Mage Kuday (My Umbrella)  Ted Frisbie



Before the early followers ever carved the

Buddha image in stone, either out of reverence,

Lack of skill,

Or something,

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,

huddled together,


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

Cowering beneath.


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

                                                        too many.


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.