Me and the Monks — Smoke and Mirrors

(Other installments in the true “Me and the Monks” serial story may be discovered via search bar on this site)


After the dinner together that first afternoon, the monks were scheduled to make a cultural presentation in the same room in which they had earlier been receiving the public.

Back downstairs we all trooped, to find several rows of folding chairs already erected and facing an empty area at its end.

No one had yet arrived for the presentation and, feeling I had a little time, I went out the front door of the beautiful old mansion which housed that gallery and onto the big front stoop to smoke and gaze out into the garden over its railing.

Before my readers are moved to knee-jerk denigrative judgment of my surely addictive and unexamined self, I wasn’t smoking a cigarette.

And before my perhaps somewhat cooler but probably hardly less groupthink-prone readers get too complacent, I was smoking a home rolled herbal blend which did contain a large proportion of a special kind of properly dried, chemical free, aromatic tobacco.

This poet has paid a huge price, ongoing, in this life to be able truly to say that she engages in no unexamined practice.

If anything, her practices — as well as everything else about herself and the universe she lives in — are subject to such multiply minute examinations in such a plethora of likely and unlikely present and future contexts as to be confounding to the average Western mind.

My practise on that front porch moment being no different than any other in this respect — and the subject itself being due to pop up again in this poet’s life in a completely different sangha and among completely different monks more than ten years later — she will include here, for purposes of elucidation and simplification, the original poetic work which came out of her examinations of it:


The Sacred Smoke

Many spiritual disciplines on Earth
Share a conviction of redeeming grace
Assisted by the free release of smoke
In its sacred and its proper space

From pagans ‘cross this planet, going back
Far into dim human prehistory
From those all across the Americas
To medieval Scotland, sage it be

When burnt makes shadow beings sudden feel
As there were someplace other they might be;
Perceptions universal merit our
Examination openheartedly

Then let us not stop there — if pagan folk
The scent of aromatics not abhor
Well, then our world religions certain should
Have us abstaining its stimulus more?…

But no! Panplanetarily we find again
That all our mosques, churches and temples in
Doth lovely herbal incense rise in clouds
Before the incantations e’er begin

Observe picture of meditating monk
Quite clearly in a thorough state of grace
Holding a stick of incense in clasped hands
Directly in front of his smiling face

Each earliest home documentary
Traveling teenage hippie video
Doth with the holy men of India
They rolling and they smoking ganja show

From South America to Africa
Certain strains clean tobacco of
Are medicine which sometimes saves a life
Of someone someone else doth deeply love

Having had very sick lungs myself
This research and conclusion are borne out
By twenty years’ physicians’ testament
Of health we cannot reasonably doubt

America pollutes tobacco smoke
With seven thousand unnecessary
Chemicals, then seeks to castigate
All sources of all smoke that ever be

Except the lethal fumes which hover o’er
Me as I writing sit beside this road
Go outside now — sit on the ground — and breathe:
This quality doth no good future bode

Proven medical fact it long hath been
That smokers who have dwelt the country in
Have cleaner lungs at death than any who
Nonsmoker, life in inner city win

This too: Of all the thousand studies done
On tobacco’s advisability
Not one of them has so far ever been
Done on that substance when chemical free

Forgive me, but to me almost perhaps
Just theoretic’lly it sometimes seems
That we are being distracted, so to keep
Us from an agent of religious dreams

Perhaps, as well, away from some other
Pervasive influence ourselves among
Which rather than the smoke of veg’tables
Be author of good many of our wrongs

Though do not mean in any smallest wise
My readers’ righteous anger to provoke
I deem it both spiritual and wise
Continue to inhale the sacred smoke


… At any rate the old teacher monk, whom I suddenly found on that porch with me without having actually heard him come out — a circumstance which, looking back now, might have struck me more forcibly than it did — seemed to register no objection as we shared the peaceful silence of that sunset space…


The poet/editor of this website is physically disabled, and lives at a fraction of her nation’s poverty level. Contributions may be made at:

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