Chewing the Five Zen Remembrances
I inherit the results of my actions of body, speech, and mind.
—the Fifth Remembrance
You’re neither Buddhist nor Hindu, but here you are,
kneeling on a zafu, slack-jawed, fighting sleep.
You watch the breath at the center of your universe—nostrils,
diaphragm, belly, expand/deflate like a real yogi, growling.
When the woman next to you squirms, wheezing, old monkey
mind drops upside down from the ceiling, grilling your motives.
You’re there for nirvana, to disgorge the huddled sentries
from their watchtowers in your mind, perhaps a few enlightened
nights of sleep. You want to stand in tree pose without teetering
and to sit cross-legged without cramps. You ruminate
on those Zen fates one by one, a gastronomic ploy to get you
back to basics like unleavened bread: how you’re of the nature
to grow old or ill, to ingest small deaths—losing, always losing—
before the final one, your own. You know you can’t hold on
to anything for dear life, except for these common-sensicals
that rouse you from your torpor, roaring to be welcomed. Mother
gone, father gone, brother, too, gone. You root your feet, stack
your hips, knees, ankles. You drop your shoulders, tailbone.
You’ll play mountain, unfazed by wind or time. You breathe
for five counts in, I, too, am of the nature to die, then empty out,
I must be parted from all I love. On your knees, you extend
your arms, a child’s pose over their graves. You practice tree,
growing roots so you no longer fall. But monkey rattles
your branches each time you nibble at the fifth
of the Upajjhatthana Sutta. It sticks in your craw, breath trapped,
like when your morning prayer, My soul is pure, would make
you gag. Monkey see. Monkey laugh. Monkey-you skeptical
that the crumbs of your deeds—what’s left of you at the final
tally—can turn your monkey self to mensch. Your lungs fill, empty,
doing their business, and you keep chewing to get yourself right.
Edible Plant Walk
Array sun fern under your
pillow when nightmares trot
unbridled. Down knotweed—
to cross swords with Lyme.
Squeeze jewelweed to detox
poison ivy. Brew creeping
ivy with honey for strep. Steep
Joe Pye weed for gout,
deep breathing, or even fever,
and if you’re Joe, to get it
up for the night shift.
Mugwort—mother of herbs,
the sowing of Joe’s seed,
if you’re female. Or crumble
wild carrot—white, witchy
umbels of Queen Anne’s lace—
on salad to trip up your cycle,
to trick your inner mother.
Pamela Wax, an ordained rabbi, is the author of Walking the Labyrinth (Main Street Rag, 2022) and the forthcoming chapbook, Starter Mothers (Finishing Line Press). Her poems have received a Best of the Net nomination and awards from Crosswinds, Paterson Literary Review, Poets’ Billow, Oberon, and the Robinson Jeffers Tor House. She has been published in literary journals including Barrow Street, About Place Journal, Tupelo Quarterly, Connecticut River Review, Naugatuck River Review, Pedestal, Split Rock Review, Sixfold, and Passengers Journal. She offers spirituality and poetry workshops online from her home in the Northern Berkshires of Massachusetts.