Courting a Monk

When I first saw my husband he was sitting cross-legged under a tree on the quad, his hair as short as peach fuzz, large blue eyes staring upward, smile on his face so wide and undirected as to seem moronic. I went flying by him every minute or two, guarding man-to-man, or chasing down a pass, and out of the corner of my eye I would see him watching and smiling. What I noticed about him most was his tremendous capacity for stillness. His hands were like still-life objects resting on his knees; his posture was impeccable. He looked so rooted there, like some cheerful, exotic mushroom, that I began to feel awkward in my exertion. Sweat funneled into the valley of my back, cooling and sticking when I stopped, hands on knees, to regain my breath. I tried to stop my gape mouth panting, refashioned my ponytail, and wiped my hands on the soft front of my sweatpants.

He was still there two plays later when my team was down by one. Sully stole a pass and flipped to Graham. Graham threw me a long bomb that sailed wide and I leapt for it, sailing with the frisbee for a moment in a parallel line–floating, flying, reaching– before coming down whap! against the ground. I groaned. I’d taken a tree root in the solar plexus. The wind was knocked out of me. I lay there, the taste of dry leaves in my mouth.

“Sorry, Gina. Lousy pass,” Graham said, coming over. “You okay?”

“Fine,” I gasped, fingering my ribs. “Just let me sit out for a while.”

I sat down in the leaves, breathing carefully as I watched them play. The day was growing dark and the frisbee was hard to see. Everyone was tired and played in a sloppy rhythm of errant throws and dropped passes.

Beside me on the grass crept the guy from under the tree. I had forgotten about him. He crouched shyly next to me, leaves cracking under his feet, and, when I looked up, he whispered, “You were magnificent,” and walked away smiling.


I spotted him the next day in the vegetarian dining hall. I was passing through with my plate of veal Cordon Bleu when I saw him sitting by himself next to the window. He took a pair of wooden chopsticks out of the breast pocket of his shirt and poked halfheartedly at his tofu and wilted mung beans. I sat down across from him and demanded his life story.

It turned out he wanted to be a monk. Not the Chaucerian kind, bald-pated and stout, with a hooded robe, ribald humor and pension for wine. Something even more baffling– a Buddhist. He had just returned from a semester in Nepal, studying in a monastery in the Himalayas. His hair was coming back in in soft spikes across his head and he had a watchful manner– Not cautious but receptive, waiting.

He was from King of Prussia, off the Philadelphia mainline, and this made me mistrust the depths of his beliefs. I have discovered the fascination for the East is often a prelude to a pass, a romantic overture set in motion by an “I think oriental girls are so beautiful,” and a vice-like grip on the upper thigh. But Micah was different. He understood I was not impressed by his belief, and he did not aim to impress.

“My father was raised Buddhist,” I told him. “But he’s a scientist now.”

“Oh,” said Mika. “So, he’s not spiritual.”

“Spirit’s insubstantial,” I said. “He doesn’t hold with intangibility.”

“Well, you can’t hold atoms in your hand,” Mika pointed out.

“Ah,” I said, smiling, “but you can count them.”



.   .   .



I told Micah my father was a man of science, and this was true. He was a man, also, of silence. Unlike Micah, whose reticence seemed calming, so undisturbed, like a pool of light on still water, my father’s silence was like the lid on a pot, sealing off some steaming, inner pressure.

Words were not my father’s medium, “Language,” my father liked to say, “is an imprecise instrument.” (For though he said little, when he hit upon a phrase he liked, he said it many times.) He was fond of Greek letters and numerals set together in intricate equations, symbolizing a certain physical law or experimental hypothesis. He filled yellow legal pads in a strong, vertical hand, writing these beauties down in black, indelible felt-tip pen. I think it was a source of tremendous irritation to him that he could not communicate with other people in so ordered a fashion, that he could not simply draw an equals sign after something he’d said, have them solve for x or y.

That my father’s English was not fluent was only part of it. He was not a garrulous man, even in Korean, among visiting relatives, or alone with my mother. And with me, his only child—who could speak neither of his preferred languages, Korean or science—my father had conspicuously little to say. “Pick up this mess,” he would tell me, returning from work in the evening. “Homework finished?” he would inquire, raising an eyebrow over his rice bowl as I excused myself to go watch television.

He limited himself to the imperative mood, the realm of injunction and command; the kinds of statement that required no answer, that left no opening for discussion or rejoinder. These communications were my father’s verbal equivalent to his neat numerical equations. They were hermetically sealed.

When I went away to college, my father’s parting words constituted one of the longest speeches I’d heard him make. Surrounded by station wagons packed with suitcases, crates of books and study lamps, amid the excited chattering and calling out of students, among the adults with their nervous, parental surveillance of the scene, my father leaned awkwardly forward with his hands in his pockets, looking at me intently. He said, “Study hard. Go to bed early. Do not goof off. And do not let the American boys take advantages.”

This was the same campus my father had set foot on twenty years before, when he was a young veteran of the Korean War, with fifty dollars his pocket and about that many words of English. Stories of his college years constituted family legend and, growing up, I had heard them so often they were as vivid and dream-like as my own memories. My father in the dorm bathroom over Christmas, vainly trying to hard-boil an egg in a sock by running it under hot water; his triumph in the physics lab where his ability with the new language did not impede him, and where his maturity and keen scientific mind garnered him highest marks and the top physics prize in his senior year—these were events I felt I’d witnessed, like some obscure, envious ghost.

In the shadow of my father’s achievements then, on the same campus where he had first bowed his head to a microscope, lost in a chalk-dust mathematical dream, I pursued words. English words. I committed myself to expertise. I studied Shakespeare and Eliot, Hardy and Conrad, Joyce and Lawrence and Hemingway and Fitzgerald. It was important to get it right, every word, every nuance, to fill in my father’s immigrant silence, the gaps he had left for me.

Other gaps he’d left.  Staying up late and studying little, I did things my father would have been too shocked to merely disapprove. As for American boys, I heeded his advice and did not let them take advantage. Instead I advantage of them, of their proximity, their good looks, and the amiable way they would fall into bed with you if you gave them the slightest encouragement. I liked the way they moved in proud possession of their bodies, the rough feel of their unshaven cheeks, their shoulders and smooth, hairless chests, the curve of their backs like burnished wood.  I liked the way I could look up at them, or down, feeling their shuddering climax like a distant earthquake; I could make it happen, moving in undulant circles from above or below, watching them, holding them making them happy. I collected boys like baubles, like objects not particularly valued, which you stash away in the back of some drawer. It was the pleasant interchangeability of their bodies I liked. They were all white boys.


Micah refused to have sex with me. It became a matter of intellectual disagreement between us. “Sex saps the will,” he said.

“Not necessarily,” I argued. “Just reroutes it.”

There are higher forms of union,” he said.

“Not with your clothes off,” I replied.

“Gina,” he said, looking at me with kindness, a concern that made me flush with anger. “What need do you have that sex must fill?”

“Fuck you, Micah,” I said. “Be a monk, not a psychologist.”

He laughed. His laughter was always a surprise to me, like a small disturbance to the universe. I wanted to seduce him, this was true. I considered Micah the only real challenge among an easy field. But more than seduction, I wanted to rattle him, to get under that sense of peace, that inward contentment. No one my age, I reasoned, had the right to such self-possession.


We went for walks in the bird sanctuary, rustling along the paths slowly, discussing Emily Dickinson or maple-syrup-making, but always I brought the subject around.

“What a waste of a life,” I said once. “‘Such indulgence. All that monkly devotion and quest for inner peace. Big deal. It’s selfish. Not only is it selfish, it’s a cop-out. An escape from this world and its messes.”

Micah listened, a narrow smile on his lips, shaking his head regretfully. “You’re so wonderfully passionate, Gina, so alive and in the world. I can’t make you see. Maybe it is cop-out, as you say, but Buddhism makes no distinction between the world outside or the world within the monastery. And historically, monks have been in the middle of political protest and persecution. Look at Tibet.”

“l was thinking about, ahem, something more basic,” I said.

Micah laughed. “Of course,” he said. “You don’t seem to understand, Gina, Buddhism is all about the renunciation of desire.”

I sniffed. “What’s wrong with desire? Without desire, you might as well not be alive.”

The truth was that I was fascinated by this idea, the renunciation of desire. My life was fueled by longing by vast and clamorous desires; a striving toward things I did not have and, perhaps, had no hope of having. I could vaguely imagine an end, some point past desiring, of satiety, but I could not fathom the laying down of desire, walking away in full appetite.

“The desire to renounce desire,” I said now, “is still desire, isn’t it?’

Micah sunk his hands into his pockets and smiled. “It’s not,” he said, walking ahead of me. “It’s a conscious choice.”

We came to a pond, sun-dappled in a clearing, bordered by white birch and maples with the bright leaves of mid-autumn. A fluttering of leaves blew from the trees, landing on the water as gently as if they’d been placed. The color of the pond was a deep canvas green; glints of light snapped like sparks above the surface. There was the lyric coo of a mourning dove, the chitter-chitter of late-season insects. Micah’s capacity for appreciation was vast. Whether this had anything to do with Buddhism, I didn’t know, but watching him stand on the edge of the pond, his head thrown back, his eyes eagerly taking in the light, I felt his peace and also his sense of wonder. He stood motionless for a long time.

I pulled at ferns, weaved their narrow leaves in irregular samplers, braided tendrils together, while Micah sat on a large rock and, taking his chopsticks from his breast pocket, began to tap them lightly against one another in a solemn rhythm.

“Every morning in the monastery,” he said, “we woke to the prayer drum. Four o’clock and the sky would be dark and you’d hear the hollow wooden sound—plock, plock, plock—summoning you to meditation.” He smiled dreamily. The chopsticks made a somewhat less effectual sound, a sort of ta ta ta. I imagined sunrise across a Himalayan valley— the wisps of pink-tinged cloud on a cold spring morning, the austerity of a monk’s chamber.

Micah had his eyes closed, face to the sun. He continued to tap the chopsticks together slowly. He looked singular and new, sitting on that rock, like an advance scout for some new tribe, with his crest of hair and calm, and the attentiveness of his body to his surroundings.

I think it was then I fell in love with him, or, it was in that moment that my longing for him became so great that it was no longer a matter of simple gratification. I needed his response. I understood what desire was then, the disturbance of a perfect moment in anticipation of another.

“Wake-up call,” I said. I peeled off my turtleneck and sweater in one clever motion and tossed them at Micah’s feet. Micah opened his eyes. I pulled my pants off and my underwear and stood naked. “Plock, plock, who’s there?”

Micah did not turn away. He looked at me, his chopsticks poised in the air. He raised one toward me and held it, as though he were an artist with a paintbrush raised for a proportion, or a conductor ready to lead an orchestra. He held the chopstick suspended in the space between us, and it was as though I couldn’t move for as long as he held it. His eyes were fathomless blue. My nipples constricted with the cold. Around us leaves fell in shimmering lights to the water, making a soft rustling sound like the rub of stiff fabric. He brought his hand down and I was released. I turned and leapt into the water.


A few nights later I bought a bottle of cheap wine and goaded Micah into drinking it with me. We started out on the steps of the library after it had closed for the night, taking sloppy swigs from a brown paper bag. The lights of the Holyoke range blinked in the distance, across the velvet black of the freshman quad. From there we wandered the campus, sprawling on the tennis courts, bracing a stiff wind from the terrace of the science center, sedately rolling down Memorial Hill like a pair of tumbleweeds.

“J’a know what a koan is?” he asked me, when we were perched at the top of the bleachers behind home plate. We unsteadily contemplated the steep drop off the back side.

“You mean like ice cream?” I said.

“No, a ko-an. In Buddhism.”


“It’s a question that has no answer, sort of like a riddle. You know, like ‘What is the sound of one hand clapping?’ Or ‘What was your face before you were born?'”

“‘What was my face before it was born?’ That makes no sense.”

“Exactly. You’re supposed to contemplate the koan until you achieve a greater awareness.”

“Of what?”

“Of life, of meaning?’

“Oh, O.K.,” I said. “I’ve got it.” I was facing backwards, the bag with the bottle in both my hands. “How ‘bout, What’s the sound of one cheek farting?’”

He laughed for a long time, then retched off the side of the bleachers. I got him home and put him to bed; his forehead was feverish, his eyes glassy with sickness.

“Sorry,” I said. “I’m a bad influence.” I kissed him. His lips were hot and slack.

“Don’t mind,” he murmured, half asleep.

The next night we slept in the same bed together for the first time. He kept his underwear on and his hands pressed firmly to his sides, like Gandhi among his young virgins. I was determined to make it difficult for him. I kept brushing my naked body against him, draping a leg across his waist, stroking his narrow chest with my fingertips. He wiggled and pushed away, feigning sleep. When I woke in the morning, he was gone and the Ode to Joy was blasting from my stereo.


Graham said he missed me. We’d slept together a few times before I met Micah, enjoying the warm, healthful feeling we got from running or playing Ultimate, taking a quick sauna and falling into bed. He was dark and broad, with sinewy arms and a tight chest. He made love to a woman like he was lifting Nautilus, all grim purpose and timing. It was hard to believe that had ever been appealing. I told him I was seeing someone else.

“Not the guy with the crew cut?” he said. “The one who looks like a baby seal?”

I shrugged.

Graham looked at me skeptically. “He doesn’t seem like your type,” he said.

“No,” I agreed. “But at least he’s not yours.”


Meanwhile I stepped up my attack. I asked endless questions about Buddhist teaching. Micah talked about dukkha; the four noble truths; the five aggregates of attachment; the noble eightfold path to enlightenment. I listened dutifully, willing to acknowledge that it all sounded nice, that the goal of perfect awareness and peace seemed worth attaining. While he talked, I stretched my feet out until my toes touched his thigh; I slid my hand along his back; or leaned way over so he could see down my loose, barely-buttoned blouse.

“Too bad you aren’t Tantric,” I said. I’d been doing research.

Micah scoffed. ”Hollywood Buddhism,” he said. “Heavy breathing and theatrics.”

“They believe in physical desire,” I said. “They have sex.”

“Buddha believes in physical desire,” ‘Micah said. “It’s impermanent, that’s all. Something to get beyond.”

“To get beyond it,” I said petulantly, “you have to do it.”

Micah sighed. “Gina,” he said, “you are beautiful, but I can’t. There are a lot of guys who will.”

“A lot of them do.”

He smiled a bit sadly. “Well, then…”

I leaned down to undo his shoelaces. I tied them together in double knots. “But I want you,” I said.


My parents lived thirty miles from campus and my mother frequently asked me to come home for dinner. I went only once that year, and that was with Micah. My parents were not the kind of people who enjoyed the company of strangers. They were insular people who did not like to socialize much or go out—or anyway, my father was that way, and my mother accommodated herself to his preferences.

My mother had set the table in the dining room with blue linen. There were crystal wine glasses and silver utensils in floral patterns. She had made some dry baked chicken with overcooked peas and carrots— the meal she reserved for when Americans came to dinner. When it came to Korean cooking, my mother was a master. She made fabulous marinated short ribs and sautéed transparent bean noodles with vegetables and beef, pork dumplings and batter-fried shrimp, and cucumber and turnip kimchis which she made herself and fermented in brown earthenware jars. But American cuisine eluded her; it bored her. I think she thought it was meant to be tasteless.

“Just make Korean,” I had urged her on the phone. “He’ll like that.”

My mother was skeptical, “Too spicy,” she said. “I know what Americans like.”

“Not the chicken dish,” I pleaded. “He’s a vegetarian.”

“We’ll see,” said my mother, conceding nothing.

Micah stared down at his plate. My mother smiled serenely. Micah nodded. He ate a forkful of vegetables, took a bite of bread. His Adam’s apple seemed to be doing a lot of work.  My father, too, was busy chewing; his Adam’s apple moving up and down his throat like the ratchets of a tire jack. No one had said a thing since my father had uncorked the Chardonnay and read to us the description from his well-creased paperback edition of The New York Times Guide to Wine.

The sound of silverware scraping on ceramic plates seemed amplified. I was aware of my own prolonged chewing. My father cleared his throat. My mother looked at him expectantly. He coughed.

“Micah studied Buddhism in Nepal,” I offered into the silence.

“Oh!” my mother exclaimed. She giggled.

My father kept eating. He swallowed exaggeratedly and looked up. “That so?” he said, sounding almost interested.

Micah nodded. “l was only there four months,” he said. “Gina tells me you were brought up Buddhist?”

My father grunted. “Well, of course,” he said, “in Korea in those days, our families were all Buddhist. I do not consider myself a Buddhist now.” Micah and I exchanged a look.

“It’s become quite fashionable, I understand,” my father went on. “With you American college kids. Buddhism has become fad.” I saw Micah wince.

“I think it is wonderful, Hi Joon,” my mother interceded, “for Americans to learn about Asian religion and philosophy. I was a philosophy major in college, Micah. I studied Whitehead, American pragmatism.”

My father leaned back in his chair and watched, frowning, while my mother and Micah talked. It was like he was trying to analyze Micah, not as a psychiatrist analyzes—my father held a dim view of psychology—but as a chemist would, breaking him down to his basic elements, the simple chemical formula that would define his makeup.

Micah was talking about the aggregates of matter, sensation, perception, mental formations, and consciousness that comprise being in Buddhist teaching. “It’s a different sense of self than in Christian religions,” he explained, looking at my mother.

“Nonsense,” my father interrupted.  “There is no self in Buddhist doctrine…”

My mother and I watched helplessly as they launched into discussion. I was surprised that my father seemed to know so much about it, and by how much he was carrying forth.  I was surprised also by Micah’s deference. He seemed to have lost all his sureness, the walls of his conviction. He kept nodding and conceding to my father certain points that he had rigorously defended to me before. “l guess I don’t know as much about it,” he said more than once and “Yes, I see what you mean” several times, with a sickening air of humility.

I turned from my father’s glinting, pitiless intelligence, to Micah’s respectfulness, his timid manner, and felt a rising irritation I could not place, anger at my father’s belligerence, at Micah’s backing down, at my own strange motives for having brought them together. Had I really expected them to get along? And yet, my father was concentrating on Micah with such an intensity—almost as though he were a rival—in a way in which he never focused on me.

When the dialogue lapsed, and after we had consumed as much of the food as we deemed polite, my mother took the dishes away and brought in a bowl of rice with kimchi for my father. Micah’s eyes lit up. “May I have some of that, too, Mrs. Kim?”

My mother looked doubtful. “Too spicy,” she said.

“Oh, I love spicy food,” Micah assured her. My mother went to get him a bowl.

“You can use chopsticks?” my mother said, as Micah began eating with them.

“Mom, it’s no big deal,” I said.

My father looked up from his bowl. Together, my parents watched while Micah ate a large piece of cabbage kimchi.

“Hah!” my father said, suddenly smiling. “Gina doesn’t like kimchi,” he said. He looked at me. “Gina,” he said. “This boy more Korean than you.”

“Doesn’t take much,” I said.

My father ignored me. “Gina always want to be American,” he told Micah. “Since she was little girl, she want blue eyes, yellow hair.” He stabbed a chopstick toward Micah’s face. “Like yours.”

“If I had hair,” said Micah, grinning, rubbing a hand across his head.

My father stared into his bowl. “She doesn’t want to be Korean girl. She thinks she can be 100 percent American, but she cannot. She has Korean blood—100 percent. Doesn’t matter where you grow up—blood is most important. What is in the blood.” He gave Micah a severe look. “You think you can become Buddhist. Same way. But it is not in your blood. You cannot know real Buddha’s teaching. You should study Bible.”

“God, Dad!” I said. “You sound like a Nazi!”

“Gina!” my mother warned.

“You’re embarrassing me,” I said. “Being rude to my guest. Discussing me as if I wasn’t here. You can say what you want, Dad, I’m American whether you like it or not. Blood’s got nothing to do with it. It’s what’s up here.”  I tapped my finger to my temple.

“It’s not Nazi,” my father said. “Is fact! What you have here,” he pointed to his forehead, “is all from blood, from genetics. You got from me.”

“Heaven help me,” I said.

“Gina!” my mother implored.

“Mr. Kim—” Micah began.

“You just like American girl in one thing,” my father shouted. “You have no respect for father. In Korea, daughters do not talk back to their parents, is big shame!”

“In Korea, girls are supposed to be submissive doormats for fathers to wipe their feet on!” I shouted back.

“What do you know about Korea? You went there only once when you were six years old.”

“It’s in my blood,” I said. I stood up. “I’m not going to stay here for this. Come on, Micah?”

Micah looked at me uncertainly, then turned to my father.

My father was eating again, slowly levering rice to his mouth with his chopsticks. He paused. “She was always this way,” he said, seeming to address the table. “So angry. Even as a little girl.”

“Mr. Kim,” Micah said. “Um, thank you very much. We’re… I think we’re heading out now.”

My father chewed ruminatively. “I should never have left Korea,” he said quietly, with utter conviction.

“Gina,” my mother said. “Sit down. Hi Joon, please!”

“Micah,” I said. “You coming?”

We left my father alone at the dining-room table.

“I should have sent you to live with Auntie Soo!” he called after me.

My mother followed us out to the driveway with a Tupperware container of chicken Micah hadn’t eaten.


On the way home we stopped for ice cream. Koans, I told Micah. “What is the sound of Swiss chocolate almond melting?” I asked him. “What was the vanilla before it was born?”

Inside the ice-cream parlor the light was too strong, a ticking fluorescence bleaching everything bone-white. Micah leaned down to survey the cardboard barrels of ice cream in their plastic cases. He looked shrunken, subdued, He ordered a scoop of mint chocolate chip and one of black cherry on a sugar cone and ate it with the long, regretful licks of a child who’d spent the last nickel of his allowance. There was a ruefulness to his movements, a sense of apology. He had lost his monk-like stillness and seemed suddenly adrift.

The cold of the ice cream gave me a headache, all the blood vessels in my temples seemed strung out and tight. I shivered and the cold was like fury, spreading through me with the chill.

Micah rubbed my back.

“You’re hard on your father,” he said. “He’s not a bad guy.”

“Forget it,” I said.  “Let’s go.”


We walked from the dorm parking lot in silence. There were lights going on across the quad and music spilling from the windows out into the cool air. What few stars there were seemed too distant to wage a constant light.

Back in my room, I put on the Rolling Stones at full blast. Mick Jagger’s voice was taunting and cruel. I turned out the lights and lit a red candle.

“O.K., this is going to stop,” I said. I felt myself trembling. I pushed Micah back on the bed. I was furious. He had ruined it for me, the lightness, the skimming quality of my life. It had seemed easy, with the boys, the glib words and feelings, the simple heat and surface pleasures. It was like the sensation of flying, leaping for the Frisbee and sailing through the air. For a moment you lose a feeling for gravity, for the consciousness of your own skin or species. For a moment you are free.

I started to dance, fast, swinging and swaying in front of the bed. I closed my eyes and twirled wildly, bouncing off the walls like a pinball, stumbling on my own stockings. I danced so hard the stereo skipped, Jagger forced to stutter in throaty monosyllables, gulping repetitions. I whirled and circled, threw my head from side to side until I could feel the baffled blood, brought my hair up off my neck and held it with both hands.

Micah watched me dance. His body made an inverted-S upon my bed, his head propped by the pillar of his own arm. The expression on his face was the same as he’d had talking with my father, that look of deference, of fawn-eyed yielding. But I could see there was something hidden.

With white-knuckled fingers, I undid the buttons of my sweater and ripped my shirt lifting it off my head. I danced out of my skirt and under things, kicking them into the corner, danced until the song was over, until I was soaked with sweat and burning—and then I jumped him.

It was like the taste of food after a day’s starvation—unexpectedly strong and substantial. Micah responded to my fury, met it with his own mysterious passion; it was like a brawl, a fight, with something at stake that neither of us wanted to lose. Afterward we sat up in bed and listened to Ode to Joy while Micah, who had a surplus supply of chopsticks lying around the room, did his Leonard Bernstein impersonation. Later, we went out for a late-night snack to All-Star Dairy and Micah admitted to me that he was in love.



.   .   .



My father refused to attend the wedding. He liked Micah, but he did not want me to marry a Caucasian. It became a joke I would tell people. Korean custom, I said, to give the bride away four months before the ceremony.

Micah became a high-school biology teacher. I am an associate dean of students at the local college. We have two children. When Micah tells the story of our courtship, he tells it with great self-deprecation and humor. He makes it sound as though he were crazy to ever consider becoming a monk “Think of it,” he tells our kids. “Your dad.”

Lately I’ve taken to reading books about Buddhism. Siddhartha Gotama was thirty-five years old when he sat under the Bodhi-tree on the bank of the river Neranjara and gained Enlightenment. Sometimes, when I see my husband looking at me across the breakfast table, or walking toward me from the other side of a room, I catch a look of distress on his face, a blinking confusion, as though he cannot remember who I am. I have happened on him a few times, on a Sunday when he has disappeared from the house, sitting on a bench with the newspaper in his lap staring across the town common, so immersed in his thoughts that he is not roused by my calling of his name.

I remember the first time I saw him, that tremendous stillness he carried, the contentment in his face.  I remember how he looked on the rocks by that pond, like a pioneer in a new land, and I wonder if he regrets, as I do, the loss of his implausible faith. Does he miss the sound of the prayer drum, the call to an inner life without the configuration of desire? I think of my father, running a sock under heated water thousands of miles from home, as yet unaware of the daughter he will raise with the same hopeful, determined, and ultimately futile, effort. I remember the way I used to play around with koans, and I wonder, “What is the sound of a life not lived?”




Courting a Monk won a Pushcart Prize in 1998.