Two Poems by Michael G. Smith



A Bodhisattva-in-Training Contemplates Self-Denial


Only years later
did Ching An realize
burning off two fingers
would not lead
to enlightenment.
But two millenia before,
having left his father’s palace,
the Buddha figured out
starvation didn’t work either.
So, what was young Ching
thinking? Maybe eight
fingers would be enough
for an old abbot who could
forget about grinding rice
and weeding the garden.


Friction and its absence.
Signs everywhere –
a wild chicken
struts along a crowded
street, a plastic bag
wrapped around its foot;
needing prolonged cold
and snow, Himalayan
glaciers receive
cloudless skies
and warm nights;
and me traveling
in Buddha’s birthplace?
watching a raven pluck
ticks off a cow’s spine
I glimpse a hint
of where the pursuit
of need and desire
meet the hammer
of responsibility.



at Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandu

Again he occupies his place,
asleep on a ragged piece
of cardboard niched
into a corner
of the stupa’s wall,
brown fur blotched
with whitewash,
an orange marigold
facing an upturned paw.
Quickly walking by
the devout finger
prayer beads and chant
Buddhist mantras.
Slowing my steps
I mumble wonderings
to myself. Brush dripping,
where was the heart
of the young man
splattering the wall?
What does refuge mean
so casually invaded?
Every morning someone
leaves crackers.
Nepali for dog biscuit.
Another thing not lost
in translation.


About the author:

Michael G. Smith is a chemist. He does volunteer work in Nepal at an orphanage and a school. His poetry has been published in many journals and anthologies. The Oregon Poetry Association selected his poem Disturbance Theory  in their fall 2017 contest for the New Poets Award. No Small Things was published by Tres Chicas Books in 2014. The Dippers Do Their Part, a collaboration with visual artist Laura Young of haibun and katagami based on their joint Shotpouch Cabin artist residency, was published by Miriam’s Well in 2015. Flip Flop, a volume of haiku co-authored with Miriam Sagan, was published by Miriam’s Well in 2017.