Praying at the Altar

I like pagodas.
There’s something—I don’t know—
secretive about them,
soul-soothing, mind-easing.
Inside, if only for a moment,
life’s clutter disappears.

Once, long ago, we destroyed one:
collapsed the walls
‘til the roof caved in.
Just a small one, all by itself
in the middle of nowhere,
and we were young.  And bored.
And armed to the teeth.
And too much time on our hands.

Now whenever I see a pagoda,
I always go in.
I’m not a religious man,
but I light three joss sticks,
bow three times to the Buddha,
and pray for my wife and daughter.
I place the burning sticks
in the vase before the altar.

In Vung Tau, I was praying
at the Temple of the Sleeping Buddha
when an old monk appeared.
He struck a large bronze bell
with a wooden mallet.
He was waking up the spirits
to receive my prayers.

– W.D. Ehrhart, The Haverford School, Faculty & Staff

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