Chinatown Temple

Temples: solaces that wrap your body in ribbons of cool during New York City’s muggy summers. In the early mornings it is mostly quiet, the plastic over the worn cushions soundless, streets not yet bustling. Draped in yellow cloth, the resident monks drift from room to room, sweeping, placing offerings of fruit in threes—never four—on red plates, and lighting the first incense of the day. The temple feels strangely empty, despite the large bronzed statues that inhabit the temple.

By late morning, people have begun to filter in at a more constant speed. Candles float in glass bowls of oil, drifting as tips of incense sticks attempt to capture their fire. Smoke spirals upwards from the sweet incense, ends buried in a giant urn of sand that sits on three stout legs. There is a lady that always sits up front next to the red donation box, white hair wound with gray.

Kids run around carefree in the streets after Saturday school, before they are herded into the temple by their parents’ reminders to pay their respects. The children that arrive are the restless type, fidgeting but quiet. The few minutes they spend lighting incense are intruded by thoughts trying to link carelessness with prayer. The most pure are always the most frustrated. It is the cradled baby who cries in temples.

In the afternoons, the temple echoes the lethargy of day; the people that come in now are slicked in sweat, breath-less the instant they walk through the door, greeted by majestic statues and a world more foreign to them than the rude streets of New York. Tourists don’t bring offerings. They bring only fascination and tired cameras on sunburnt necks. The candles swimming in oil become more active as inexperienced hands grasping incense try to catch the little flame. As it grows dark, they embark on more exciting journeys, battling once again through the angry streets of Chinatown. The little window at the front of the temple begins to glow from the city lights.

Nights in temples belong to the desperate. While the monks go around picking out the dying incense, the people bent from working all day settle in the red cushions, heads bent, knees flat, and worn hands embedded with the spheres of rosary beads. They are the discoverers of the back room, where there are no windows and only warm hues of gold and red, and where a singular statue sits front and center; she is a lady compassionate to the struggles of a circular path in life.

The owners of stubborn prayers and crinkled hands set the temple afire with prayers trapped in this snow globe city. Only momentarily do they spiral upwards in smoke before they drift back down, enshrouding everything in gray.

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My sister and I communicated by means of a secret language we created. Although I lagged behind her in comprehension, we managed. Go-ke boating was when we filled the bathtub and sat in buckets, floating around the tub. My bucket was white with Pocahontas and a raccoon painted on it. Hers was fire red. Mine retired the day I puked in it because I was sick. Then we shared a boat. Then my sister became modest and wouldn’t let me see her naked anymore, so we didn’t go go-ke boating anymore.

We used to fight over who would press the elevator button. But her longer legs always got there first. I asked her what the bumps under the buttons were. She told me that it’s called Braille; so blind people know which button to press. I asked her what the metal box under the buttons was that said SERVICE MANAGEMENT ONLY. She told me that if I was naughty or annoying, someone would come and stuff me in the metal box in the elevator. I believed her because I was small enough to have fit in the box. After that, I preferred the stairs to the elevator.

But I was never a fool alone.

“Walk faster!” I whined as I tugged my dad along. “At this rate it’s going to take forever to get there!”

He walked faster.

I stuck my foot out.

He almost fell. This was my favorite game.

bleach

winding, winding through the lacquered night and just running
through the blue skeleton of time
past the barred silver rail between us
skirting vertigo before-

bones slip

into the silvery green water of
skipped stones and
spiral types of space.

ripples ebb in and out of themselves
as body performs an impossible reversal into
a level plane,
pressed into a towel, weight
into sand, sun upon my back.

clean.