Tugging up the frozen edge of a black robe, he squats low at the stream to read it
one last time. No doubt, these three steep lines mark the end.
He’ll offer nothing greater here. The white stubble on his scalp doesn’t stop
even a single snowflake’s insult. But this.
He’ll take his own time now. Creasing rice paper against itself into the shape of a crow.
Crow tumbles in the water like a phrase,
stalls on a moss-covered log, then down. Out of sight.
A glow in the trees, a murmuring chant lure him back.
He leaves behind rope sandals at the iron gate—
ordered neat, in a row with the others.
Ten centuries later, he leans over these same waters.
Elbows planted on the rail of an arched cedar bridge.
His freckled hands write home in a foreign alphabet.
He will mention a nearby shrine, open to all until dusk.
For a moment— right here— he’s lifted out of himself.
A pebble drops from his fingers.
He makes no effort to grasp this thing,
drifting like a panic beneath him.
A woman brushes snow off his blue pea coat.