Sightings of the Buddha
By Janet Barry
at Lingyin, Temple of Soul’s Retreat, founded 328AD
We are hot and tired and not quite sure what town we are even in.
He is clearly the most wretched beggar I have ever seen.
Grotesque body, small, withered limbs, twisted face, no hair.
I take photos of incense holders and a line of tapers.
I take photos of men with dustpans resting on a bench.
I take photos of a loudspeaker hung on a tree.
Blasting “Buddhist meditation” music.
People hold each lighted taper in prayer clasped hands.
Bow to the North, East, South, West.
Maybe not in that order.
Place each taper in an iron rack as they enter the temple. Bow again.
Our guide asks me if “auspicious” is a religious word.
I tell him, not so much in Christian culture. Maybe “blessed”.
I take photos of an ancient Buddha carved in stone.
Laughing Buddha. To rub his belly is to acquire good luck.
Good fortune. A sign declares “do not touch”.
The Buddha’s belly is wearing away.
Rubbed raw by seventeen centuries of hope.
“The Real China”
By Janet Barry
Is what Joe declares we are about to see, and then spells his name, Zhou, for us.
“You will see, the people are poor but they are very happy and friendly to us”
Our boat heads up the narrow canal, dirty water, houses on each side of us.
Some people are washing a chicken in the muck. Some people are waving to us.
Some people have left mops and crates on their watery stoops. Spit at us.
Then smile, toothless, grinning. Zhou tells us how glad they are to see us.
Zhou has a huge red birthmark on his face, which he keeps turned away from us.
He has a son, he says, better than a daughter, but thinks girls are just the same to us.
Americans. Taking pictures. On an afternoon tour of the poor paraded for us.
Stopping at a market where they have ice-cream and cute children to play for us.
“You see, the government is making everyone’s lives better”, Zhou tells us,
even these uneducated “Chinese word for dirty slum dwellers”, Zhou tells us.
“Shop all you like, talk to the people, buy a snack”, he encourages, as he frees us
for the usual one hour of sight-seeing allotted to us. Prescribed for us.
I’ve heard of Poorism before, and hope that these people somehow benefit from us,
suspect that they are required to put on this show of cheerful destitution for us.
In exchange for? Lower rents? A stream of tourist sales? Upstream from us,
the heart of the city waits, restaurants, neon lights, a five star hotel reserved for us.
The boat swings around and churns the silty, trash strewn water behind us.
A group of teenage boys pitch soda cans as we pass, silently stare at us.
Janet Barry is a musician and poet with works published or forthcoming in dozens of journals and anthologies including Ragged-Sky, Off-the-Coast, Cider Press Review, Canary, Tygerburning, Solidus and New Mirage Journal. She serves yearly as a judge for Poetry Out Loud, and received a Pushcart Nomination for her poem “Winter Barn.” She holds a degree in organ performance and an MFA in poetry.
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