The Scene  |  The Tribe   |   David Rounds  |   March 21, 2011, 11:31 am

I had a fall and broke my kneecap a few weeks ago,
But thought I’d still try joining the retreat
In honor of Kuan Yin, for at least one morning.
Sue drove me to the hall.
I propped my injured leg up on a chair
Out of the path of the assembly
As they circled round and sang the chant,
“Na Mo Guan Shi Yin Pu Sa”—
Homage to the Bodhisattva Guan Shi Yin!

The morning session ceased a half hour early.
I set out walking towards the Admin building
To call my ride. A walk of some five minutes—
A walk I’ve made at least ten thousand times—
But not with one leg dragging in a brace,
Not hobbling while I leaned upon a cane
I was weary far too soon. Fearing most of all another fall,
I wished that somebody would stop to help,
Bring me a chair to rest on, or fetch me in their car
People kept breezing by, not seeing me,
Perhaps their minds were focused on the chant
Though as for my mind, its complaining
Had quickly pushed the chant aside and silenced it.

I didn’t see her till she stood beside me—
One of the tame peahens that run free
About the temple grounds. Usually
The peahens run in groups, keeping their shy distance,
Not like their males, who display their gaudy fans
To challenge human trespassers who would presume
To venture onto their proprietary sidewalks.
But this peahen, the one beside me, was alone.
I stopped to look at her, and she looked back,
Intelligence was in her eye, and some deep amusement.
It seemed appropriate to say good morning.
Feeling heartened—and idly puzzling
Whether I had seen that bright red-orange band
Around the neck of any other peahen—
I found I could resume my halting walk.
Keeping my slow pace, she walked beside me.
A boy, as he stepped briskly past us, reached into a bag;
And tossed some breadcrumbs down the path.
The peahen ran to peck them up, and then returned
To walk again companionably next to me

We reached the street and entered it,
With her beside me as my crossing-guard.
On the other side, for decades now
Beneath a Russian olive tree, a bench has been subsiding—
Gratefully I subsided slowly onto it.
She stood a few feet away now, on the sidewalk
And seeing, as it seemed, that I was safe for now,
She began her morning grooming, as birds do,
Twisting her neck and burying her head beneath her wing,
Fluffing out her breast, ruffling out her feathers black and white.
Ten minutes passed this way
In a comfortable silence of friends.
Then two young human friends drove up,
And as we talked, the peahen straightened from her grooming,
Looked at us, walked farther away, stopped,
Then watched us with one eye,
Waiting. Soon Alex, my ride, drove up too,
I started in laboriously sliding backwards
Onto the back seat of his car,
Intent on keeping straight my injured leg,
And we were halfway home before I realized
That I hadn’t said goodbye or seen her go.

For a few days afterward, I blamed myself
That I had taken her so much for granted,
That only later had I thought to be astonished
At her simple gift of walking next to me.
I felt ashamed; I hadn’t even thanked her.
But then I remembered the amusement I had noticed
Glinting in the depths of her keen eye, and I think
She knew I wouldn’t wonder who she was, at least not then,
And she was far beyond a need for thanks.
Not only had she rescued me—
She’d planted in my heart a seed of quiet happiness
And my accepting it was thanks enough.

D. Rounds

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