Green Hallelujahs – a poem by Pat McCutcheon


                                         "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		 
         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.

1 Comment

  1. Memorable phrase: “My religion knew the sound of one hand slapping.”


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