This week’s Sunday Poem is the first in a nine-part narrative series — the Buddhist Chronicles. I’ve long been fascinated by the story of Siddhartha, of his life as a man before he became the Buddha, the Enlightened One.

The poems began with a question: How do each of the people in this (universal) story bear the costs of one man’s search for enlightenment?

That question led to others, and to an exploration of a spiritual question.

To me, the body is soul in its most solidly incarnate form. Yet many religions and spiritual practices regard the body as a cloak for spirit, to be transcended or shed or otherwise separated like chaff from wheat.

What are the costs of a paradigm that separates the material world from its soul or essence?

How do we, as individuals, experience the pain of this separation in our own lives? How does the earth pay the price for this view of less-than-wholeness?

As always, I’d love to hear your comments about your own experiences with this issue. How does it play out in your life?

And yes, it’s Poetry Sunday, so please share your poems! Poetry enriches all of us.

BUDDHIST CHRONICLES

1

Yashodhara and Siddhartha: The Parting

Would you leave me, Siddhartha? This bed,
its crumpled sheets still bear the imprint
of our bodies. Look, I will cut off my hair,
these heavy tresses you love to twine around your wrists;
I will lock my legs around your waist.
I will not let you go.

Will you leave me?

I left my father’s orchards for you,
learned to love these echoing hills
because they are your home.
My only home is you.
I left them all: my mother, who wept at our wedding,
like the Ganges in full flood; my father, brother,
the country of my birth.
I came to you bereft of language;
we spoke in whispers of blood, thunder of flesh
rejoicing. Do you remember? We made love
on the balcony until it broke and we fell,
still entwined, onto the ground below.

And now you tell me you must go?

You say you’ve looked into the entrails
of suffering and cannot rest until you know
how the story ends. Your mind trembled
when you met that unholy trinity:
sickness old age death.
But we are young, Siddhartha,
my belly leaps with new life. Stay.
Stay for your child
if not for me.

Why can you not stay? Does my beauty
unman you? Your mouth flutters like a bird
beneath my fingers and my heart shouts
in my chest and yet, the curve of my lips,
is it the entrance to death’s cave?
Must you go?

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