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Author of this poem:

Robert Rhodes (Yao Xin)
(November 30, 2004)

Kwan-Yin in Wichita

In a Wichita park, old
Vietnamese men, puffing
cigarettes, sit around concrete
tables playing Co Tuong.
In their midst,
on a bench, a porcelain Kwan-Yin
sheltered by the sports section
of the Sunday morning Eagle.

Here, as they would in Hue, or
in whatever mountain village
they once escaped, these elders
of the infinite tobacco and chess dharmas
consider the many aspects
of truth in this cold winter
park in their shared pure land
of ineffable exile.
As a jet passes overhead:
so arises the silent chant evoking smoke and
marble elephants on an ancient riverside

In front of Kwan-Yin, a silver plume
of sandalwood smoke rises
from incense stuck next
to the sidewalk. It mingles
with the steam of voices
clouded around the men
until finally: smoke, incense,
Kwan-Yin, cigarettes, park bench,
men in Hue,
all mean nothing,
all mean precisely
this one distinct certainty

In a mountain temple,
near where the oldest of these men was born,
a priest in worn-out robes
strikes the wooden fish and intones
the Lotus Sutra.
The fish,
the incense,
the klok-klok echo
of the dim temple
become the incense,
the porcelain Kwan-Yin,
the cold park in Kansas
as a jet glides past, its wheels
poised and visible: This, this!

Humming Bird

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