Ice Age – a poem by Adrian Schnall

Ice Age

A year of losses and loneliness – 
and for some, despair.
We’re all still grieving 
for someone – and I’m
still living in fear.

A new kind of climate change – 
trees alive with birdsong,
but a feeling of lead in the air. 
A sky that should dazzle the eye – 
but a veil of mist even there.

A poet once said the lost 
are like this – frozen
in spirit, caught in ice.
How to break free,
get to live twice?

I tell myself the birds 
came back long ago from the frost.
Somehow they managed to nest,
even on glaciers.  I love the thought
of them snuggling, breast

to breast, wing to wing.  
It’s how one survives 
an age like this – 
how one keeps alive 
the fire to sing.     

Adrian Schnall is a retired physician and Professor of Medicine (Case Western Reserve U.) whose poetry has been published in Pathogens and Immunity, Poetica, and the Cleveland Plain Dealer.  His poems have been selected for public readings by Choral Arts Cleveland, the Cleveland Museum of Art, Lit Youngstown, Lit Cleveland, and the Island Writers’ Network at Hilton Head.  He lives in Beachwood, Ohio.                   

Baseball with Birds – a poem by Casie Dodd

Baseball with Birds


Tom Merton saw fresh deserts where
most people only sit and stare.
He listened through the surge of blue
that would have threatened to undo
       most men.

But did he ever see the sun
where Clark meets lonely Addison?
Did he try to catch the birds that
hovered over first or third, wet

from Michigan’s half-frozen spray?
Kentucky was too far away.

Casie Dodd lives in Arkansas with her husband and two children. Her writing has appeared in Fare Forward, Ekstasis, Front Porch Republic, and other journals. She is the Founder and Editor of Belle Point Press, a new small press celebrating the literary culture of the American Mid-South.

Aamchi Mai – an essay by D.B. Goman

                                                              AAMCHI MAI

Traveling around India– as I often did pre-pandemic–I try to read as much Indian literature as I can. On one trip, I read a novel in which one of the central characters refers to her mother not just as mai but aamchi mai or “our mother.” Adding the possessive was very important to the girl and her younger sister. They wanted everyone to know– all the time– that their mother was theirs; she belonged to them and they to her. Yes, to the exclusion of everyone else. This habit shed critical light on the physical and psychological boundaries of their inhabited universe.

At the time of reading this passage, I had just completed a few weeks of trekking around Madikeri in the state of Karnataka. Aamchi mai, especially the possessive adjective, resonated with feelings experienced and perspectives adopted both before and during my hikes through the Kodagu hills with their, at times, patchwork of rice paddies or coffee plantations. The walks, along with this seemingly mundane reference from a novel, got me thinking again about ways of thinking about things, ways of inhabiting not just our universe, but also our own individual “universe.”

Because I’m Canadian, those words, aamchi mai, also make me think of native cultures in my own country which thrived before the arrival of European explorers and colonists. Native spirituality referred to the Great Mother from whom all things come and to whom all things must return. Yes, return. And then what? Be reborn? Go to some paradise in the sky? Does it really matter? 

Yes, it does. In reality, it is the matter that really does matter. Because, in fact, the matter that is all things, while it gets transformed into something else in the returning, it– or we– never really stop existing. But obviously our continuation is not how it used to be. For lack of a better word, we get recycled. Is that enough for us?

I think it should be. We don’t really know if “our mother” is unparalleled in the universe. But as far as we know, she’s unique. Life itself is unique. It’s rare. Any form of life in its countless varieties is invaluable. How often, getting caught up in human affairs, do we lose sight of this?  But aren’t we the lucky ones for having evolved to such a degree that we can first marvel at and then actually share through discussion the incomparable beauty of our mother’s creation. Would my lasting forever in this particular human or heavenly form give an added boost to feelings of being special or even superior in light of the ephemeral nature of all other things? Would it intensify my own sense of gratitude, appreciation and perhaps guardianship of the natural world? 

I doubt it. In fact, it might erode it; I might take it for granted. Generally, I think knowing there’s a limited amount of time tends to make a person want to maximize his or her experience of something. Of course, this could, and often does, lead to unbridled gluttony, an approach to living summed up in the phrase, “get as much as you, while you can, at any cost.” No doubt Oscar Wilde was thinking about similar behavior when he referred to those “who know the cost of everything but the value of nothing.” There are far too many supporting examples past and present to offer for that avaricious response to having a short time in our present bodies. But it can also go the other way, a better way for our mother. And in order for it to do just that, I would argue that, as a beginning, we need to experience the awe of nature. Such experiences can be watershed moments that redefine the territorial boundaries that I spoke of earlier. Let me illustrate some powerful moments of mine from around Madikeri.

For a couple of nights our base was outside of a village northwest of Madikeri in the home of a family of rice farmers. It was an absolutely inspiring setting on a hillside overlooking the golden, windswept, ready-to-harvest rice. This was our spot for welcoming in the new year. In the twilight, with the last bit of sun draining off the outstretched jungle leaves that seemed to blush in so many varieties of green, I sat on a bench on the hill above the paddies watching hundreds of swifts in a grand, frenetic choreography. The birds soared from the top of the jungle canopy at the perimeter, diving down to the tasseled husks of rice. Clearly, there was a bounty of insects that kept this mesmerizing display of acrobatics well-fueled. Later, after a simple yet deliciously spiced dinner of various masalas prepared by our adopted mai, followed by a rich cup of local coffee (plantations abound in this area), we headed to the concrete roof of their home, ready to sing in the new year beneath a chorus of braggart stars. 

Looking skyward, it would be enough to say that I was whelmed. It was loud Orion that eventually made me feel the “over” part. Looking so imposing with his hunter’s sword, he just told me, or so I thought, to get stuffed. Physicists tell us that we are all star dust. And you know what that means, don’t you? While I glow in pride, musing about my shared cosmic bonds with  Sappho or Da Vinci or Curie or Chopin, what about the other, less “radiant” multitudes of the family?! Think of a bit by the American comedian, George Burns, who joked that happiness consists of having close ties with family members who live in another faraway city. I feel the same way about brilliant, fraternal constellations light-years away. I’m very happy to enjoy them from a distance.

We were very fortunate to be in the countryside at this time. Not least for all the bees you could see and hear buzzing around the paddies. That’s a good omen (at least, I like to tell myself that despite what we keep learning about hive decimation worldwide). The honey from the hives of Pushad, the son of our hosts, was incredibly tasty. What the bees seemed most interested in captured our interest as well. The rice harvest was on. And the farmers allowed us to learn about all of the processes, which, in this locality, are still done manually and are carried out cooperatively.

Sometimes I find farmers can have an intellectual arrogance. And rightly so. They’re entitled to it. They know so much about things which are essential to our survival. They can be wary and suspicious of the creatures of the city. Fair enough. I also understand that theirs is a body of knowledge of which urbanites can be ignorant and therefore tend to undervalue. We can be shocked when our type of intellectual arrogance comes up against theirs. These local farmers, however, were very hospitable. 

In the heat of the afternoon, their generosity of spirit included sharing some cane liquor nicely warmed up in the sunlight. To go with this, we received a healthy serving of badh, which is a doughy sweet made with either rice or wheat flour to which raisins are often added. This little repast took place after observing and asking questions about the cutting, hauling and threshing of the rice. Not that I have attention deficit disorder, but, at times, there were admittedly deep challenges to keep focused on the lessons. And this was because surrounding us the whole while were some saucy distractions. We were being tantalized, if not solicited, by what could be called the tart trees or, if you prefer, the bordello blossoms: the huge, white, mammary-sized petals of the thorn apple; the orange, crush-your-heart mayflowers; and the red-siren poinsettias. 

Larger mammals or fauna in general you don’t really see in this area, though locals claim that wild elephants, tigers and leopards are out there in the surrounding jungle. Of course you see plenty of domesticated water buffaloes and cows. Not far from a buffalo or cow, you will inevitably find a white egret, welcomed for its facility at picking off harassing parasites from the hide. And what would a white egret be without its contrasting black cormorant. No big deal? Cormorants, you might say, are a species as fecund as flies. But when you see one stretch its wings out and harness the wind to reach the top of a sprawling tamarind tree, it makes you think that at least that particular cormorant is king. I’ll admit, though, that I’m a sucker for any of nature’s panoply of wonders. 

In this region, and while making our way to the tops of Pushpagiri and Tadiyendamol, two of Karnataka’s highest peaks at just under 1800 meters, I witnessed much. And with the witnessing comes the childlike awe of our mother’s own wondrous fertility: a stout kingfisher on an electrical wire preening itself boldly above a field of rice stalks that seemed to sway in appreciation of the fashion show; in the early morning, high up in the branches of a wild mango tree, a family of iridescent green parrots loudly gossiping; on a boulder, a chameleon, seemingly frozen, deliberating over which color it will betray next in order to keep its tongue larded with bugs; as long as my arm, a pale green-yellow rat snake, molting in an irrigation ditch, its delicately tiled tissue of skin a testimony of resilience; a rebellious young monkey hanging by its tail to impress or taunt its mother with its well-guarded handful of fruit; over-sized tadpoles in a creek looking fat as fish for fry; an imperious Western Ghat brown eagle, like the Hindu deity, Garuda, surveying on high for potential disciples below who also happen to be delicious; a quarter moon hanging in the night sky between Venus and Alpha Centauri like a bright white hammock; or a symphony of fireflies sent to tame the darkness with its lyrical glitter. Let me just witness all this and more. Let me just feel and be a part of it. And I will have my thumb in my mouth with drool running down my wrinkling cheeks.

Having said what I did about the ultimate mortality of things doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to continue living in this form. Given that paradise seems to be right here all around us on this spinning sphere of rock in seemingly infinite, dark space, I have no particular appetite for adding my dust to the great bounty of our mother’s dust. Not yet. However, it is important to acknowledge, as the father of the two girls in the novel does as he comes close to his death, that our bodies aren’t really ours; they’re merely on short-term loan to us. But as the loan is in progress and when it ends, how to pay off all that’s owed? 

I believe that the recognition of the finality of things, particularly of us in this form, can and should heighten the appreciation and value we ascribe to all of our evolutionary diverse “relatives” within the embrace of “our mother.” Yes, right now, before it’s too late. Perhaps in that way we can start to pay down the principal and the incalculable interest on our mother’s magnificent loan to us.

Of course, it is a privilege to travel and have such deeply felt responses. It is a privilege, however, which may well have to end for a variety of reasons. Writers such as George Monbiot argue this because, in the “getting to” distant places, the consequences for our mother can be irrevocably dire. But in order to make, at times, those ineffable connections, and thus feel a sense of reverence for our larger “home,” we don’t have to do the sort of traveling that requires flights across vast expanses of water. It can be as simple– and as complex– as paying attention when stepping out into our gardens, or going for walks in a local forest or along a beach, or taking bike rides along a city riverbank. Still, certain problems remain.             

As we all know, increasing numbers of humans are breathing in more oxygen, blithely converting it into carbon dioxide. Perhaps that in itself would be innocuous. But that supply is then added to the myriad of other greenhouse gas sources created through our hungry pursuit of even more space and our consumption of even more of our mother’s finite resources. We humans, however, were given special gifts: a relatively big brain with its complicated consciousness and miraculous abilities like memory, thought, imagination, and language. Our mother was generous to us. She is ours and we are hers. We belong to each other. That’s an important perspective. But it’s only a start. 

Now it’s time to be generous back. And part of that generosity must include knocking down the exclusive, walled community of “we,” encompassing, as it often does, only the human species. Unlike the girls in the novel, aamchi mai has to be seen as the mother of all things, not just ours alone. Then the varied members of our mother’s extended family might in fact have a raging chance– a chance to return to our mother in their own natural time rather than be forced into the dust by us well before their own good night has dawned.      

D.B. Goman is a poet, essayist, photographer, and educator. Poems, essays, and photographs have been published in a variety of print and on-line journals, some of which include Quarry, Orion Magazine, 2River View, Travel Mag (UK), Outside In Literary Travel Magazine, The Literary Bohemian, Eye Magazine, Poetry Montreal, 2 Bridges Review, New Verse News, and Sisyphus Magazine. A  collection of poems will be launched this year, and a YA novel (a nature adventure) is forthcoming next year.

On The Prayer Trail in Ordinary Time – a poem by Denise Pendleton

On The Prayer Trail in Ordinary Time

	 	  Transfiguration Hermitage, 2021


My skis become my wings the snow 
my sky as I fly through it. 
My arms my legs reach, pull 

and kick as I draw one breath in, let one 
breath out, this motion on this first Sunday 
after Epiphany lifting me closer to heaven 

where I am touched by the radiance 
they say can be found there. 
Who cares now what I have left behind 

it is gone into the past
where I’ve done what I could.  Gone 
are the must do’s, what 

I could do, what I haven’t done
to mend my ways or help 
with the troubles of this world.

How I pity those who plod on snowshoes while I 
glide in this element part air made from what 
the sky has given of itself to lift me 

closer to heaven.  Its jewels 
spread before me on snow sunlit
all around the trees.  Their dark bodies 

stripped of leaves or regal in evergreen offer
their own silent witness to my body this gift 
I praise now steering itself between earth and heaven 

spilling out my bodily prayer, silent 
but for the scuff of skis across snow 
its blanket smoothed over winter ground 

otherwise ugly and barren
but now given this icing 
most divine, most extraordinary.

Denise Pendleton is a recipient of The Jinx Walker Poetry Prize of the Academy of the American Poets.  Her poems have appeared in the book collection, American Sports Poems, and various journals including Northwest ReviewTar River Poetry,Goose River Anthology and Kerning.   Pendleton coordinates the local literacy program, teaches college writing and visits the sanctuary of her backwoods most every day.

Sitting on the Steps – a poem by Dharmavadana

Sitting on the Steps


           of my little wooden cabin,
I watch a cloud shrink. The leaves 
           of the hedgerows 
either side of the meadow
           shiver to chattered commands.
Inside, the flames of the gas stove 
           gutter. A moment ago 
the afternoon was clearing. Now 
           more clouds roll up 
like giants’ fists. I hold 
           my own shoulders, 
chilled. Light from the open door 
           falls across the table – 
yellow-white, silver, 
           ash. The kettle rattles, hisses.
What was it
           I was thinking?



Dharmavadana lives in London, UK, where he teaches meditation and creative writing. He is poetry editor of the Buddhist arts magazine Urthona: www.urthona.com. His own poems have appeared in the magazines Prole, Under the Radar, Poetry Salzburg Review, Ambit, The North and The Dawntreader. His short stories have been published in Scribble and Litro.

The Aspirant – a poem by Alicia Viguer-Espert

The Aspirant 


Doves dance in warm air
hands tell the Buddha’s story

with uneven voice not quite manly
a crescent walnut centered in his throat
ascending descending vocal tides 
dive deeper within

unable to get the divine pearl
young fisherman aspiring monk
dreams of Tibetan monasteries 
hoping brass bells’ sweet invitation

the empty bowl on the table
misses nurturing rice 
blessings from the receiver’s
fingered smooth beads 

meanwhile crossed legged on the stern
he quietly notices how life’s pattern     
resembles jelly fish swept away 
by unpredictable ocean currents 



Alicia Viguer-Espert was born and raised in Mediterranean Spain. She combines old and new traditions to elicit hope in her poetry. Her work has been published national and internationally. Winner of the San Gabriel Valley Poetry Contest with ‘Holding a Hummingbird’, her second chapbook Out of the Blue Womb of the Sea, was published by Four Feathers Press.  She’s a twice Pushcart nominee.  

The Guiding Voice – a story by Jared Cappel

The Guiding Voice

Moonlight filters through the canopy of leaves and illuminates the small clearing. The whole tribe is here. The men wear woven grass skirts and necklaces made of jaguar bones, while the women wear dresses made from animal hides.

My father has a scar beneath his ribcage from an old arrow wound. His arms are covered in geometric patterns, which have been carved into his flesh and darkened with ash.

For tonight’s ceremony, everyone plays a precise role. The women chop down small trees and throw them onto a roaring fire. The shaman scrapes the vine of the caapi tree. The men wrestle a boar and hoist its lifeless body onto a spit.

My father dips his fingers into the pig’s flesh and smears the blood onto my forehead. He pounds his chest, looks up to the skies and releases a war cry.

My aunt places the end of a narrow stick into the fire’s embers, then presents it to my father. My uncles grab hold of my wrists, then step on the back of my knees to force me to the ground.

Someone places a mask over my face. Someone else pours a liquid onto my right arm. My father prays to the gods, then tickles the stick over my arm in the traditional intercrossing pattern. 

I scream out in anticipation of the pain that never comes. Someone rips off my mask. It’s my older brother. He’s laughing.

My father points to the markings on the men’s arms. “If you want these stripes, you must earn them.”

The shaman chants something in an unfamiliar tongue. He holds a husk of coconut filled with tea. Steam rises from the liquid, obscuring his face.

I take the husk from his withered hands. There are bits of roots and sap floating in the murky water. It looks like the swampy lowlands after rainfall. The shaman urges me to drink the concoction while it’s still hot.

I choke on the first sip, but the shaman tips the husk and forces down the sludge. My uncles spin me in circles, while the women dance around me, their lips red from the pig’s blood.

My father hugs me. “Go forth my son into the unknown woods.”

The shaman sprinkles a greyish powder onto my chest. “May the spirits guide your way.”

The tribe elder leads me to the edge of our territory. “Do not return until you’ve proven your worth to the tribe.”

I cry out. “Where am I going? When can I come back?” But there are no answers to my questions, only the sounds of the leaves ruffling in the wind.

I have nothing but the grass around my waist, the bones around my neck and the moon shining down upon me. I marvel at the brilliance of the light, so bright, as if daytime.

I see things I’ve never been able to see before. Ants crawling up a vine one hundred paces away. A chameleon mimicking the color of a mossy rock. The outline of a woman’s face etched into the moon.

I feel at one with the dense bush. I see life in the birds, the trees and even the stones. A warmth overtakes me as if ensconced in moonlight. A powerful compulsion drives me forward.

I hear a familiar voice through the tangled vines. “Come with me child, I will show you the way.”

The tangled vines morph into my mother’s thick matted hair. I reach for her hand but I can’t quite grasp it. She has a familiar arrow scar just like my father’s, only her wound is higher, near her heart.

I must get to her. I press my way through the dense bush. The vines’ sharp thorns slice into my flesh. Blood drips down my forearms and stains my hands red. 

I use the shaman’s powder to temper the worst of the bleeding. I emerge through the undergrowth to the bank of a river. I spot my mother’s silhouette rocking in the water. I shout into the wind. “I’m coming!”

I step into the roaring stream. Waves crash against my chest and knock me over. I fall prone and instinctively flail my arms, pulling walls of water behind me.

I manage to wrap my fingertips around the base of her body. But something’s wrong. She’s as hard as stone and as cold as the water. 

The moonlight falls upon her. She’s painted entirely in green. There’s an orange halo fastened to her head with rope. It’s made of a material that feels like the hardened sap of the rubber tree.

I run my fingers along the rope. It leads to a mesh netting that holds a motley of fish. I pull one of the jaguar’s bones from my necklace and use it to slice the net free. I tie the loose ends into a bundle and throw it over my shoulder.  

I look back to the distant shore, trembling, wondering how I swam this far against such a powerful current.

My mother’s voice rings out from the skies. “Hold onto the halo as if it were my hand and I will guide you to the shore.”

I reach for her rubbery orange hand and kick my way through the current towards land. I wash up on the beach coughing water and gasping for air. I look up to the sky for one last glimpse of my mother but a mass of clouds blocks the moonlight.

I lie on the beach until daybreak desperately missing my mother. When the sun rises, I carry the fish back towards camp, eager to share the bounty with my tribe. 

Jared Cappel’s work has been featured in Door Is A Jar, Reflex Press, and Slackjaw, among others. A lover of wordplay, he’s one of the top Scrabble players in North America. Follow the latest at www.jaredcappel.com.

Vessel – a poem by Cassy Dorff

Vessel


Just to look 
at smooth clay curves 
makes me thirsty 
I know 
the healing warmth 
can bring. 
Like hot tears, 
after a guilty 
outburst. Or 
summoning 
sunlit eyelids
to brave the dull, human 
illumination of
a surgery room. 
Hands awoke 
one morning to swirl 
this shape, to lay liquid 
inside me
to keep my throat from 
more apologies 
to keep me 	bright 
in the cavern of my maker’s
sun, to let me rupture—
when ready
into all my finest
pieces.


Cassy Dorff lives in Nashville, Tennessee and teaches courses about politics, data science and writing as an assistant professor of Political Science. Cassy’s poetry is published at Terrain.org and Rust + Moth; academic research publications can be found at the Journal of PoliticsJournal of Peace Research and other outlets.

The Lost Final Chapter of Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha – a story by Wayne-Daniel Berard

The Lost Final Chapter of Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha

Govinda had not stayed.

Wandering had become a way of life for the old monk, if not an addiction, and he found that he could not put it down. Siddhartha merely smiled his gracious and impenetrable smile, made namaste to his friend, and turned to the river.

Siddhartha spent his days ferrying travelers. Most paid him little mind, but more than infrequently Siddhartha would notice the eyes of a weary workman or a well-dressed maven trained upon him, watching the effortless effort with which he allowed pole, ferry, and stream to become one route, one possibility of leaving and arriving. Not for many centuries to come would anyone speak of wave function and collapse, of infinite possibilities folding into one actuality under the watchful gaze of an intender. All these travelers knew was that there was something smoothly magical, soothingly graceful about the way the ferry and its ferryman seemed to depart, traverse, and arrive, as if results were coming of their own accord.

Siddhartha spent his nights on his mat in the hut he had shared with Vasudeva, his predecessor and friend, and for a brief while with his son and with Govinda. Siddhartha felt no loneliness; the voice of the river filled him constantly with the demandless companionship of its word, rippling in and through him like breath – Om.  In the morning, his feet would walk these ripples like flagstones of peace down to the mooring where the travelers waited. 

Then, one morning Siddhartha was awakened especially early by a sound he did not remember hearing before – or rather a variation on a theme that he both recognized and did not. In the ascending mist of the already warm day, Siddhartha made his way to the riverside. He sat with both knees pulled to his chin like a child and watched the layers of light appear over the river’s far shore. Everything was very still, and then Siddhartha heard it again – a variance familiar but yet entirely new. The river still spoke the sacred Om, but the tone seemed to be enshrined in a beginning and a departure, as between two doors of entrance and furtherance.

Siddhartha approached right to the water’s lip; there it was again! A word that encompassed Om, centered on it, at the same time as it beckoned and released.

Come.    

Without hesitation, Siddhartha pressed his bare feet into the river’s edge. The water was cold but still incredibly inviting. Siddhartha realized that he had never actually stepped into the river; although he had listened to it intently for years, he had only ferried across it, only skimmed its surface. As a boy, he had accompanied his Brahmin father on his morning ablutions, but even then, they had ventured only ankle-deep, cupped and returned water to its sacred currents, and withdrawn.    

Siddhartha heard once more the variation on the river’s theme: Come. The invitation, a soft imperative, seemed to travel like energy up from his submersed ankles to his calf muscles, knees, and thighs; to move up, vertebra by vertebra, his spine, before coming to rest at the very rim of his brain, ready to spill over in the same way that mind overflows thought, will, and impression.

Almost unconsciously but never so conscious, Siddhartha waded deeper into the river. Like so many in his land, he had never learned to swim, but he soon found himself waist-deep in the soft, supportive current, and lay back, allowing it to uphold him, to secure his breath above its surface.

“How lovely!” Siddhartha thought to himself. “For years we have courted each other, the river and I. Its voice rang through me like that of a lover. Now we hold each other. What had been idea is now touch; the distance that was no-distance enfolds.” And Siddhartha immersed himself, head, shoulders and all, beneath the surface of the water. He bobbed back up like a cormorant or an otter, and laughed out loud!

Siddhartha surrendered himself entirely to the river. He began to float leisurely down its stream. Where would it take him? He did not know; it was not even a question he could form. Life was this, had always been this, and it was no more possible to separate oneself and ask “Where?” or “Why?” than it was to divide breath from breath.

Siddharth did not know – could not conceive of knowing – how long he had been floating past luxurious trees dipping the tips of their hair into the river or by the little huts and drying nets raised oh-so deferentially along its banks. He was accompanied only by the water bugs that walked like miraculous gurus across the surface of the stream, and by an orange-spotted turtle or two, sunning themselves on islands of temporality, subject to the river’s flux.  

As the line across the lowering sky began to match the turtles’ spots, the river seemed to gently steer Siddhartha into shallower and shallower waters near the shore, until he felt the cushion of a thousand tiny, smooth-worn stones upon his back, and he knew it was time to stand. Effortlessly, Siddhartha came to the river’s sandy shore, each impression of his steps immediately filled from within by the saturation of fluid solidity. A few steps into the beach grass, which bore Siddhartha no sharpness, and he could easily pick a fruit of the banana tree from its cascading clusters. He ate. The afterglow of wandering sun coming to know sensuous stability was fading now, as if behind a discreetly drawn shade. Siddhartha pulled a banana frond over himself and slept. 

He awoke to the sound of laughter and scurrying. A group of young people was spreading blankets by the riverside, preparing to picnic and to swim before the day became too hot.  Baskets of roti and small earthenware bowls of various chutneys were placed about. The girls giggled and chatted with each other, while the boys tried to look unflappable and very adult. 

Siddhartha did not want to startle them; he rolled a bit from side to side beneath his banana frond, stretched out his arms and yawned. The small crowd of teenagers became very quiet; slowly Siddhartha stood up and smiled at them. Clothed only in a loincloth, still such figures were not unfamiliar in his land, where Samanas wandered in and out of the forests. Siddhartha made namaste to the young people and proceeded to the river, where he cupped his hands and drank. 

“Swamiji,” a young woman addressed him, “would you like to eat with us?”

Siddhartha shared his thanks and sat on his haunches at the end of the blanket, nibbling at a bit of the thin flat bread.

No one seemed to know what to say, until one young man piped up. “I know you,” he said. “Aren’t you the ferryman from the crossing upstream?”

“I was,” Siddhartha smiled benignly. “Once I crossed the river back and forth many times a day. Now I live within it, and we follow its course together.”

And Siddhartha proceeded to speak about the voice of Om, of the countless days and nights in which he had heard it, proclaiming the Oneness of all things, the non-existence of Time, the approval of every Path.

“When I had listened long enough, when the Voice of the river had become my Voice, I felt in my depths one final invitation. From ‘Om’ emerged ‘Come.’ I stepped into the river, as one with it in the body as I was in my essence, my Atman. Since then, we have flowed along together, the river and I — such had it always been, although I had not known it, and often had attempted to pass over or plow upstream against its currents.  After this joined meal, I will reenter the river and we will be on our Way.”

“But . . .  but it’s dangerous!” another young man sputtered. “There are crocodiles and rocks! You could drown out there?!”

Siddhartha merely smiled his wise, perhaps mocking, delicate smile. “Oh, I have drowned many times already, my friends. The person you see before you is and is not Siddhartha; he has been and will yet be again. The river has already and always been everything, and so have I. Many times have I crossed over; now I immerse within and among. I thank you for your hospitality. Om Shanti.” 

And with that, Siddhartha waded back into the river until he reached its depth and floated off beyond a bend in its course.

The young people merely stood there stunned, except for one. The young lady who had invited him to eat said to herself, “There is an opening for a ferryman — or ferrywoman,” and without a further word began to walk toward the crossing. 

Once more, Siddhartha settled himself into the watery assurance of the river, although, truth be told, he felt he had never left it. Slowly and leisurely he began to drift downstream; at a particularly wide bend, Siddhartha enjoyed a vista stretching many miles ahead of him. He thought he saw mountainous islands lush in voluptuous patterns off in the far distance.

Soon, the pace of the river began to increase. Siddhartha moved faster and faster; rocks began to break the surface more often and the voice of the river became a roar. Siddhartha was one with the rapids.

The river raced and dove and swirled, and Siddhartha did the same. But panic seemed something completely foreign to him. Equanimity rode these waves and he submerged into an even deeper peace each time the river pulled him into itself. His surface and the river’s surface were one in the same; his depths were its depths; the whorl of current and counter-current saturating his senses were that of his own life and all the lives he had ever lived, all that any ever could.

Thrust back into the air like a glistening newborn, Siddhartha’s body would bounce upon rocks and outcroppings in the river, but he felt no pain. It was if his entire being travelled in a way akin to light itself. He was wave-Siddhartha, his energy flooding over and past any obstacle; at the same time each gleaming particle of Siddhartha passed through all it encountered like energy yielding to itself.

Soon enough, this part of the ride was over; the river calmed itself, and Siddhartha once more emerged from its bank onto dry land. He felt tired and exhilarated and exalted as he stepped into the forest, his back to the sunset as it turned the air to blush. 

As he walked mindfully on, he heard a rustling and a sighing, a catching of the breath and a tumbling like rock upon water. Through the trees, he could see a couple in the postures and transport of passionate love. 

“How much like the river-rapids this is!” he thought to himself. “The lovers, too, swirl upon and dive deep into each other. Hardness and fluidity are as much one for them as are the rocks and waves. And the eternal Om flows through it all; it is simultaneously all Love and these two specific lovers alone.” 

Not wanting to startle, Siddhartha began to softly chant a song he recalled hearing in his youth,

We travelled down the still river in the evening.

The acacia stood in the color of rose, casting its light,

The clouds cast down rose light, but I scarcely saw

    them.

All I saw were the plum blossoms in your hair. *

Siddhartha kept his eyes averted, but smiled to himself at the frantic stirring of clothes, legs, and escape! Reaching the spot, he found the blanket the two had left behind in their haste. He wrapped himself in it like night sky and proceeded to sleep.

Morning followed night, and evening, day; phrases such as “How long?” and “How far?” lost all meaning for Siddhartha. The river seemed interminable and immediate, and so did he. 

At one point, Siddhartha was pulled from his reverie by the sound of loud and frantic voices. Looking to his left and right, he saw men and women waving their arms at him, shouting; some were jumping up and down. Siddhartha merely smiled peacefully and continued to trust the river.

Soon the shouts from the shore were drowned out by a rumbling like a hundred angry bulls. The river’s speed increased tenfold and Siddhartha could no longer see the horizon; all was angry mist, a fog that seemed to rise from some enraged, watery depth to which even Siddhartha was not held privy. For a moment, the mists parted and Siddhartha saw before him nothing but sky. The river had reached its falls.

In an instant, Siddhartha was flying through the air, exploding cascades pouring at his back. The Brahmin’s son felt completely free, of earth and water, of gravity and mass. For the first time since entering the river, everything stood still and he was suspended in an Eternal Moment, in the Now that was Definition Point and No Point at All, Everything and No Thing. 

Did Siddhartha slice through the basin of the falls like a thin blade of grass, so accelerated, so exhilarated it was as one dimension bisecting three? Or did the plunge-pool rise to meet Siddhartha, suspended in mountain pose, legs together, shoulders aligned, crown balanced over karma? In either case or both, Siddhartha buoyed up from the falls, shook the droplets from his hair and eyes, and looked.

The river had widened interminably, majestically; Siddhartha could no longer see either shore. Across and around him stretched entire fluidity, infinite potential. Waves became more pronounced now, their whitecaps matching and completing Siddhartha’s own hair and beard. The water tasted of salt, and although he had never felt any sinking danger, Siddhartha’s surety of uplift was now complete. 

“I am a wave,” Siddhartha said to himself, like invocation, like an article of faith.

The river laughed – or rather, Siddhartha was himself the laughter of the river, the delight of Om.

“You’re not a wave!” the laughter rechristened him from the inside out, the liquidity of Siddhartha. “You’re water!”

Siddhartha could see that what he had once thought were islands were truly clouds, piled high upon each other. Billows of possibility.

One final iteration, one last and opening variation on the Sacred Sound filled Siddhartha’s being. It enfolded Om and released it; it was invitation and destination, Self and Sea.

Siddhartha heard it. Siddhartha was it.

Welcome.”

* From Hesse’s poem, “An eine chinesische Sängerin,  “To a Chinese Girl Singing, translated by James Wright, 1970.

Wayne-Daniel Berard, PhD, teaches Humanities at Nichols College, Dudley, MA. He publishes broadly in poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. His poetry chapbook, The Man Who Remembered Heaven, received the New Eden Award in 2003. His non-fiction When Christians Were Jews (That Is, Now), subtitled Recovering the Lost Jewishness of Christianity with the Gospel of Mark, was published in 2006 by Cowley Publications. A novel The Retreatants, was published in 2012 (Smashwords). A chapbook, Christine Day, Love Poems, was published in 2016 (Kittatuck Press). His novella, Everything We Want, was published in 2018 by Bloodstone Press. A poetry collection, The Realm of Blessing, was published in 2020 by Unsolicited Press. 

Letters to a Poet – a poem by Martin Willets Jr

Letters to a Poet

(With lines, in italics, from Rainer Maria Rilke’s The Book of Hours)
For Wally Swist

2.

The Creator is not contingent upon us.
The whole universe awakened
when the Creator spoke a single word.

All of creation is the Creator’s inexhaustible fulfillment
of continuous making
and unmaking.

Right now, we are being worked upon —
cells dying and being replaced.
We are coaxed into changing,
and we cannot escape or prevent the changes.

In the book of our hours,
we are being written, revised
The music of our lives sing us forward.
We cannot control any of this.
My senses tremble.

My vision is ripe for seeing. My third eye is aware,
even in the blinding light that is the Creator.

I shall not fear darkness.
Although my days grow shorter

into the long shadow of my own winter,
I find ambient light.

I have been touched by death,
and I have been allowed to walk into another day.
I have no fear of whatever is ahead.

I am at peace where I have been
and where I am going. Although I cannot see
what is ahead, like before turning sheet music
to see the rest of the composition,

the universe and I have grown together.
The Creator’s music is my music;
my story is part of the Creator’s story —
and now, I’m being spoken into life.

Martin Willitts Jr is a Quaker poet. He has over 20 full-length collections including How to Be Silent (FutureCycle Press, 2016); Unfolding of Love (Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2020); and forthcoming Leaving Nothing Behind (Fernwood Press, 2022). He is an editor for The Comstock Review.