francisco Zen Center. The question at hand is how to deal with our feelings about violence, especially its perpetrators.
The previous week, four young men were shot and killed while sitting in a stolen car across the street from the Zen center, near the projects. The monks at today’s Dharma talk speak about how they felt when they heard the shots fired. Almost all went out to investigate and see if they could help.
But the young men were dead and the perpetrators gone. There was nothing to do but hold a prayer vigil. (I’m sure there was no ice cream.) At the vigil, one of the monks passed a candle to the person next to her. Their eyes locked—they knew each other.
“Were you here at the center twenty years ago when the monks saved that woman that was attacked?” the woman asked.
The monk nodded, remembrance coming like fuzzy cotton.
“Was it you?” she asked the monk.
Twenty years earlier, black robed monks had run down Pine Street to save a woman from her attacker. “We must have looked like witches running down that hill,” she laughs. She thinks about a time when she was able to save someone from the violence of the world. There was nothing to do now but hold a prayer vigil, talk about feelings at this Wednesday Dharma talk.
Ani Tascian is a second year MFA student at St. Mary's College in Moraga, California. She does most of her writing in Berkeley, on a reclaimed pine wood farm table her father made. She is currently working on her first memoir.