The Old Monk Goes Home

By this time, I’ve lost touch with explanations…

Like after the flight back from Malaysia to England in January
when someone’d booked me on business class – first time;
it feels funny to have so much space, with a steward
who comes around with menus and choices – she’s young and slender
in her ankle-length dress – makes me feel old and shabby –
and she wants to know what I’d like – orange juice or guava
or is it mango? – and when I turn down dinner she looks concerned
and wants to know why. ‘It’s the rules,’ I say –
but quickly add that breakfast later would be fine.
              Through the night as I slide an eye open,
she’s softly there with her mango or guava or orange.
Anyway, I meditate and read a bit and snooze for ten hours or more
and ask as she clears away breakfast whether she got any sleep.
‘Oh two or three hours,’ she says as she sits down in the next seat.
But she’ll have a day’s break in London. I squeeze out
something about my monastery south of the city. We pause.
‘But you don’t have any socks…’ she says, so I fumble some words.
‘Will someone be there to meet you?’ ‘I hope so ...’ is what
I say, but by now I’m getting to feel real old and sad. So it’s like
coming out of a trance to land in freezing Heathrow; to get up
and be wished goodbye and shuffle away. And not look back.

The guys do well. The meet me right on time, looking cheerful
and comfortably scruffy; and we talk about things
and what people are doing and the weather and where I’ve been,
until we get back to the monastery. Someone’s lit a fire,
and there’s coffee and rolls – yes, they’ve done it really well,
so after they’ve got to go (of course, there’s work to do),
I unpack, get into place; pull things out and put stuff away,
get settled and let it all fade. My road of a life.

I wake up later, and it’s night.
I don’t know where, but I’m in some dark warm space,
dimly lit, maybe by stars. It's breathing –
and most of what I am is gathering – out there in the silence;
yet there’s a strange ‘at home’ feeling.
               Nothing more than that.
But maybe this is all that thirty-six years in monasteries
is about: to get to feel safe enough, here enough,
to let unknowable space hold me; to have unseen fingers
touch my chest –
               which doesn’t resist any more,
but lets the tide of aloneness
enter, swell, and wash right through me.

Posted: Wed 11 Sep, 2019