GREEN HALLELUJAHS "The voice of Zen is too lean and cold" Chiang Shang Hua A Chinese Woman in Iowa The voice of Zen is too lean and cold though I longed for it. My religion was rounded as ample bosoms encased in flowered dresses sticking to slick pews the color of Log Cabin syrup. Sweaty as men in shirt sleeves mopping their foreheads. Loud as the clammy heart thudding "while every head is bowed and every eye is closed. I see that hand. I see that hand.” The scent of Zen is too absent and saffron though I savored it. My religion was crowded with smells tuna casseroles and roll on deodorant, too much aftershave, pink clouds of White Shoulders, never the alluring bite of My Sin. Religion tasteless, soggy as Styrofoam wafers dissolving on the tongue, redeeming nothing. The flesh of Zen is too taut and big though it aroused me. My religion was small as promised forgiveness teetering in tiny glasses, purple tinkles in heavy stainless steel. No room in this religion for curly hair escaping a swimsuit on the minister's wife, her sagging upper thigh white as a sepulcher. The mind of Zen is shady and webbed, too trapped in its head-- how I trusted it. My religion shook its head sadly, clucking its tongue for souls lost, confusion of koans. My religion knew the sound of one hand slapping, the difference between right and wrong, held the line against sleeveless blouses, drive in movies, pierced ears, dancing. The blood of Zen flows thin and clear. How I longed to lie down in its cool waters, taste them washing over me No more sticky blood of lambs, no more being born again and again. The rod of my religion did not comfort me. Who could hide in its cleft, clenched rock? The stain of my religion spills like grape juice and guilt, cares nothing for what I think now. It spreads to my throat, clogging at the first notes of Just As I Am. Without one plea, it floods my eyes, still alters the way I see a maple tree stretching, lifting shaggy elbows in green hallelujahs.
Pat McCutcheon’s been a student on the University of the Seven Seas, first grade teacher in a barrio, and Peace Corps volunteer in Venezuela. Now retired from teaching as a college English professor, she writes in the redwoods of far northern California. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, and her chapbook, Slipped Past Words, was published as a winner by Finishing Line Press.
Memorable phrase: “My religion knew the sound of one hand slapping.”