Period Piece

We climbed the hundred steps and rang 
the bell. Taking turns, we wrapped 
our hands around a bundle of prayer 
sticks and dropped them 

on the table. Sleepy-eyed, a monk 
pushed toward us a pad of paper, 
a pencil stub. We were to write 
down a question or a wish, 

which is also a kind of question. 
How far we were from the cities 
where we'd crossed the thresholds 
of all our houses. We didn't save

the stone of every fruit that fell 
so brightly from the tree, proclaiming 
it was ready to become our brand-
new heart. Mist was always drifting 

through the valley. A bridge was always 
cutting through it to disappear somewhere 
beyond. On a distant ridge, the ruins 
of a convent or a garrison,  

where ghosts walked their labyrinths 
and kept to themselves any counsel about 
the future. I wanted to keep a souvenir, 
to take a sheaf of creased 

and dog-eared photos: sunlight on a shaded 
porch, the roots of orchids parting the air.
The man and woman seated next to each 
other but smiling only with their eyes.

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