Dane Cervine

Ancient Wheel I buy a painted scroll in Dharmshalafrom a roadside vendor,a Tibetan Buddhist Wheel of Life— the mandala depicting six realmsof mind, taunted by demons,penetrated by buddhas, held in the jaws of Yama,lord of impermanence.The merchant is not a young man,but his eyes are—nodding approvingly as my finger traces the abodesof hungry ghosts, arrogant gods,golden bodhisattvas on the dark brown parchmentembossed with gold, burgundy,green—pigments I’d seen etched by the steady hands of young artistsin exile from their homeland. Theyknow, I suspect, something of this turning wheel of pleasureand pain, thin brush hairs dippedin colors rich enough to make demons blush—this human world: a blind man stumbling, a potter crafting,a monkey chattering;two men rowing a boat;the body a house with six windows;eye pierced by an arrow;a person drinking, gathering fruit;a couple making love, a woman giving birth;a man carrying a corpse. The vendor says the aim is to evadethe yawning maw of Yamaby enlightenment, escape the interminable turning of the wheel.I look in his eyes, smile, sayI know the real secret. His eyebrow arches, his wrinkled face breakinginto glee when I whisperNirvana is the wheel, the tooth, the paw.Embrace, not escape, the goal.And with that, he rolls the rough parchmentmade in exileinto the tough cardboard tube to carry home,even into the mawof America.

Mantra The cab-driver’s long fingernails are curved like tiny knivesas he drives us through Bangkok’s rainfrom Wat Pho’s immense Reclining Buddha.He says the city swells regularly to ten millioncoming, as he did, from the countrysidebecause there is no work in the green hills.He chatters on his cell in this taxi he spendstwelve hours a day in—weathered skin,black handlebar mustache, raspy voicea mantra of different timbre than the reclining buddha’ssilence. I’d stood at the statue’s end next to Buddha’s immense tattooed soles,stared the length of his golden bodyone hundred fifty-one feet from crown to big toe,listened beneath the bustle of pilgrims and touristsfor the ancient mantra. The golden silence. I do hear it, inside the cabbie’s cackle, the engine’stortured gear shifts, the rainsinging like ten million soulson the yellow roof.

Pruning Trees in America Lobo leans in, shows me photos on his phoneof the large black metal clamps fusing his spine,long scars lining his back like trenchesin the body’s war. He’s old, weathered as a beaten rugby ball,scrambles like a goat to make a livingpruning trees with his crew. Asks aboutour trip to India, the poor, were theyhappy? I speak of the Indian familyon whose roof we were offered chaiwhere the clan ate, slepton colorful woven carpets open to skywhile their milk-cow munched hayin its downstairs dirt-floored room.Lobo ponders this, wistful about his own modest dreams:to avoid living in the homeless tent-shelterblossoming near the freeway. His Mexican crew,to find a country to live in. Lobo is happy for work,removing the stubborn roots of dead trees,pruning the young ones.We talk of the Indian cow in its stabled room,a sky full of heat and storm,the red and golden hues of homeless tentsand Indian saris worn for festival andcarrying dried cow-dung alike— what it means to have enough. To curvewith the body’s age, find the rootof death and happiness.

Dane Cervine’s forthcoming book The World Is God’s Language will be published by Sixteen Rivers Press in 2021. Recent books include Earth Is a Fickle Dancer (Main Street Rag), and The Gateless Gate – Polishing the Moon Sword (Saddle Road Press). Dane’s poems have won awards from Adrienne Rich, Tony Hoagland, the Atlanta Review, Caesura, and been nominated for a Pushcart. His work appears in The SUN, the Hudson Review, TriQuarterly, Poetry Flash, Catamaran, Miramar, Rattle, Sycamore Review, Pedestal Magazine, among others. Dane lives in Santa Cruz, California. Visit his website at: https://danecervine.typepad.com/