Monument in Bagan
Joining the hundreds already there, Jesus climbed atop the ancient monument. He joined a gun-carrying thug and a pregnant girl being jilted by her lover. He joined a heart surgeon from Seattle, a stockbroker from Mumbai. He joined the locals. He joined college students studying abroad, awed by echoes of solemnity, and he joined dropouts who’d never wanted to believe anything. He joined families with picnics. He watched the sun set over hills and river, joining hundreds doing the same, he watched the crowd begin to subside, another setting not everyone noticed, and he joined them as they funneled down, ebbing from the crest of the ruined structure, temple or stupa, through its one remaining tight stone staircase. He joined us and was one of us as much as he could be, and he went off in the night like the rest of us, in the dark, as it was.
There may be no way to eat meat and be a good person, hard to tell. There seems to be no way to attain nirvana without abandoning desire.
Fact: Thich Quang Duc, with holy conviction, using gasoline, immolated himself in Saigon in 1963 to protest the government’s persecution of Buddhists. Maybe there’s an exception for his kind of desire.
Western therapies don’t propose renouncing all desire. The psychologist who saw Jesus asked good questions and let him talk. That helped, as did time. His turbulence calmed down after a few tight passages, the rapids from obstacles he had to get over. Even in the slower oxbow curves, older if no wiser, Jesus could still warm to the thrill of being sought for sex, could covet another’s fine car. He salivated at recipes in Casseroles for Omnivores, and since he liked engaging with the earth, he kept revising his garden.
David McAleavey’s sixth and most recent book is Rock Taught (Broadkill RiverPress, 2016. His work has appeared in Poetry Northwest, Denver Quarterly, diode poetry journal, Epoch, and Poetry East; among others. He regularly teaches literature and creative writing at George Washington University, though he taught at the University of Macau in Fall 2016, and lived in London for part of 2017.