Rowing to the Ethereal

19 December 2021

By Philip Kuepper

only women row
the metal boats
up Suoi Yen River,
to the Goddess of Mercy Pagoda,
where one goes to pray,
for good health, for absolution,
high in the green-draped mountains.

The river is sinuous,
blue and sinuous.
The river is veiled
in tranquility.
A mist of peace whispers
across the water,
a mist of peace that wraps
the boats in grace.

This is pilgrimage,
this a trek
of purification that one might, then,
be gifted justice, take justice
away with one, carry justice back
down the mountain, into one’s
daily life, to make fragrant
each act committed,

make fragrant with the perfume
of the Goddess. It is a talent,
learned, carrying back
the fragrance of perfume down the mountain,
to carrying the very perfumed air
that no pack can hold,
that only the heart can carry,
and give away on one’s return.

The women row one to the mountain.
The women row one home.
The women row both ways along
the sinuous river,
along the blue sinuous river.
One is lulled asleep by the slap
of the oars in the water,
the gentle, rhythmic slapping of oars

in the succulent water,
perfumed by the Goddess,
the green-cloaked Goddess,
the slapping of the oars speaking,
at each dip into the river,
the word, mercy:
Mercy, mercy,

(9 December 2021)

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