Journey to Amaravati

Before dawn, before place comes into sight ,
before even the weather gets going,
the minibus is trembling, door open,
heat blasting over its windscreen. We set off dark
and early – 'Beat the traffic' – and Jon, the driver,
says we’ll pull in at the Maylands Café –
it opens at seven for the men going to work
on Hemel industrial estate. Yes, get a fry-up.
And after twenty years of monastery porridge,
this sounds good.
Hot and greasy; faintly illicit.

It turns into one of those grey-wash mornings,
but Maylands is warm and steamy with men
who aren’t saying much, in fact nothing at all,
as they get their sausages and beans and fried slice
down, and dig through ‘The Sun'. ... Robes, monks –
then back to the football....
          There’s no juke box now
playing Chubby Checker or The Shadows,
no cigarette smoke to hint at how a beery adulthood
would taste, playing darts and allowed to swear.
No pin-table like back in ’61, before all this –
when I didn’t know that sex would make me feel
like a dog chewing gum; couldn’t know why
I’d want to empty myself into something deep.
Now there’s just some lonely screen
gleaming with lights that are running in circles
and changing colours. Ready for the game,
but no one playing. Tables are still plastic-topped
and easily wiped; bottles of brown sauce
have stood since boyhood days with their mouths
thickly clogged – and the salt shakers,
they still won’t give a grain.
          Some things don’t change.

The waitress is busty, blonde, with coral lips.
She steers her tight-clothed curves through the tables
to tilt over me with plates and ‘There y’go, m’love.’
Some dumbed nerves start tinkling – like an old cat
just stumbled across the keys of a piano
in a back room somewhere – but no one’s judging.
Not me, not them. Three chairs stand empty
around the nun; but no jokes, no stares.
          She in her stillness, sipping tea.

You only know the season by how densely
all the breathed-out steam mists the window.
Summer may offer a ghostly blush, but
on these cold days, the glass is fogged, blank
as some voiceless soul. Makes you want to draw
a smiley face or write on it with a squeaky finger –
but still it oozes and runs with tears. Even untouched,
the surface wells up – and clear streaks start
streaming down. Peek through their tracks
and you'll glimpse the world – out there,
taking shape and starting to call.
          The monastery’s not far.

The hands on the clock twitch to twenty past.
Jon pays. We're done; it's time to make a move.
Into the day, with each breath drawing it in –
to be briefly held, felt, and fully breathed out.
Sometime we’ll arrive. At Amaravati –
‘Deathless Realm’ they call it: the other shore.
But I’m adrift - in a time of work and jokes
and raising kids, where philosophies wear down.
Just a nod and a wink: enough to point;
enough to show me my feet.
          And this body warm, opening its arms.

Posted: Wed 11 Sep, 2019