In Buddhist texts the lotus is a symbol of enlightenment: rooted in the mud of human suffering, it extends toward the light of awareness, reaching its full expression in the union of heaven and earth. This movement is not linear but cyclical; soon after it blossoms, the lotus sprays seeds that sink below the surface and are rooted in the same mud the mature flower arose from, just as Bodhisattvas vow to return through countless lives until all sentient beings are liberated. In this sense, the lotus embodies our highest aspirations to fully become ourselves for the sake of others, to reap the merit of our practice and then give it away. What a beautiful metaphor for the delicate and mysterious unfolding of marriage, a dance with one leg in Samsara and the other in Nirvana, separation and togetherness entwined.
The poem “Lotuses” begins with this image of lovers tangled in bed, in the mud of their conjugal sheets. Threads of the secular and the sensual are interwoven throughout as the speaker meditates on the futility of separating these powerful strands, of cleaving “war” from “horses.” I thought of the lotus’s lack of discrimination, what Thich Nhat Hanh refers to as the interbeing of roses and garbage, the rich compost of our practice lives. And I considered the temptation to analyze, which comes from a Greek root word that means to break apart. Since my wife and I eloped five months after we met, it would be easy to simplify my understanding of this event either through the lens of romanticism and the fate of star-crossed lovers, or the lens of personal and family history, but the truth of our marriage is a dharma greater than these reductive views. Boundless, compassionate, mysteriously co-arising, it cannot be grasped. “Lotuses” ends with an ascension, a rising movement that does not seek to attain or to possess, but to enact a moment of awakening.
photos by Linda Mosley of her St. Louis lotuses (2005)
I wake cold and happy, not caring she’s taken the sheets
from me at night and they ravel around her, the freckle below
her right breast close to my lips.
I haven’t spoken yet, though if I could and breath
was perfectly distilled vision then I could conjure
her as she is, her leg across my hip, winding around me
as though I were the length of her spine, a shaft of bamboo.
Lotus plants root in mud, the resinous, binding force
that lowers consciousness to rage and lust, siphoning
these poisons into vibrant magentas. Startling
this immersion in another’s heat and light, and these
lotuses tinged pink, each a fragrant cloud.
We may dissemble the animal and divine,
cleave war from horses, but then our source
of greatness, would diminish, our soul no longer yoked
to the dirt of human empathy where blood
worms writhe in paper cups of soil
and are threaded onto hooks cast beneath the water
where our beloved cannot follow
and we must take our time ascending
through the foundation below, into the space
beneath the bed, through scuffed floorboards
and box springs, through layers of mattress and
into troubled flesh that opens its ragged mouths.