Postulant

(Taoist Temple, Cebu)

Tu che di gel sei cinta (You who are begirdled by ice) …
~ Liu, in Act 3 of Turandot

Take the reeds and kidney-shaped
divining stones into your hands

and let them fall where they will
upon the floor, says the temple monk

on duty. Light three joss sticks
and waft them in three circles

in the air as you say your prayer
or ask three question of the immortals.

I stand so still he repeats
the instructions; but it’s because I,

being mutable, have so many.
I think of Turandot, stern princess

with her three riddles in her tower of ice,
who does not want to give her heart so easily,

who will not bend from simple generosity,
not even for love. My first question is why

we are so obstinate like that; my second,
why it must be the one who silently serves,

heart full, who’ll move to any length to prove
what we should know by now. And my third—

my third’s the heat of a kind of prayer,
if it is that: for some rough grace

to shake us, make us more, not less
transparent to each other and ourselves.

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