Korean Buddhists traditionally keep this breed in temple ponds.
When God made the angels, a man made me,
turning my gaze heavenward for a purpose
I know and do not know. The world
is a sphere that mirrors my pond, all things
have order here: the sun rushes
across the sky, pulling the moon
on a pale fishing line, and I see myself
printed among the stars, a great fish
swimming in the night’s black sea.
Weeks pass into months, the year going
from warm to cool, bright to dull,
gingko leaves drifting down,
down, to slowly settle on pondbottom,
like pieces of ragged gold foil. I, too,
am streaked with gold along my spine and tail,
but am valued for my eyes, bulging
blue-green globes larger than my soul,
a small clear bubble wrapped around the purity
of nothing. It slips with each breath
from my astonished mouth and flies rapidly upward
—as prayers will sometimes—
but always catches on the pond’s rough skin.
I twin until there are many of me.
I begin and begin.
O Ghosts of the Upper World,
don’t we see you in your shimmering robes,
peering through seven watery veils
that, lifted, reveal nothing behind the curtain?
Don’t we hear you chanting?
Bells call you to the temple and you hurry away,
orange robes streaming, as if
you were running headlong into a violent wind.
We do not hurry as we take the world in
through our mouths, as sensation
passes through us, unconcerned
to be swimming toward where we’ve already been.
To be, not do: that is the lesson
we try to teach you.
We have heard of an underworld where fire
is the transforming element and water burns
quickly away to vapor,
but will not see it ever.
Our gaze is upward and forever.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 5 Number 7, on page 39
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