Prairie Buddhist Vision Quest
Prairie Visions Poetry Writing Festival, Homestead National Monument, September 2001
My country reels in the settling dust of twin towers,
the choking aftermath of faith and fury murderously conjoined.
My school’s minivan ambles over the rolling plains
armed with sleepy poets liberated from the classroom.
Under the forest service tent, the graying poet laureate leads our prompt:
"Imagine a conversation with someone you'd like to talk with. Perhaps someone you haven't seen in a while. It could be someone dead or alive, someone real or imagined. Perhaps someone you've always wanted to meet but never have. Where would this conversation take place? What would you say?"
We stream out, the students and I, through the park
clutching sack lunches and notes from morning freewrites.
The cottonwoods glitter above us, winking and waving,
untouched by dim fears still lingering
in the spinning newsreel loops of our minds.
I break off from the crowds,
settle cross-legged mid trail
on ground damp beneath the leaves.
I listen to their teenage voices filtering through the wind-swept grass and feel the grief of a nation flood up
through the blank lines of my legal pad.
I let the breeze quiet my thoughts and conjure my conversation....
The Dalai Lama, full-lotus on the prairie
sits zazen with me and the sunset.
His wrinkled lines of wisdom smile through the space between us,
shaven head glinting bronze in the late sun.
His dark eyes, alight behind thick lenses
watch the waving tassels of bluestem bobbing in the wind
Scents of Himalayan temple blends rise from the folds of his orange robes,
mingle in the sweet musky dust of autumn leaves.
Wordless mantras hollow out the bottomless truths
hovering in perfect stillness above the dry grass.
Nameless emotion filters through the membranes of my mind,
bleeding like colors through the atmosphere above—
sacred hoop of the world blazing
as the sun leaks orange-gold into blue, blue into night.
All around us, the earth’s third eye in full bloom
unfolds a thousand petals against the rolling fields,
opens, smiling, to the twilight
flecked with stars.
In the remains of the afternoon,
I keep my vision quest to myself,
but the students read from their notepads under the big tent.
Our shared writing remedy fills in the ragged holes
unhealed by reason,
left behind in terror’s wake.
Proud poets unfurl phantom conversations;
scenes of longing and lost grandparents,
of mysterious lovers and childhood friends
coalesce as spirits in the spell of young voices.
They follow us home like angels,
trailing the van back over the rolling plains.