Praying at the Altar

“I’d love to know how he feels about religion now,” I wrote just a few days ago as I posted a New York Times op-ed article by Vietnam veteran W. D. Ehrhart. I didn’t expect an answer, but Ehrhart, a writer and teacher, kindly sent me a reply:

…I’m a firm believer in Hamlet’s comment to his friend, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophies.”

He also sent me the title poem from his latest collection, which we’ll share here and on our Prayers and Poems page. — MHP

Praying at the Altar

I like pagodas.
There’s something—I don’t know—
secretive about them,
soul-soothing, mind-easing.
Inside, if only for a moment,
life’s clutter disappears.

Once, long ago, we destroyed one:
collapsed the walls
til the roof caved in.
Just a small one, all by itself
in the middle of nowhere,
and we were young. And bored.
Armed to the teeth.
And too much time on our hands.

Now whenever I see a pagoda,
I always go in.
I’m not a religious man,
but I light three joss sticks,
bow three times to the Buddha,
pray for my wife and daughter.
I place the burning sticks
in the vase before the altar.

In Vung Tau, I was praying
at the Temple of the Sleeping Buddha
when an old monk appeared.
He struck a large bronze bell
with a wooden mallet.
He was waking up the spirits
to receive my prayers.

Reprinted from Praying at the Altar by W. D. Ehrhart, Adastra Press, 2017.

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