Photo and Text by Catriona Knapman.
Photo and Text by Catriona Knapman.
My poem Goddess is in this summer edition of @TiferetJournal. Do go check it out alongside the work of other writers who participated in the Tiferet 2015 Poemathon.
The poem is inspired by this painting ‘Mother of the World’ by Russian painter Nicholas Roerich.
She is all bird wings and thistles
all deer toes and sand banks.
She is all hanging lampshades and fairies.
She is the edge of a cliff.
Men sit near the top of the hill, drinking and selling coca cola. There is a mosque and a church balancing carefully on each side of the summit. Neglected tourist stands cluster below. With reports of kidnapping, few tourists are making the journey here.
It seems more than a mere journey. The long bus from Cairo, the climb up the dusty path. In the mountains I travel away from my comforts, away from my distractions, away from the bustle of Cairo which has jostled me for the past eight months, where I have been fighting to make something of myself. The mountains make the media noise, the opposing opinions, the legal disputes, the urgent demands, the political arguments, the twitter updates, the waving flags, everything about the unrest seem so insignificant.
“They are impermanent questions,” say the mountains.
Do not worry about years, do not worry about days.
The mountains say, “Everything continues. Sit, wait, stay.”
The mountains say, “Look. Moses saw this sky.”
So I stop, and for the first time in a long time. I forget news reports and having an opinion. I forget about what I want. Instead, I look out across the mountain tops. Instead, I listen to silence.
Long-eyed, blue lotus ladies with gentle smiles, though you do not see us, there has been a glance from these long eyes. Speak and console us.
A lady appearing to those who have come here presents her face and gives her heart, but she does not speak of her intentions. Alas, what purpose can be served by only seeing her?
We looked at the heart-shattering fair damsels on the rock wall. They seemed as if they stood there looking forward wondering where their lord had gone.
“Yes” I reply, delighted.
It is early morning and I am taking a walk to the monastery I can see from my hotel window. I have been curious since I saw it peep over the other buildings.
He starts to tell me about the monastery. Bright coloured paintings of the Buddha’s life. The images are bright like poster art. Lines of tables with tea pots and women washing dishes in the corner. It seems as much like a community centre as a temple. He takes me to the head monk’s quarters and obtain the key for a second temple. We creak open the door and I step inside as the first light of day shines on the altar. The rest of the temple is dark and so peaceful.
“Demain il aura une petite fete” he smiles. Will you come? A party tomorrow.
I come in the afternoon, but the party has finished. He is clearing up offerings with children, throwing flowers into a big bucket.
“Il y avait beaucoup de monde” he smiles. So many people. The children laugh and scream. They beg for photos and make peace signs. Their feet hit the ground with excitement.
Earlier in the week I visited the genocide museum, horror which is important to remember and witness. And an event which has not been fully dealt with. But I was determined that would not be the image that I retained of Cambodia. I walked the streets of Phmon Penn, looking for life. I stood at school gates. Sat in restaurants. Rode tuktuks. Watched jokes appear on street corners and laughter rise through the clouds. Another generation with their own problems, their own restrictions, own ideas and own hopes.
In the monastery there is quiet and peace, then the laughter of children, the sound of washing up. Everyday life persists here. It does not ignore the past, but it defies bad memories by continuing the good ones. Children laugh, men clean up offerings, candles sparkle and they speak for a present which has peace, love and hope and a future without injustice.
“We are walking and talking,”he says abruptly from the crowd. A short monk, dressed in a dark red robe and carrying a wooden collection bowl. Thick tufts of grey hair grow directly from his ears.
“We are walking and talking, ” he repeats.
“OK.” I say.
So we begin to walk and talk, circling the giant golden pagoda tower, our bare feet moving over the morning marble floor. We move through crowds of people who watch us, some greeting the monk.
“My students,” he says.
He talks about UK politics, wonders about Tony Blair’s career after politics. He discusses the role of the USA in South Asian politics.
“Someone told me a story of a Scotsman who got a fly in his whiskey. He picked out the fly and continued to drink. They say the Scots are very miser,” he laughs, “is this true?” Quickly, he looks right.
“Chinese tourists” he says with a wink, rushing forward with his alms bowl for donations. The Chinese tourists give generously. He smiles at me, shutting the lid on his bowl.
He talks about his life in a monastery north of Yangon, and the bus he will take to return there later on in the day. We continue to walk around the pagoda tower.
“We find teashop, go for tea” he suggests.
A young monk is offers noodles by one of the grand entrances to the pagoda. The monk rushes forward again.
“Noodles, good with tea” he grins accepting a large spoonful of noodles into the bottom of his bowl.
We start to walk down stairs to look for the teashop. At the exit, people offer drinks to people for the festival day.
“Cold drink” he says, “very nice cold drink.” He takes a cup, swallowing it quickly.
“Teashop not this exit, back up.” he says, so we take an elevator back up to the pagoda, now hot and bright with day. We circle again looking for the teashop.
“What time is it?”
“I have a clock that talks” he says. “A talking clock.” He presses the talking clock, which says in American:
“It is eight o two o’clock.”
We circle the pagoda a few more times.
We do not find the teashop, it is already day. The monk starts walking towards the exit. “Eight o’clock. Free lunch near Phay Road in one hour for monk. Monk not eat afternoon.” He smiles, beckoning me to follow.