Katherine Riegel

THE BUDDHIST’S DILEMMA Friends, I am weak.Right now I would hand over my left carotidfor a pint of that ice cream I love so much, dark purplewith hunks of chocolate that gets even morealluring the longer I eat it, like the beautyI had in my twenties and will neverhave again. Right now instead of my numerousduties I would lie on my back on the floor and livein ceiling land for hours, like I didwithout regret as a child in the slanted lightcoming in through the glass door. Oh,I would fly to my sister’s farm so manystates away just to circle my armsaround a horse’s neck. Friends, I would walkon my knees in the snow for someone’s handdexterous against my flesh. If I couldI would become one unthinking machineof appetite and desire, all mouth. But I am brokenbones and tissues filling with blood. Thisis what I need: to consumethe dark and grass-covered world. To beshriven of my self-tied anchoring ropes.To both deny and utterly believein the end of wanting. MERCY A woman, chased by a tiger, climbs down a vine over a cliff. Mice start to chew the vine. With death by tiger above and death by falling below, she notices a strawberry growing next to her, picks it, and eats it—the sweetest thing she has ever tasted.—old Buddhist story I’m so tired of tending to this body, how its claimsfill up my time more and moreas the decades pass, not justsleep and food and movement anymore butdoctor’s visits and prescriptions that must bepicked up and refilled and check-ups and bloodtests and cracking heels and cracklingjoints and the slowdown of everything musculareven the brain especiallythe brain as possibility shrinks to somethinglimited, just the onefield left in which to find four leaf clovers, justordinary life, no flyingcars despite what they promised us backin the 1970s, no telekinesis,no magic to heal my poorsilly dog who is thirteen now and all these days lostto waiting in line oh Buddha I knowI should eat the strawberry really taste its miraclein the moments before the tiger or the fall get mebut please I’m begging you sendthe tiger soon let it crashthrough the waiting room overturningthe hard plastic chairs and comingstraight for me with its cat breathand tongue as red as strawberries. WHAT BREATH IS Why do I forget, over and over, to openthat window inside so the wren trapped in mecan make a dash for the open air, beatits wings harder than any small feathered thingand climb through green exhalationstowards the territory of hawks, strain upwards fiercely enough to clutchat clouds—oh the exhaustion of it, the hardtransformations that must carry a tiny brown bird,my heart, out past the airplanes and the real airinto the vast imaginations of the stars—and then forget, again, what breath is, and so sleep,and wake to find myselfcurled on the couch under the touchof just one star fingeringits tentative way into my hairlike a lover saying remember, sayingwe will see each other again? Katherine Riegel's first book of poetry is Castaway. Her second, What the Mouth Was Made For, is forthcoming in early 2013. Her poems and essays have appeared in numerous journals, including Brevity, Crazyhorse, Fourth Genre, and Terrain.org. She is co-founder and poetry editor for Sweet: A Literary Confection and teaches at the University of South Florida.