day long trek
through dry, red dirt stubbled rice paddies
we stumble from blaze sun into our sanctuary,
an ancient monastery.
stale tobacco cloud hangs around
a ring of wrinkled men
pulling long drags from twisted cheroots
eyes like glassed marbles perched in weathered magpie nests.
greetings hanging dead in smoke.
we four foreigners sit.
we hand over our night’s donation
wait silent for monk’s blessing.
only response the quiet crackle of cheap tobacco.
head monk sits plump in circle center,
a step above.
smooth shaven head wrapped in piled-wool brick-red robe
lips fat like Brando in the heat heavy hall.
lost over mountain horizon.
he lights a cigarette.
long effortless pull.
oblivious in distant indifference
solitary finger perches on his plump lip.
lit stick wilting an inch away in anticipation.
slow motion suicide.
thick, still air.
tongue tasting every vapor of leafy paper.
pungent nicotine crawling into sinus cave
spilling cascades out nostril tunnels
like a lazy dragon after a rich feast.
our palms clam
awaiting a blessing.
eyes fixed in eternity.
smoke slow swirling with creases of Buddha’s statuesque smile.
his thoughts rotate like bamboo chimes
turning in tree breeze.
longing for his affection
filter finds finality with a finishing breath.
cigarette vanishes from air.
mumbling in Burmese
he dismisses our presence.
we escape into evenings fresh air