at the temple of sisters*

bamboo ©papa osmubal

bamboo ©papa osmubal

at the temple of sisters*
judy johnson

                                           (for Kay)

You ask me to decipher its meaning. 
You were alone in the dream, imprisoned with trees.

I quote Li Po, something about the autumn moon
raking white bones–  such poise– as if language

had found a way to walk
through the forest of self.

I too am full of dreams.
That you and I lived in a house

with many chambers: ramparts, secret boltholes.

When I woke
your phantom pulse rapped at my temples,
and I reached for those two ten-cent-pieces
of membranous skin either side of my head

where bone refuses to grow.
I sealed with a finger
whatever was trapped inside

and remembered reading how,
in order to draw out the Devil,
medieval priests held dog’s blood
to the temples
in copper chalices.

But snares and exorcisms don’t work.

There is nothing to offer your cancer
that it doesn’t already have.

And we were never ones for prayer, anyway

you told me once
when your children were small

you traced the whirlpools of hair
at those diminutive entry points

to the brain as they slept
and the yielding beneath the surface

seemed to spiral down
through their toes into earth

like the roots of some insatiable oak.
You felt like God, you said,

your finger on the soft-leaf pulse
at the centre of things.

While branches scratched
the window outside

and on the wall

your body’s shadows,
enticed through portals
of lamplight,

turned monstrous.

*from Poetry Macao