I-Thou

by Joshua Smith



In Burma
the man from Lyon sits,
head shaved, saffron robe
bundled at crossed feet.
Staring through an open window
he speaks of mindfulness
between breaths soft
like jasmine petals.

The Buddha’s teachings,
they are so precious,
they are like jewels, he tells me
in halting English. And I think,
Who travels half a world
to discover mindfulness?

Later, in the library, laughter:
a group of children playing outside,
splashing in the water hose
on the burdensome afternoon.

If you only open the window,
a voice behind me says,
you can see everything.

Credo open windows.

Credo the lonely lotuses
that keep each other company
in hotel lobby waterfalls
and flirt with strange & foreign heads,
baptizing them in the crisp shadows
of the Emerald Buddha.

Credo chanting monks who rock
back and forth on their bamboo mats
in a studious trance.

Credo the old man who told us
We do not pray to Buddha—
he is a lump of concrete and stone.

Credo We do not quarrel with faith or conversion;
the goal of a Buddhist or Christian
is but to be a better Buddhist or Christian.

Credo multicolored shrines older than a nation,
and Glade air fresheners
bought yesterday.

Credo rickshaws.

Credo black, glass-eyed prawns with antennae
that swing from plate to chopsticks.

Credo awareness
and sunshine that burdens but does not oppress,
and half-empty buckets of petrol
carried to ancient public transits.

Credo the largest marble Buddha in the world
behind glass,

and Credo 300-gallon stone bowls full of rice
to serve the poor.

Credo the People.
Credo the knotted plaid longyi.
Credo manual transmissions
and vans that won’t operate
AC and headlights concurrently
on a single battery.

Credo beauty and the hideous splendor
of a thousand gray writhing catfish
fighting for bread like electricity.

Credo credimus. Credo credimus.

9,000 miles away a classmate
boasts of free-thinking and unbelief,
calls himself a heretic.
There are no heretics,
I want to tell him,
only people—
sincere and
insincere. 



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