Mage Kuday (My Umbrella) | Ted Frisbie
Before the early followers ever carved the
Buddha image in stone, either out of reverence,
Lack of skill,
They just used an open parasol
or a tree.
That was when the Dhamma was new.
Today I bought my umbrella
A traveler ducking quickly away
from sidewalk hawkers,
I lingered on one — lime with pink flowers —
One I would not lose easily.
Hot as I was (and feeling a little proud), I
Walked to my bus stop and waited
Under the shade of my new kuday.
Lucky for me, for it was soon showered by
A stream of crimson spit from above. I
Rushed away, a blood-red stain blooming
Among the pale roses which had once lain hidden in the
Unopened umbrella back in the shop
On Kotugodella Rd.
I looked back, to see that the shot was fired
By a saffron-clad monk, who'd gotten an
Especially good angle from his “reserved” bus seat.
Today, there are images of the Buddha in
Every store, bus, topping the hills and door jambs
Of Sri Lanka. And the
Dhamma, by his own prediction, is in decline.
Still today, when it rains in Kandy,
the streets slow, the people can be seen trying hard
to make themselves invisible,
disappearing under Bodhi trees like some
Sanchi relief, indicating the pervading
Awareness of emptiness
That was the Buddha.
Or else, the holy parasol returns; plastic
Bags caparison red-toothed trinket salesmen, purses
Shelter eyeglasses and pink folded saris,
Balding businessmen and beggars sprout the
Wrinkled plaid of handkerchiefs tucked
Behind ears, as if any piece of
Lost road floss,
When raised above the head, somehow purifies that which hides
As my bus tires quickly hissed past the
Temple of the Tooth, the monsoon roof seemed
To be floating, gold-lipped, levitating
On a cushion of holiness emitted from
A 2,500 year-old canine.
Through the slant of rain and memory, I
can see how the cement pillars of our
Dangolla classroom conspire together,
Calling up echoes of the Embekke carvings,
Of the great audience hall at the Kandyan Maligawa.
But this is contrived, the hall filled
With stacking plastic chairs and ceiling fans,
Electricity meters and the pandering of tourist
Posters of sun-flooded Thupa-rama,
Its bare, listing pillars still struggling to
Hold aloft a roof
Too small for the stupa,
Thrice enlarged by the largesse
Of Kings long past.
Our corrugated, pre-fabricated angles, along
With mortar and terracotta, have run the rain
Away from the heads of lumbering
Green elephant dignitaries,
Served by the shuffling invisible faces,
“the problem race,” either “Indian” or “Sri Lankan,”
(it matters little as long as crosses
are hidden and tilaks wiped off before
donning “the national costume”).
The party men select carefully
From vegetable patties and cake rectangles,
Then drag trunk and knuckles toward
another panel discussion about
“the terrorists” after one drink
Stepping off the bus, I avoid the silt-laden rivulets
Which rush down the asphalt, rising over my
Flip-flops as I ascend to our home-cum-collegiate classroom
Of an assassinated presidential hopeful.
Closing the gate, I rush to place the red plastic
Buckets under the dripping columns, having
Remembered that this roof leaks in many places
Under any significant rainfall.
Small pools are already forming, and
I am not surprised.