Dust – a poem by Cathleen Cohen


I abandon my desk, twist
down the stairwell and out 
to the street into a nearby church, 

which hosts Tibetan monks, 
three saffron-robed men 
bent over the floor, scattering 

colored sand. I blink 
to adjust to dim space.
Why don’t they ask for more light?

Two weeks they’ve been here, 
intent on their artwork.
Static fills the chapel. 

Are they whispering? Praying?
Or is this the rasp of their sticks 
dispersing dust? 

Oceans form storms,
fanciful creatures, desires, all 
needing to be noticed or made pure.

Fringed flowers, vines, yellow tongues, 
secret doors. I often return,
but can’t bring myself 

to that last ritual, that final day.
I hear that local children arrive
and bring brooms. 

Everyone stands in a circle and chants 
until one monk breaks 
the mandala with his thumb. 

This signals a great collecting of dust 
into jars, carried to the river and cast -- 
to widen the blessing.

Cathleen Cohen was the 2019 Poet Laureate of Montgomery County, PA. She founded Artwell’s We the Poets program (www.theartwell.org.) Publications include poems in Apiary, Baltimore Review, Cagibi, One Art Journal, Passager, Philadelphia Stories and three books: Camera Obscura, Etching the Ghost (Atmosphere Press, 2021) and Sparks and Disperses (Cornerstone Press, 2021).

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