Poem: The First Precept

In Lhasa, sitting in a dim café, soft cave of quiet,
I hold a chipped white porcelain mug and sip jasmine tea,
its flavor like warm spring flowers on my tongue.

I watch the woman bend low to slowly sweep
the old wooden floor with her worn nub of a broom.
She moves like a mallard floating on an evening lake:
this is life; there is no thought of finishing this motion.

Her dark face is weathered by wind and sun, both harsh at this altitude.
With lined brow she looks gnome-like,
a mysterious little witch dressed all in deep blue:
blouse, apron, skirt to her ankles same outfit every day this past week.

A small spider moves almost crab-like across the floor
in fast starts it scuttles, stops suddenly,
then hurries along again, edging ever closer.

She sees the spider and lays down the broom.
Like a dreaming dance or sleepy stretch
she bows even lower and scoops
the eight legged creature into her hand.

With the same slow pace she heads to the open door
one foot in front of the other, a silent march of patience.
She stoops again, places the spider on the ground outside,
a new home of rock and weeds.

Reentering the room, she looks like a little girl now
her step lighter and quicker
bright smile stretches across her mouth
twinkles in her eyes like a secret joke:
sunlight shines silver
on a spider web after the rain.

— Julie Hungiville LeMay

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