Mark Entered a Monastery by El Collie

‘Fig tree in Winter’ – yamabuki
Mark entered the monastery
By way of polio 
At the age of six 
By way of polio
The dark gate opened
And where once stood a little child
A journey to stillness began…
Mark entered the monastery
Of an iron lung
Polio, the guillotine had fallen
With a violent thud
The gate slammed shut
The child was gone
Banished to a frozen place
Of no return…
Three decades later, 
I entered a room in the monastery
Where a human face 
Looked up at me
From a soul entombed
In a machine
That terrible gift
Of the guillotine
Which left behind
A strong mind
Soft eyes and a voice
At the mercy
Of a mechanized pump.
In strangely viable, suspended tones
I was bid welcome to the monastery
Where things are very different
Than in the world outside
Where people distract themselves
From themselves
Doing a thousand busy things
Mark, master of the monastery said:
“I need someone to cook for me on weekends
And feed me.”
I answered “Yes”
Yes, I came two nights a week
To the monastery
To cook and perform the sacrament
Of placing forks-full of food
Into the mouth
That led to a frail
Immobile, mysterious
And invisible body
Which would never do
The busy things of the world
For a few short, eternal hours each week
I went to Mark in the monastery
To feed and be fed
The great blessings of all the things
Which I have yet to lose
I went to Mark in the monastery
To teach my heart
The truth of human need
And human sharings.
I went to Mark, master of the monastery
Hoping to find him enlightened, transcendent,
Rising somehow triumphant
Above the stark indignity of fate
I wanted to discover in him a sage, a saint
To comfort myself by discerning some hint
Of familiar justice in this sad, special place
Where the most ordinary notions of the world
Were rendered alien and empty
I went to Mark in the monastery
To find the secret of the human spirit
To learn the way of the will to endure all things
Mark smiled
Opening to me the depth of his solitude
He smiled
And I who had come searching
For traces of angels in residence, found none.
He smiled as the angels stayed hidden
And I left for the night
Carrying with me
The amazing sorrows of men.
— El Collie 1985
From Wikipedia
“Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O’Brien is a 1996 shortdocumentary film directed by Jessica Yu. It won an Academy Award in 1997for Documentary Short Subject.
Mark O’Brien was a journalist and poet who lived in Berkeley, California. The documentary explored his spiritual struggle coping with his disability; he had to use an iron lung much of the time due to childhood polio.
Mark died on July 4, 1999, from post-polio syndrome

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