(On Viewing the Standing Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara in the Asian Art Museum)
One thousand years gone by, and here you stand,
Effortless posture in a well-lit foreign land;
Time’s looped and windowed raggedness
Has only brushed your clothes—black lacquer rags
Coil in a silent wind around your calves.
I like you more without your proper robes,
As though, fresh from a pilgrimage, you’ve come,
An old soul with the spirit of your youth exposed,
And twice as strong; the world can take your clothes
But never your serenity. Your outstretched hand
Once held a lotus flower; it blew away, and now
Only the gesture still remains: “Come rest your eyes,
As others have in times of need—I have seen all
Who grieved, and blessed them all.” If carved from stone
You might have carried more prestige, perhaps
Appearing ageless like your cousins in Room B,
Who must’ve had surgery to keep their stone skin smooth,
Losing only a hand or head over a half millennia or two.
I’m glad your artist carved you out of wood;
It breathes and changes over time, and every laugh
Is etched in spider lines around your eyes,
Making you twice as strong. How many eyes have seen
Your smile in the golden dusk, and heard
All outside whispers dim? How startling to realize,
Gazing at your graceful lines, and downcast eyes so pure,
That in our world of storm and change, where
Easy breath is not easy to find, you still endure.
Natalie Stevenson is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, where she studied literature and archaeology. Her poems and stories have been published in The Oxford Student, Prairie Margins, and Ink, Sweat and Tears, among others. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.