There is a nun in South Korea
Who walked up the side of a mountain
To Baekyangsa temple, when she was
Seventeen, and her mother had just died.
You have come here to live,
Said the nun who opened the door,
Not asking a question. Just telling
A truth that had yet to manifest.
Jeong Kwan unpins her freshly
Laundered robes and whispers them
Around her shoulders. How old is she?
Only the mountain knows.
But the taengja tree outside her window
Is 500 years old. Hardy orange, it still
Bears fruit, and Kwan uses the sour juice
In her cooking.
She pickles lotus root three different ways,
Then checks on jars of kimchi. She never
Uses garlic, onions, scallions, chives, leeks.
Too distracting for a monk.
Soy excites her.
Sometimes I agree with the world
That to be a mother is everything. Is the key
And the lock. Jeong Kwan vowed at seventeen
To not burden her children with the pain of her death.
There is something in that,
We can't all choose to opt out or the world
Would stop spinning
Around humans. Bees might take over. Or
Rats. Or better still, dust motes of light. Or dark.
Jeong Kwan unfurls petal after petal
Of the lotus flower, soaking the skirt
In water. Later, she will pour the water
Into a pot and you will want to gulp the tea
As though you are parched. You are parched
And this is the tea of enlightenment. The tea
That rings the bell of truth - life can be this
Way. An art. A craft. A discipline. A dance.
Three slices of lotus root, pickled
In an heirloom of soy sauce.
(c) Shaista Tayabali, 2017
Jeong Kwan is considered one of the finest chefs of this world by the finest chefs of this world, who are almost exclusively male. Life can be this way. Women can be this way. Happy Women's Day today and every day to all my friends and sisters, my mentors and teachers and heroes. We can be anything. We can do everything. Certainly, we can.
(Poem linked to Dverse Poets for Open Link Night)