1. India, 2012
I am old and growing deaf.
Hearing aids do not work
Except to make my mother
Easier to hear.
Mother died today, so I heard,
Or was it yesterday?
I had the news on Monday
But it was Sunday there–I cannot comprehend.
She died on Sunday: You
Didn’t get the word until the next day in India.
Your confusion was not
Because you were distant from her, did not feel,
But because of the basic science of time
And because you were in different places in time
Should I have been with you when you died?
Should I not have gone to India?
Did you want me with you and not some stranger?
Or did you want me far away?
Should I have lived with you for the nearly three years?
Should I be saying kaddish every day?
Should I have been the one to care for your body
Instead of people I paid?
What do I do with my life now?
Should I be crying more?
Is something wrong with me? Why
Do I need to go
Far away and into different religions
To connect with you?
2. Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, Srirangapatna, India, 2012
What does it mean to pay a man
Ten rupees to dance for you
To let go, release your soul, and die,
And all the man can say
Is the word MOTHER? Did he even know
What the word meant?
This man danced in a temple
Whose inner sanctum I was not allowed to enter.
First among Vishnu temples,
Vishnu the preserver.
But here the dance was not
To preserve you,
At least not for a longer,
More conscious life
For a peaceful death.
What does it mean
That you died the day after he danced,
Sunday morning in India, Saturday evening
In California? All I know
Is that twenty-four hours later
You would be dead. Did he help you die?
Was there a connection?
Was it his dancing, or his shaved head and ponytail?
3. Rock Fort Temple, Madurai, India, 2012
I could not enter the inner sanctum of
The Rock Fort Temple either
Though perhaps I did,
But outside a group of women were dancing
Indian women never looked happier
Whom I also asked, through their male chaperone,
To dance for my mother two days before she died,
My mother who loved to dance.
And who, if she could have,
Would have joined in, and who
Perhaps did, transported in spirit.
Or perhaps she manifested
Her spirit in the eleven women in saris
Or even, though not her style,
Manifested the actual women
To release your soul, to let go.
Was there a connection between these women, this place,
And you? Were you dying even then
And so they danced with you, guiding you
To, into, death? This temple contains a Shiva Temple,
Shiva, the god of dance and death. Is this temple a vortex
Connecting directly to a higher place
Like Varanasi, whose dead are not reborn.
I do not know. No one knows or knows its purpose.
4. Meenakshi, Temple, Madurai, India, 2012
In this temple, so beautiful as to bring tears to my eyes,
Musicians were calling you to let go:
Beatrice, Beatrice, You have led a wonderful, generous life.
Given so much,
You have been so good a soul,
Now it is time to let go and be welcomed
To the holy space after death, in death.
We are celebrating your life now and want to celebrate it more.
You have been
Such an exemplary human being,
Now is the time to arise
From your near-dead body
Go to heaven
And join the company of the select few
Beatrice, Beatrice, you finally will be able
To join Clara, your mother. She will be so glad
To see you again. We know you don’t believe
In heaven, or an afterlife, but we still want to celebrate
Your life anyway.
It is not a trick to get you to let go the life and people you loved.
We are sincere. Join us, Beatrice. Let go. We will carry you up
And out on a silver palanquin or bed.
Beatrice, Beatrice, here you are smiling
And laughing like your old self, kind of
Mocking yourself and the whole process
But going along anyway for the ride and the fun,
As you always did. Indulge us, Beatrice,
And join the others in heaven. Sit
Next to the Supreme Being you don’t and didn’t believe in
Or at least one of the angels.
Maybe you will even dance
With Shiva Himself
Who will dance you away
To the next world.
Come with us.
Come to us.
5. Conference of the Birds, Koyasan, Japan, 2013
All day it has been raining.
I have seen no birds.
Mother is waiting
For the sun to come out.
Bird in the hand
Bird in the bush
Do not let them
Box you in.
Two ducks swim quietly–
My mother and stepfather.
Are you happy, my mother?
What will you teach me today?
I dream of flocks of birds
Darkening the sky. Today
Is a dark day thinking of those flocks
Of my mother.
Pairs of birds
That mate for life.
They squabble and ruffle their feathers.
Then swim away as if nothing happened.
I know I will see
At least one bird today
What do you do
When each time you see a bird
You think of your mother
I walked through Okunoin Cemetery in Koyasan
By day and by night.
Five times in four days.
I saw no birds.
6. The Guardian, Koyasan, Japan, 2013
In the small temple
Next to the tomb of the
Buddhist saint Kobo Daishi in Okunoin Cemetery
I spoke with the strongman
Guarding my mother as she
Moved from death
To the next world.
Who are you? I asked.
What is your purpose? Are you good or bad?
All muscle, including your heart?
I do not understand your nature
Since you also stand before the compassionate Buddhas
In the temple in Kyoto even before the big bronze Bodhisattva.
Is he hurting you?
What is his purpose?
How are you?
Where are you?
I will not ask
Who are you?
Orange lanterns hang around me.
A priest prays before me.
The tourists are still asleep.
I have the place to myself. Quiet.
Just you, your guardian,
The priest praying for the souls of
Other people’s loved ones, and me.
I am guarding your mother
From you. It is not good
For you to mourn so much
That you pull your mother
From her path-after-death.
She will leave herself and go to you,
Which is not good.
Because you need to live your life
And she needs to live her death.
I protect you too, from losing yourself
In death, in her death, so that you yourself
Might die to the life you must live
To honor your mother.
And to your mother I say I am guarding you
From reaching out too much to your son
So that you lose yourself
In life, in the world of the living,
In his life. and pull him from life,
From his life to death to the world of death,
To your death, to yourself in death. She is peaceful where she is.
If she knows you are in too much pain
This will interrupt her, and she will no longer be serene
But will awaken and be in a hell
For people who are dead and mourn so much
For their loved ones who are alive
That they wake up and become living dead.
And you will become a dead living.
I am fierce-looking but a gentle guardian deity.
My purpose is noble.
I have sworn
To postpone my own final samadhi
To guide the dead until they disembody,
Merge with the universal soul.
While your mother looks forward
You do not
And cannot not,
At this point.
Your mother is still who she is, alive,
With her individuality.
Conceiving of her
Without her individuality is impossible for you
Because if it weren’t the pain would be too great
For you to bear. I am protecting her from your desire
To keep her personified so she can depersonify.
And I am protecting her from repersonifying
So as to protect you from your own depersonification.
Although I look mean and scary,
If I didn’t look that way,
You wouldn’t be afraid.
You would lose yourself in your mother
Which would only make her lose herself in you
Which would mean she would interrupt her process
Within the world of death.
In this temple, your mother is the soul
In every orange lantern. Your mother is in the lanterns
Hanging outside this and the other temple.
The people reciting sutras under the outside lanterns
Are praying for your mother,
Praying for her transition to the next world
To go smoothly, for your transition to have the least pain.
I am on both your sides. I protect both of you.
Eventually she will become one
With all life, and with inanimate matter too.
She will remain in you as a memory, as pure energy
And consciousness, to picture, to talk to, to ask
Advice of, to remember to talk about, to
Make part of yourself, as you will.
See me as a friend of you both. Without me,
Without something to balance the lovingkindness
Between you both, providing a boundary, a wall,
There would be no life separate from death,
And no death separate from life, which
For each to be its own nature.
7. Coda, Koyasan, Japan, 2013
I dare not go to India again
Where each temple, each mosque, each tomb
Has a conference of birds–thousands of birds.
That just would be too much.
8.Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, Srirangapatna, India, 2015
And yet I did go again to India
In 2014 and 15
Revisiting the Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple
Where a lovely little girl came up to me and looked
At the photos I had brought of my mother
And I thought this is my mother reborn
But as with my mother’s death the timing was off:
The girl was too old to have been born in 2012
When my mother died
But what the heck
Maybe like my mother she just grew up very fast