Zozo-ji

Dana Levin
Buddhist temple, Tokyo


         One cry from a lone bird over a misted river
is the expression of grief,
         in Japanese. Let women
do what they need.
         And afterwards knit a red cap, pray—

In long rows, stone children in bibs and hats, the smell of pine and cooled
         earth—

It was a temple
         for the babied dead. I found it via the Internet.

Where they offered pinwheels
         and bags of sweets
for the aborted ones, or ones who'd lived
         but not enough…

Moss-smell, I can project there.

Azaleas
         pinking the water.

When her lord asked her again how it died, she said
         As an echo off the cliffs of Kegon.ukiyo: in Japanese it sounds like "Sorrowful World"

winds trying to hold each other
         in silken robes

what in English sounds like "Floating World"

a joke on the six realms in which we tarry

what they called the "Sorrowful World": 
         wheel made of winds
	
trying to cling to each other


                               —


         A child didn’t jell until the age of seven,
in his body.
         Was mizuko, water-child, what in English sounds like
"don't understand"...
         He was a form of liquid life, he committed

         slowly to the flesh—

and if he died or gestation stopped, he was offered 
         a juice box and incense sticks, apology and Hello Kitty...		

In Japanese, souls spin red-n-pink
         rebirth wheels: whole groves whrrrr-tik-tik behind the temple 

         at Zozo-ji...


                               —


Sad World. Pleasure World. In some minds
         they sounded the same—

It was a grief aesthetic.

Imagining 
         another lit visitor considering a tour,
before finding that it
         needs to start over—

Over the misted river.

Where a banner hangs, saying,
         You Are The 10,056th Person To Visit This Site

and you are the You
         who keeps disembarking.

More by Dana Levin

Styx

You put a bag around your head and walked into the river.
You

walked into the river with a bag around your head and you were
never dead 

game on the banks of your
mental styx

for the double
audience

of smoke—


               —


You pressed a coin into his palm and stepped across the water.
You

stepped across the water with a hand on his arm and he was
silent and kind as you
               shoved off, toward the smoky coils

of the greek-seeming dead—
You’d been trying to sleep.

Found yourself here
in the mythocryptic land—

The river


               —


had widened to a lake. You were anchored
in the shallow boat 

by his faceless weight—
And on the green shore you could see their vapored

residue, how they could
smell it, those two―if you 	

slit your wrist you could make them speak.

If you


               —


slit your wrist you might be able to sleep.

Grief. 
Grief. 
Handing you back

your coin.

Ars Poetica (cocoons)

Six monarch butterfly cocoons
      clinging to the back of your throat—

      you could feel their gold wings trembling.

You were alarmed. You felt infested.
In the downstairs bathroom of the family home,
      gagging to spit them out—
            and a voice saying Don’t, don’t—

Letter to GC

I say most sincerely and desperately, HAPPY NEW YEAR! 

Having rowed a little farther away from the cliff

Which is my kind of religion

Adrift in the darkness but readying oars

How can there be too many stars and hands, I ask you

                               —

I would be disingenuous if I said "being understood" were not important to me 

Between the ceiling of private dream and the floor of public speech 

Between the coin and the hand it crosses

Mercantilists' and governors' and preachers' alike

The imagination and its products so often rebuff purpose

And some of us don't like it, and want to make it mean

I would never shoot you, even if you were the only meat around

                               —

Anyway, I empathize with your lower division semester (which sounds
         kinda Dante, to me)

Snow-bound sounds gorgeous and inconvenient

Like the idea of ending on the internal rhyme of psychics and clients

Though I too privilege the "shiny" 

And of course, I want to be approved of, so much 

Despite the image I've been savoring, the one of the self-stitching wound
 
Yes, I want to write that self-healing wound poem, the one with
         cocoon closed up with thorns

We are getting such lovely flourishes from our poets

Fathomless opportunities for turning literacy into event

It's the drama of feeling we find such an aesthetic problem, 
         these days