Monday, October 26, 2009

Prayer Flags on the Beach

A prose poem:

I've heard the story of the butterfly fluttering in the heart of China, making a breeze that becomes a wind that becomes a great storm at sea or a tornado in Kansas. I don't believe it, but I can't forget it. The human mind makes myths and manufactures miracles. I love the stories, but loving doesn't make it so.

A true story, small and simple. This is the end of October. My story looks backward to July. A small pile of stones at the end of Long Beach where I walk grew taller and taller until I thought it had earned the name "cairn." I sometimes added a stone of my own. I always walked around it clockwise. Teen-agers, I thought, are building it. They moved other rocks around, made hearts and peace signs and initials on the sand -- seashore graffiti

Cairns in the Himalayas and on the steepes of Mongolia wear wind horses -- prayer flags. In Mongolia they wear crutches and vodka bottles, maybe money, various tokens of thanks. So I took a set of Tibetan prayer flags saved for years for a purpose I kenw I would know when it arose. I tied them to the rocks on the cairn and weighted their ties firmly. There they fluttered in the summer breeze for three weeks ...

...until a hurricane's remnant brought high winds and wild seas. When next I walked to the far point the flags were gone. The cairn had lost its top stones [too big to fall in wind or any but the fiercest waves). Wind took my flags, I said. Teens tore down the cairn. I looked among the rose tangles which might have snagged the flags but they were gone. They could have flown anywhere. That is the fate of loose flags in a windy world. And so it was for months, the cairn returned to a humble pile of stones but the hearts and peace symbols lay on the sand, simple outlines the tides did not destroy, nor the teens.

Today after a wintery wet weekend I walked the beach to the end. The tide was higher than I had ever seen it. The pile of stones was an island twenty feet from dry sand. Around the corner a thorny tree, its roots twisted and gnarled into a dune, was festooned with my prayer flags, tattered and twisted, held by grasping branches.

The ink washed away, the colors bright -- the primary ones: blue, green, red, yellow and white were the only colors in the brown of sand and stone, the gray of rippling sea and matching sky.

The flags came from Lhasa. They were meant to fly under the pitiless sun and be whipped by the winds on those tallest of mountains. These hardy wind horses had rested a while -- surely caught on other thorny growths -- torn loose and caught again beside an ocean unused to mountain symbols.

I do not write or miracle or moral or myth to end this story. If the reader needs it, his mind will make it.

1 comment:

Kasscho said...

This is wonderful prose. Really wonderful. It should be published somewhere (besides your blog). Great writing!