Mt. Wutai, China
You’ve come to a place that is always raining, the silence: a flood.
At five a.m., the group stands like still poplars outside
the monastery. The previous night, your white uniform had blown
from the laundry line into the dirt and the smell of earth never leaves you.
She tells you about how she cut class to go sit on the toilet,
contemplating ways to end her life. ‘I knew then that I had to do something,’
the monastic explains. ‘That something needed to change.’ Your head
has been shaved, each rainbow strand an earthly attachment. When
you swept up the pile of sunlight, you didn’t feel any lighter. The poplars
paint their characters and you are told to stop smiling. On Mt. Wutai, the prayer flags
flutter furiously. There’s never enough rice and your body burns
through itself; those flags are a fitful hunger. At night,
you don’t bother turning over when water drips from the cracked
plaster onto your forehead and you begin to wonder
why do lay people come here—why did you come here—and has your pride
become a fist—will toxins melt in summer snow—
You share a room with a stranger. The pilgrim’s back is hunched, her eyes
a brilliant black. ‘Nǐ duō dà le?’ you ask. She thinks she’s eighty but can’t be sure.
You shit in a hole and shower alongside her, your frame nearly twice
her size. She doesn’t care you’re a giant or that it’s your birthday.
The mountain is chilly in July. When you give a monk your WeChat,
he sends you a pixelated lotus; you reply with thank you hands. The monastics’ robes are flecks
of crimson. You can sense the five flat peaks, the thousands of vertical pines. Your skin
is so damp you become Wutai, and the well of your anger dissolves into rain.
Ana Pugatch is a Harvard graduate who taught English in China and Thailand for several years. She recently completed her MFA at George Mason University, where she was awarded the ’20-’21 Poetry Heritage Fellowship. Her work has been featured in publications such as The Los Angeles Review, Pinesong, and Literary Shanghai. She lives in Raleigh with her partner and son.