THE LESSER TEMPLE
A POEM BY NATASHA MARIN
Before the rain came, like a stampede of lakes,
I had climbed halfway down the mountain alone—
only the tremor of exhaled lullabies
could flatten the tympani of my chest.
We had interrupted nuns and monks
in the summit village midway through a meal.
My stance of guilt and his entitled stride.
Not holding hands, even when the barking dog,
charged with protecting such holiness,
kept teeth and relentless noise beside me.
I would end up crossing that same dog three more times
like an omen
as I had forgotten something precious
at the point where the green coupling gives way to the sky.
There where he had stopped to share a breathless cigarette with me.
There where I used two rusted bobby pins to become beautiful again for the photos.
I found my way to the top the second time, found the little plastic bag,
lingering where I had abandoned it to my excitement.
The foretelling. The chalking up.
The durations we entertained together and apart.
I could’ve slipped easily like a pickax finding blood through flesh,
like a scream finding absolution in the air,
sliding like broken angles off of the side of the mountain,
but still he didn’t follow me.
He was always convinced that my skin made me resilient.
I didn’t need protection.
I wasn’t graceful, I was strong.
I wasn’t fragile, couldn’t be.
But he could justify every maligning move with just a shrug.
When I made it back to the holy village, full of flowers and flat paths,
the dog was there. But I had found a large stick in the jungle.
It was black with rot but thick in my hand.
With each step toward my love—the one who had led me here—
I hit the ground and held my head up.
The dog noted my assertive accoutrement—the master I carved out of air.
Allowed me to pass. And I was only a heart beating
as I passed the stone temple, roped off but filled with colorful offerings.
I ended up at the lesser temple.
Tile floor dipped concave like a swimming pool at the center.
And I made him wait,
while I acknowledged the majesty of the space I had allowed myself into.
The space of moot summation. The space of makeshift rationale.
Let my eyes close for a moment. And took a breath.
I hadn’t yet begun to cry because I hadn’t yet begun to feel sorry for myself.
That would come later.
Artwork © Becca Halliwell Sutton