Temple in the Jungle

by Alexander Lazarus Wolff


                              For (and after) Brigit Pegeen Kelly (1951-2016)

The viper is mine, the pit viper with the scales
speckled by black, and I am the boy in the ochre robes

contemplating as intently as any monk in any monastery
has ever contemplated, but I have no insights, nor have I tamed

my viper. Now, there are only the lotuses and the koi clustering
together to be fed, and the luster of the beige floorboards

on which postulants congregate to chant, on which the light
of a setting sun shimmers like the polished amber in a pendant.

I have thought enough of death, of entering the black tunnel,
of shedding this body and swimming in the circumfluent darkness

where all is stasis and where time slows to a standing chill. Let us unfetter
ourselves and allow our minds to be like a mother-of-pearl dish, as radiant

as the disk of the full moon whose luminescence ripples
across the surface of the reflecting pool. And though my robes

are too loose, and though the nightingales will never
stop dropping their calls, there is only Goodnight in all this,

and Life is suffering. I have learned tolerance,
learned to take the blade from my wrist and hoard whatever

shrapnel of pleasure the day tosses at me. Now, my mind
coasts alongside the chanting, my fellow monks opening

their mouths in perfect halos of sound, the pitch undulates,
rising and diving like a plane attempting to correct itself. And my mind

does the same, though it can no longer sink into the sounds
they sing. That goodfellow Siddhartha Gautama. Oh, have faith,

force your desires away. Meditate. Meditate. The laity
do not know I am a product of fantasy. I am the illusion

that you can jettison the sufferings that make a life a life,
jettison it just as I have done to these robes. I have still

not touched the tip of peace unless it is in the scales
of my pit viper who is as still as a weathered stone. And though

there is no nirvana, no insight or mind of white silk brocade, there is also no reason
to blame myself — no reason to desire to end desires



This poem first appeared in the South Florida Poetry Journal, Issue 23, in November 2021.

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